bits from bob....

Perfect Love

by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

In a wonderful little book entitled, To Love as God Loves, Roberta Bondi focuses God's call in our lives by remembering the experiences of the church in the first four centuries after Christ. When men and women left ordinary life for a desert monasticism in the fourth century, they seriously sought to honor Jesus' instruction: "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). The command was not repulsive or impossible to them. We maneuver our way around the call by noting that perfection really means maturity or completeness. For them, however, the call merely rephrased the Great Commandment, "Love God with all your being." Those who took up the life of Jesus could do no less.

Perfect love can grow. Modern definitions of "perfect" allow for no further improvement. No change is possible. Such denies human experience. Perfect love, for the ancients, was a continuously growing love that moved into God's love. No other understanding allows being human and loving perfectly to exist side by side.

Perfect love is not selective. If we Christians love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we still want an answer to the lawyer's question: "Who is my neighbor?" What does loving my neighbor have to do with the love of God? Most of us would like to love God without loving the unlovable, without rubbing shoulders with the "trash" of society. But is such possible, or even desirable?
Most modern Christians could be excellent Christians were it not for the other people in the world. Bondi refers to such as schizophrenic Christians who have two personalities--one that wants to love God perfectly and another that loathes the human creation that reflects God. Human beings are made in the image of God and this means we cannot love God without at the same time loving God's image--all of it!

Perfect love loves self. In the Great Commandment, Jesus suggests that self-love is at the root of neighbor love. Sin against one's neighbor dishonors and does evil to one's selfhood. John's explanation (1 John 4) is that we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love God's image (our brother--and neighbor?) whom we have seen. Said another way, only when we love our neighbor do we love God, and only when we love God do we really love ourselves.

Perfect love is a disposition. This kind of love redefines a whole way of being, feeling, seeing, and understanding. It honors God's grace, our needs, our wants, our choices. It is an attitude of heart that is reflected in a commitment that shapes all of life. Perfect love is not a temperament inherited from our parents and beyond our control. It is a disposition chosen and cultivated. Perfect love is a goal toward which every Christian strives.

Perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:19) I have read that verse many times--the echoing question is always the same. If perfect love casts out fear, why am I yet afraid? Being a Christian means learning to love with God's love. But God's love is not a warm feeling in the pit of the stomach. God's love is defined by how God deals with us, perfect love models in our own lives what we have learned of His love.

Do we love as God loves? What a challenging question!


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Last updated January 7, 2002.