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 love is 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.1 John 4:16-17 ESV
Reading about the day of judgment in a passage on love can feel rather ominous, perhaps even overly dramatic. If I’m being honest, I’ve been known to squirm in my seat at these uncomfortable words. But John connects the two ideas to help us understand how God views our love in action.
At one point or another, most believers question their salvation. Am I really saved? How do I know I’m one of the few that will enter through the narrow gate?
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
John is addressing those very questions in this passage so we can live with the confidence that we are on the path that leads to the narrow gate. If we are as He is in this world, if His love abides in us, then we can know with absolute certainty that we will be with Jesus in heaven someday. If God’s love abides in us, it is expressed in our love for others. And by connecting the day of judgment and love, John is showing us just how important it is that we learn how to love one another well. But our love isn’t just evidence of our beliefs, it is the very essence of our faith. The hallmark of a Christian is their increasing concern about how well they love others. We are known by our love.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Not love in our own power, but love that flows through us from His Spirit. John reminds us that our love is being perfected. The Greek word translated for perfected does not mean without any flaws as it does in English, but rather it means to reach its final goal or to be complete. John Piper says it like this: “In this, that is in your love for each other, God’s love is put into action and so reaches its appointed goal. It does not remain at the imperfect stage of mere talk, but reaches the stage of action.” Perfected love is not a feeling, it is action. So, if the Spirit is moving within us, we see it in action toward our spouse.
Love in marriage can be most challenging. Demonstrating love in action to the same person over and over can be difficult, especially on those days when irritation is high or hurt is deep. But this is where He is most evident. God purposefully puts these relationships in our lives as a way to perfect His love in us, but we must make the choice to be committed to growing in love by staying in the fight. You see, the Christian walk was never meant to be a solo sport. We can’t call ourselves a Christian and walk away when it’s difficult. We need others—to love us, but also to put our love into action. And God knew marriage was the perfect place for us to learn how to do this, so He offers us a place to work through our selfish desires and increase our capacity to demonstrate love. To love one another well, to be perfected in our love, we must be in committed relationships where we work through difficulties, through misunderstandings and hurt feelings, through sin. The action of stepping into those conversations is love in action.
Don’t misunderstand—love being perfected doesn’t mean you will love your spouse perfectly, and it certainly doesn’t mean they will love you perfectly. Our flesh will inhibit our ability to always put other’s needs over our own. Our tendency is toward self-preservation. But rather, perfected love means that you are growing in your ability to put love into action, into the sacrificial acts that seek the highest good for your spouse, not yourself. And when you see this kind of active love in your life, you can know the Spirit lives within you, and you can be confident you will be united with Christ on the day of judgment.
Press on ~ you are loved. 💗