Perfect Love

Paul Davidson

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Perfect Love

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:16-18

Human relationships have been a difficult area in my spiritual walk. While a missionary in China, I had failed miserably in a situation, and when being evacuated, I promised myself and God not to fail again as I had done. But promises are easy to make and hard to keep! Transferred to the Philippines and under stressful conditions, I found myself failing again. I cried to the Lord asking forgiveness and offering to Him the reins of my life–that whatever the cost I wanted Him to teach me to love.

He took me at my word. In the following years I found myself faced with far more difficult situations, false accusations, unjust treatment by others. I had a difficult time keeping bitterness out of my heart, and was glad for the help of Hebrews 12:15. I would read I Corinthians 13 almost daily, asking God to enlarge my heart so I could measure up to its standard. I wanted to be what God chose me to be in Ephesians 1:4, “without blame before Him in love.”

Some years later I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit that I needed to close this difficult chapter in my life. It was as though the Holy Spirit suggested four individuals to whom I should write. I shared my feelings with my wife. She knew how much I had suffered and said, “What can you honestly say to them? Won’t you be a bit hypocritical?” I struggled with the thought for a couple of weeks, and then wrote a rough draft of what I felt I could say to them and showed it to her. She said, “I suppose you could say that.”

It was nearing Christmas. So I sat down and wrote four Christmas cards, thanking them for past friendships, and dropped them in the mail box before I changed my mind. None was ever acknowledged. But the moment they were in the box God dropped into my heart this simple message; “Perfect Love–what it is, what it will do for you, and how to acquire it.”

Perfect! We draw back from that word, saying, “Who is perfect?” And we use it as an excuse, humbly saying, “I’m not perfect.” But God’s word has a lot to say on the subject!

James, in 1:25, calls God’s word “the perfect law of liberty.” Paul wrote in II Corinthians 7:1, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” and exhorted the Romans in 12:2 that they might know the perfect will of God. It was Paul’s ambition in Colossians 1:28 to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” You can sense the yearning in the heart of the Lord as He prays for His own (John 17:23), “that they may be made perfect in one.” And in His exhortation in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

The writer to the Hebrews, while reminding his readers in 7:19, that “the law made nothing perfect,” in the same verse shares, “the bringing in of a better hope did.” And in 10:14 points to Christ’s sacrifice as the answer, “For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.”

But it is in John’s First Epistle we are brought face to face with perfect love (2:5), “whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” (4:12) “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (4:17) “Herein is our love made perfect.” (4:18) “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” Five times in this little Epistle John speaks of it!

What is perfect love? While there are beautiful examples of love as seen in Mother Theresa, Mark Buntain, and others, there is only One of whom it can truly be said that the life He lived was one of perfect love. And that is the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul points to Him as the great example. (Ephesians 3:16-19) “That He would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”

Note the four dimensions: The first, breadth. It speaks of the inclusiveness of Christ’s love, as revealed in the expressions, “as many as received Him _ Him that cometh unto me _ if any man will come after me _ whosoever believeth in Him.” Christ’s love included all!

Length-the duration of love. “Love suffereth long.” You have a picture of this in the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd seeking the lost sheep until He found it. That expression speaks of length of time, and the distance in His seeking. There is another picture of the length of His love in the touching moments of The Last Supper. (John 13:1) “Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”

Depth. Love reaching down, as in His touching the man full of leprosy, saying, “I will, be thou clean.” In His asking a drink of water from a Samaritan woman, five times married, now living common law. In His words of comfort to the prostitute woman who washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head, “Woman, thy sins which are many are forgiven thee.” No person had fallen so low but that He would not reach down to pick that one up!

Height. Paul catches this characteristic of His love in Ephesians 2:5, 6: “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ . . . and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” There is no higher love than that!

Perfect love as is seen in the life of our Lord, who loved everyone with a love that endured–stooping to the lowest to raise them to the highest!

