One of my favorite scriptures is describing what love is and what it is not. It is tucked away in the passage of a small epistle toward the end of the New Testament. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18). I love this because I have experienced what I thought was love and yet felt fearful during that so-called loving relationship. Reading this tiny verse made me realize that love should never involve fear. Love, real love, is a gift from God and never involves fear. Real love is pure and without strings attached. Love is given freely from one human being to another. We love our parents and later in life a spouse, children, and grandchildren. We want the best for them and we hope that they want the best for us. When I give my love to another it is a free gift, I don’t expect anything from them but it sure is nice to have my gift of love reciprocated with no strings attached. It seems to me today that many people will love another but only if certain conditions are met. I will love you if you continue to make me feel good about myself. I will love you if you do as I say or believe only as I believe otherwise you are against me and my enemy. If you are in a relationship where you love someone but feel fearful they might leave you or hurt you or not cherish you or protect you then you are not in a loving relationship. Wow! That is a lot to digest, so let’s look at the entire passage to understand more.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:7-21, (English Standard Version or ESV).
The first thing we learn is that pure love comes from God. Does that mean that only Christians can love? No, not really. God blesses the entire earth and every human in it with many blessings and love is one of those blessings. But pure love, the love that really is love and not a twisted form of love is something that we Christians strive for in our lives don’t you think? The next thing that we learn is that not everyone loves others. That is so obvious in our world today. All you have to do is watch the nightly news to see a lack of love for others being played out in our world. We have all probably experienced someone who has no love in them for anyone but themselves. It is hard to love that type of person I think because they only know how to use you and then are done with you. The third thing that we learn from this passage is that God has demonstrated the greatest act of love when He allowed His only Son to go through the birth into the human world and be rejected, crucified, and resurrected so that you and I could be a part of God’s family, be accepted as adopted children into God’s family. That great act of love was also given by Jesus to the world in that He was willing to go to the cross for us. Would you willingly die for someone you love? Most of us would do so but it takes a special love to be willing to die for someone who hates you and everything you stand for and yet Jesus did that for all of us.
When we read the Bible it is easy to forget that the New Testament is made up of many letters written to a certain group of people in a certain time and place. We so often learn so much in the words written as if the writer was writing us directly. It helps, however, to remember the context of the era the epistle was written. At the time of 1 John was being written it was a difficult time, a time when many people were in hiding for being Christians. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to trust just anyone. The Apostle John encourages his original audience to continue to show God’s love to others especially within the family of God. There were family feuds then as now. Oh we think that we are so much more sophisticated than the first century Christians but the truth is we are just like them. In my own family I have people who are hard to love because of many reasons, the divorce, rebellion, distance, age differences, political differences, and having nothing in common. I think my family is not all that different from most of yours. How do we continue to show them God’s love?
I believe that the fact that God loves us so unconditionally best describes how we are to love others. Once we become Christians God sees us perfected and not how we are in reality. We still make mistakes, we still sin, and yet God sees us with pure love because He sees us covered by Jesus’s blood. We haven’t arrived at perfection yet and we won’t until we die but God continues to love us as though we are already in the state of perfection. We should view those we love in that same way. They are not perfect and neither are we but if they are Christians they are struggling with their sins just as we do with our own. We are all striving to be guided by God through Jesus Christ in our lives. We can love them because God loves us and we can forgive them of the sins they commit against us because God forgives us our sins the moment we are covered in the blood of Jesus, the moment we become a Christian. Who helps us love and forgive? The answer is in the text, it is the Holy Spirit that is given to us the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the moment we become a Christian. Quite honestly if we are still hating someone and thinking of them as our enemy rather than seeing them as a person that is lost in their sin or a person struggling with their sins then we are not a child of God ourselves. There is no wiggle room here. Either you love purely or you don’t. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. We can’t have it both ways; if we are a child of God’s adopted into His family through Jesus Christ then we have no enemies in our brother and sisters who are also Christians. We must learn to forgive them and love them purely and without judgement on them. Judgement will come to us all and no one will escape the final account of our life on earth but those who love with God’s love and are covered by the blood of Jesus and have followed His command to love one another will have nothing to fear. No punishment for those who are in Christ Jesus because the love of God casts out our fear. If, however, you are not covered by the blood of Jesus and not a Christian then you have much to fear. Fear is why the world hates Christians because they fear punishment by God even if they don’t acknowledge His existence. This is something that is hard for some to understand because they have never been forgiven by God. I hope you continue to love them anyway with the pure love of God! Keep praying for them for they are so bound up in fear that they can’t begin to understand what pure love really is, a free gift from God. We can’t buy it and we can’t sell it but we can pass it on.