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Perfect Love

Perfect love is complete and mature affection, good will, and benevolence. To understand perfect love completely, we must understand the love that was expressed by God when He gave His Son as a sacrifice for us. The Father's perfect love is stated in John 3:16, where Jesus said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We must also understand the love of Christ Himself, who willingly gave His life for us. Christ's perfect love is declared in 1John 3:16, which says, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us…”

By considering the perfect love of the Father and the Son, we see that the greatest expression of love is in sacrifice. The love of Christ in particular stands as an example for us so that we also can learn and practice love by sacrifice. We previously noticed 1John 3:16 pertaining to Christ's love and sacrifice, but notice now the entirety of that verse to get the full message: "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us;and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (emphasis added). As followers of Jesus Christ, it is imperative for Christians to love one another just as Jesus loved us, even if that means laying down our lives for one another. Jesus made this clear in John 15:12-14 when He said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.”

In this last statement, we learn that perfect love involves keeping the commandments of the Lord. This connection between love and obedience is often misunderstood or neglected by persons who profess to be Christians. They know that love is vital to the Faith, but they view obedience and commandment keeping as relics of the Old Law of Moses. What they fail to see is that perfect love and the keeping of the Lord's commandments are one in the same, for Jesus summarized His commandments in John 15:12, saying, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” This was even true of the Old Testament, for when Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment of the Law, He said:

"‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Perhaps better than anyone else, the apostle John explains perfect love in terms of the keeping of God's commandments. Consider 1John 2:3-6:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

The love of God is perfected in the one who keeps God's word because God's word gives us the examples and commandments whereby we may learn how to love. These define what love is, and without them we cannot perfect our love for God or man. This is further explained in 1John 5:1-3:

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

Again, we see that we cannot separate the commandments of God from our love for God and our brothers.

The connection between perfect love and obedience to the commandments is seen once again in their mutual outcome. Both the violation of God's commandments and the failure to love the brethren lead to punishment, for they are truly the same sin. However, the one who is perfected in love should have no fear of such punishment. Notice 1John 4:16-18:
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in 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, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

Therefore, let us understand what perfect love is and what it is not. Perfect love is the keeping of God's commandments by the motivation of sincere affection and proper esteem for both God and men (see 1Cor. 13). It is not a hollow, rote performance of works to be checked off a list as a set of accomplishments (see Matt. 23). It is also not an emotionally guided way of life that gives no consideration to God's laws. Thus, the Scriptural practice of perfect love is a balance of affection, sacrifice, and obedience. May God bless us to find this balance in the image of our Lord Jesus, through whom love was perfected to us all.

Stacey E. Durham



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