What will perfect love do for you? I had been drawn to

1 John 4, and noticed that it, like 1 Corinthians 13, was a chapter on love. Twenty-six times the word “love” is mentioned. The great statement, “Love is of God,” and the statement, “God is love,” is mentioned twice. I came home from mailing those four Christmas cards and began to read I John 4 over and over. And as I did I was drawn to verses 17 and 18, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.”

Perfect love will give me boldness in the day of judgment–the smile of His approval instead of my being ashamed as I stand before Him to be judged. Scripture makes one thing clear (Hebrews 9:27), “it is appointed unto men to die, but after this the judgment.” Even we who are Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). When we stand there it is this question above all He will ask, “Did you do what I commanded you? Did you love?” If in life we have made love our aim, and by the Holy Spirit’s help fulfilled His command, we will face that moment with confidence (1 John 4:17) “because as he is, so are we in this world.”

While teaching at Trinity Bible College, often at the time of big tests with a twinkle in my eyes I would ask the students as they came in the question, “Do you think you will ace it?” Some would answer with a smile, “I think so. I hope so. I’ve really studied for it.” But there was a sad look on the face of some as I asked that question. They would shake their heads as though to say, “No.”

It is not always easy to love, but it is the most important thing we will be graded on. We need to make love our aim. “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.”

But you say that is for the future. What will perfect love do for me now? John gives us an answer in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” Perfect love frees one from a life of fear and torment.

Some years ago my wife and I attended a healing seminar conducted by Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary statesman to India. He was an old man, but a powerful speaker. That evening he spoke on the relationship of emotions to physical health. As I remember, he gave the following statistics: 90% of all headaches, 85% of all stomach and skin ailments, and 75% of all heart problems are due to emotional factors. He went on to say that he had asked his friend, one of America’s leading heart specialists, if fear was the number one problem in heart ailments. His friend answered, “No! It is the number one and a half!” One cannot over emphasize the damage fear does to the heart.

I asked my doctor friend Ali, a specialist, what he thought of those statistics. He answered, “I don’t know, but let me say over half of all patients I visit in the hospital are not there because of physical problems.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield once ran ads, “Happiness is coming home.” I suppose referring to the fact the hospital bill was paid. May I suggest, “Happiness is not going to the hospital!” Perfect love has a tremendous beneficial effect on the physical, so there are less trips to the doctor’s office, less expensive medical bills.

But you ask, “How do I get it?” John wrote in 1 John 2:5, “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” As I pondered that verse, it was as though the Holy Spirit said to me, “All you need to know about perfect love is in my Word. And if you keep it my love will be perfected in you.” It was as though the light came on, as I saw it in its utter simplicity. There are three steps I must take if I am ever to reach the goal of perfect love. The first step is to get sin out of my life and flesh off my back!

You ask, “What do you mean?” Let me explain. God has made it clear that the heart of His law is love. (Romans 13:10) “Love is the fulfilling of the law;”
(Galatians 5:14) “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” God’s law is a reflection of His very nature, which is love. But a question comes to my mind. If I am created in His image, made in His likeness, why do I have such a difficult time keeping His word, fulfilling His law, that is to love?

When I look carefully at His law and notice that eight of the ten commandments begin with, “Thou shalt not”, I am made to realize there must be something wrong with me. There is! And it takes God’s law to reveal it. Paul cried in Romans 7:7, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” What does covet mean? Webster defines it, “to desire ardently, especially something that another person has.” Thayer’s definition of the Greek word is even stronger _ “Great desire, especially for what is forbidden.”

Was it a desperate need for food that drew Eve to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? No. (Genesis 2:9) “Out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.” What was the attraction? It was forbidden! And she fell for Satan’s suggestion, “If you desire it, what is wrong with doing it?” When she took and ate and gave to her husband and he did eat, the spiritual part of the man died. And he was left with a carnal nature at enmity to God’s law, a slave to sin (Romans 7:14) “I am carnal, sold under sin.” A monk in St. Augustine’s time defined sin as “self love.” There is something interesting about the words sin, pride and Lucifer. They have one thing in common–the big “I” in the center!

