This week I’ve been posting reflections from John’s third exhortation on the subject of Christian love in his epistle. Yesterday I noted that God’s indwelling love enables us to love others. In this final section John points to how God increases our capacity to love.
“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world” (1 John 4:17, NLT)
The word “perfect” does not mean mistake free. It means “mature.” As we embody Christ’s love we are able to express love in ever deepening, sacrificial ways. As you might suspect, our capacity to love is not enlarged by being surrounded by loving, gracious people. That’s right, God enlarges our capacity by introducing difficult people into our lives.
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:18-19, NLT)
We know that different people come in all shapes and sizes, but John calls out those who create fear in our lives. In the first century there were only two kinds of people: the slaves and the free. Literally one half of the world was enslaved to the other half, so power issues were a great concern to John’s congregation. 2,000 years later we still have global concerns relating to the use and abuse of power.
Today we also have fear regarding those who are different. We distinguish one another through labels, which seldom unite us. Republicans and Democrats; the wealthy and the poor; white, black, Asian and latino; liberal and conservative; educated and uneducated; gay and straight; married and divorced are examples of labels that we frequently apply to one another instead of seeing others in light of the value that God has placed on them. God will bring people into our lives who are different as an invitation to grow in our capacity to love.
“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters” (1 John 4:20-21, NLT).
We not only have different people come into our lives, we also have difficult people. Some people are just hard to get along with, let alone love as Christ would have us love. When you have a difficult person in your life, remember that love doesn’t overlook offenses, it overcomes offenses. We can overlook offenses by ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. Love overcomes offenses, seeking to reconcile relationships with difficult ones rather than kick them to the curb and moving on.
I alluded to this a moment ago, but I want to make sure you get this. Every person that is different or difficult that comes into your life is not there by accident. That person, or persons as the case may be, represent God’s invitation to you to increase your capacity to love.