No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:12 ESV
1 John 4:7-21
Twenty seven times in 16 verses, John references “love.” He tells us to “love one another,” that “whoever loves has been born of God,” that “God loves us first,” and that “God is love.” He also speaks of love being “perfected” and “perfect.” Those two words, when associates with love, come across as unachievable and impossible in this lifetime. How in the world are we, as believers with active sin natures, to love perfectly? Can our love really be perfected in our lifetime? Or is it something we have to wait for until Christ returns and we are glorified and made to be like Him?
John gives us the answer to these questions and more. He commands us to love one another. And where did he get that command? From Jesus Himself. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). We are to love one another in the same way that Jesus loved us: Selflessly and sacrificially. Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). And this love that Jesus expressed came directly from God the Father. It was God’s love lived out through Jesus’ life. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus gave His life as an expression of the love of God. God loved the world through Jesus. He was the conduit of God’s love. And God wants us to do the same thing through us. Starting with our brothers and sisters in Christ. He wants His love to be perfected through us. That word in the Greek is teleioō and is means “to carry through completely” or “to bring to an end.” God wants His love to flow through us to one another and not simply end on us. In fact, it was for this very thing that Jesus prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23 NLT). Jesus’ death has made it possible for God’s love to flow through us to one another. The same love God has for His Son has been poured out on us so that we might pour it out on each other, and so prove that we are His disciples. John reminds us, “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” (1 John 4:10 ESV). As a result, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 ESV). And when we love one another, we make visible the love of God. In fact, we make the transcendent, invisible God tangible and knowable. “ No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 ESV). Men can’t see God, but they can see God’s love through us. Paul tells us that Jesus was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). John, in his gospel, wrote this regarding Jesus: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). But the most radical expression of God’s love was through Jesus’ death. John puts it this way: “In this is love…that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). Jesus’ selfless sacrifice of His own life was a declaration and proof of God’s love for man.
But let’s take it back to us. Can we love like Jesus loved? Can we love perfectly or completely? I think the answer lies in our understanding of what John meant by “perfect love.” He isn’t talking about something we manufacture or create. He is talking about God’s love being carried through us to its intended destination: others. God’s love was not meant to dead end with us. He loved us so that we might love others. Again, John puts it in very clear terms. “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” (1 John 4:16 ESV). How do we know how much God loves us? Because of His Son’s death in our place. We live in that love, counting on it daily, trusting in it regularly. “By this is love perfected with us” (1 John 4:17 ESV). As we live in His love, it begins to flow out of us. As we remember and rely on His unconditional love for us, we realize that there is no legitimate reason we should not share that same love with others for whom His Son died. We are not having to conjure up love for others. We are simply sharing or passing on the love that God has shown to us through His Son. I love the imagery Paul uses to explain the power that we have available within us. “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NLT). It isn’t our love that is perfect, but His love being made carried through to completion through us. Most often, in spite of us.