We were born with a selfish nature. This was driven home to me one afternoon in the front room of our elder son’s home. Dawn, our second grandchild, age two, had come to visit Elizabeth, our oldest grandchild, age three. It was their first meeting as cousins. Excited, Elizabeth ran to her room and brought out her favorite doll. Dawn, seated on the floor, took it saying, “Mine!” She went back for a second doll. Again Dawn took it saying, “Mine!” Grandpa watched to see the outcome. Again and again Elizabeth brought her toys to Dawn. And each time she said, “Mine!” Finally, Elizabeth could stand it no longer, and burst into tears. Today Elizabeth and Dawn are beautiful young adults, loving the Lord and loving each other! But as I watched that scene I realized we were born selfish. There is something wrong with each of us!

One can see this fact in that eight of the fifteen characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13 are stated in the negative–love envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up. If one could only get this thing of sin out of one’s life and flesh off the back, he would be over half way toward the goal of perfect love!

The book of Hebrews speaks often of perfection. The writer stated in 7:19, “The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.” Because the law was limited to animal sacrifices it could not deal with the problem of sin. (Hebrews 10:4) It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. It could only point to the one perfect all sufficient sacrifice of Christ which provided (Hebrews 9:12) eternal redemption from sin’s guilt, (9:14) cleansing from sin’s defilement, (10:10) sanctification, freedom from sin’s power and control, and for those who allow God to sanctify them, perfection. (10:14) For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

Because sanctification–the separation from sin, from self, from the world, involves such deep suffering God provided one to lead the way. (Hebrews 2:10, 11) “It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” The word “captain” in the Greek is archegos, which Thayer defines as “one who takes the lead in anything, and thus affords an example.” The cross was His final act of obedience. It is the first of many for me! (Luke 9:23) “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” The cross, the symbol of deepest suffering, must be taken up daily. I think we are very much like an onion. We have so many layers of the self life, and every time a layer comes off it makes us cry!

But the cross is a must if ever we are to reach the goal of perfect love. (Galatians 5:24) “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Lust like love is a four lettered word beginning with “L”. But lust sacrifices others for self, while love sacrifices self for others. For the fruit of love to grow, flesh with its lusts must go!

This was illustrated to me while pioneering a Bible school in Jamaica. I felt the planting of a citrus grove on the Bible school grounds might help the students become more self-sufficient. I hired an experienced Jamaican who guided me in the right choice of budded varieties of orange and grapefruit trees, and helped me lay out the planting. Carefully we cultivated around each tree, and it seemed to me remarkable how fast they grew.

Many months later, I asked him to come back to see how we were doing. He took one look over the planting and said, “Mr. Davidson, you will not have fruit on these trees.” Surprised, I asked, “Why?” He answered, “You have failed to cut off all the growth below the grafted bud.” As I looked closely at the trees, I saw almost all of the growth was from the root stock of the wild Seville orange tree. Hardly any of it was from the grafted bud. I knew we wanted fruit; so it was a sad looking orchard when we finished pruning. It was a hard lesson, but I learned a spiritual truth. For the fruit of love to grow, flesh and its lusts must go!

The surgery involved in the external rite of circumcisions spoke of an inner need. (Deuteronomy 10:16) “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” And God promises (Deuteronomy 30:6) “the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart … to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart.”

I noticed that in the long difficult period of caring for relatives, and her other stressful and physical problems, a mature Christian friend was allowing bitterness to affect her. Concerned, I said to her, “You need an operation.” Shocked, she answered, “Why did you say that? I had major surgery recently.” I asked her to take her Bible and read with me Colossians 2:11, 12, “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God.” I saw a big smile come over her face as she said, “I understand.” Her Christmas card that year had these words on the bottom, “The operation is working.”

In Romans 8:3, 4, Paul shares how God has done what the law, hindered as it was by the flesh, could not do–in sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. He condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness of the law, which is love, might be fulfilled in us.

We were two young men pioneering a church in West Texas. Tom, a big Texan, became enraged when his wife was saved in one of the services and threatened us with bodily harm. We were careful to avoid him. Some months later he came to the Sunday morning service, the expression on his face so changed. With tears in his eyes, he reached out to give me a bear hug, saying, “I don’t know why I hated you so. I love you.” What made the difference in a heart once filled with hate, now filled with love? The night before in a little country church Tom was born again! Because God is love, everyone born of Him loves, too!

The second step toward the goal of perfect love is for Christ to be born in you. For when He dwells in your heart you have perfect love within you. It is this that Paul prays for in Ephesians 3:16, 17, “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love….” It is as we lay hold of the truth that Christ is in us, we are made to realize the very roots of our new life are in His love–the very foundation on which that new life is built is on His love!

Galatians 2:20 sums it up so beautifully in the exchanged life, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Note in these two passages the importance of faith.

While pondering Romans 4, the great chapter on justifying faith, I noticed God set forth Abraham as our great example (verse 11) “that he might be the father of all them that believe.” And then this interesting statement in verse 12, “who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham.” What were those steps?

As I further studied the chapter it seemed to me there are two steps. The first–to believe that Is Isn’t. The second–to believe that Isn’t Is. Let me explain. Childless at 75 Abraham is promised a son. Now he is nearing 100. The more he looked at the obstacle of his and Sarah’s dead bodies, the lesser it got. So his first big step of faith was to believe Is Isn’t. (4:19) “Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb.” Then the second step of faith was to believe Isn’t Is. (4:17) “Before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” I can imagine his saying to Sarah, “If God can call things that are not as though they are, we can too! I am so glad God changed my name to Abraham, father of a multitude, and your name to Sarah, mother of royalty. Aren’t you glad we have a boy named Isaac?” And Abraham said all that before Isaac was ever conceived!

This is what happens to each of us as we reach out in faith to believe. The is of our old man isn’t, and in spite of lack of feeling, the isn’t of our new life in Christ is. (Romans 6:11) “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” With flesh off our backs and Christ dwelling in our hearts, we can love as He commands us!

The third step toward the goal of perfect love is found in

1 John 4:12, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” There is an old saying, “Practice makes perfect and we learn by doing.” We have Christ as our example. (John 13:34) “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another as I have loved you.”

The world before Christ came was a dark, loveless world. The church historian Philip Schaff wrote, “Selfishness was the soul of heathen morality. Even friendship was on a egotistical basis, only possible among persons of equal rank in society. For the stranger barbarian and the enemy, the Greek and Roman knew no love, only contempt and hatred.” Over half the Roman world were slaves. More than twenty thousand human lives a month were sacrificed to pleasure in the arena. Infanticide, the exposing of poor sickly children to cruel death, and abortion were commonly practiced. The lot assigned to women was one of social oppression and degradation. There was little sanctity to marriage. It was an age of unbridled lust.

But God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth should not perish! They came from all walks of life in response to that message. And in a baptism of love all differences of race, rank, and gender were swept away. They testified of it in the love feast, where at a common meal the rich shared their food with those who had nothing. They closed that meal by celebrating the communion, after which an offering was taken for the poor. Their love went beyond their fellowship. For when a plague would strike a city, the heathen would flee in fear, while the Christians remained behind to care for the sick and bury the dead.

So great was their influence that within less than three hundred years, heathen Rome became at least Christian in name. Marriage became sacred, with children loved instead of being exposed to cruel death. The position of the woman was elevated, the lot of the slave vastly improved, and the human sacrifices in the arena abolished.

It was the influence of that message of love that has made our own nation great. But today, we are fast becoming like the dark, loveless world into which Jesus was born. Violence fills our land. There is a calloused attitude on the part of so many in the killing of unborn babies–best expressed by Dr. Jocelyn Elder, President Clinton’s choice for Surgeon General, when she chastened anti-abortion groups to “get over their love affair with the fetus.”

The lovelessness of our age can be seen in Modern Science’s sarcastic attempt to define “love” in the lead article, “God and Science” in Time Magazine. “The love of mother for child, husband for wife, sibling for sibling may boil down in large part to a chemical called oxytocin. It seems harder to rhapsodize about universal love many religions prescribe when you know that if it ever comes, it will rest on the same stuff researchers inject into rats to make them cuddle.” The date of that issue was the Christmas season, December 28, 1992. When men shut Christ out of Christmas, they leave love out of life!

But to those early Christians God’s love was the greatest thing in the world, so important they used a new word for it _ “agape”. Trench, in his work on synonyms of the New Testament wrote, “It should not be forgotten that agape is a word born in the bosom of revealed religion. There is no trace of it in any heathen writer whatever.”

As Christ sent those early disciples into their dark loveless world to demonstrate the truth “God is love” by their transformed lives and personal witness, even so He sends us into our dark loveless world. Because it takes a lot of living to learn loving, we need to begin now to make love our aim. Practice makes perfect!

Someone wrote, “Houses are made of bricks and stone, Homes are made of love alone.” The home with its intimate relationship is a good place to start. For the family, so dear to God, is under satanic attack–liberal media and the entertainment industry mocking the sanctity of marriage, and pornography and promiscuity threatening its very foundation. Over half of all marriages end in divorce with its terrible trauma for each parent, and even greater for the children. And it takes God’s love to hold the home together.

There was a desperate look on his face as I met him in the hall on the way to chapel service. I asked, “Do you need to talk?” There in the hallway he began to pour out his heart. His home was in trouble. I knew this was not the time or place to counsel, so suggested he have his wife invite me to supper. After a lovely meal, the husband slipped out so his wife would be free to talk. It was though a dam burst within her. “I have been married five years and my arms are empty. I have no child. I do not know what fulfillment is in my marital relation.” As she continued, she related she was born an illegitimate child, and when her mother had an opportunity for marriage she said, “I was sent to live with my grandmother. I would have taken my life had it not been for my grandmother’s love.”

Difficult as it was I knew she had to forgive. So I said to her, “You will have to forgive your mother.” Bitterly she said, “You do not know what you are asking.” I counseled with them both over a number of months with very little progress. One afternoon they came in desperation. I said to her, “Your bitterness and unforgiving spirit is destroying your home. One day your husband will be gone and you will have driven him from you.” She dropped her head and began to sob, saying, “I need help.” I said, “You will have to help yourself,” reminding her from Ephesians 4:32, we are to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake forgave us.” Things began to change. Their marriage seemed to improve. He graduated and left for ministry. Some months later I received a postcard with these words written on it, “Brother Davidson, I’m pregnant.” Then months later a letter came, telling of the birth of their beautiful daughter. And this note on the bottom, “I remember what you said about my need to forgive my Mother, so when our darling was two weeks old, I asked my husband to take me to see her. She is now an arthritic patient in a rest home. When we entered Mom’s room, I went over to where she was sitting, took my precious darling and placed her in Mom’s arms saying, “Mom, I named her after you.”

She had learned a great lesson. God’s love is an act of the will, not dependent on emotions. When Matthew records Jesus’ command in 5:44 to love our enemies, he uses the Greek word agapao instead of the usual Greek work phileo, which is defined as love prompted by sense, emotion. Instinctive love, as a mother to a child. Why? Because love as an emotion cannot be commanded _ only love as a choice! God’s love enabled her to make that choice and it brought healing to the family.

One might be tempted in a difficult situation to say, “I would love if I could, but I can’t. Would it not be more honest to say, “I could if I would, but I won’t?” His love makes it possible for me to love others.

Our home and our nation desperately need God’s love. Paul describes our day in 2 Timothy 3:1-3, “In the last days perilous times shall come”; and explains it by saying, “Men shall be lovers of their own selves (selfish)”, that there will be a spirit of disobedience to parents, and even the lack of natural affection. There is a double tragedy in abortion–the death of an innocent babe and the death of natural affection in the heart of the one who aborts!

Jesus, in Matthew 24:12 warned, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” The Greek work psucho means “to cool by blowing.” The wind of iniquity (lawlessness) has grown to gale force today, affecting even love among Christ’s own!

Thank God there is an answer. There is another wind that is blowing, the wind of the Holy Spirit! (Acts 2:1, 2) “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” as God’s love was shed abroad by the Holy Ghost!

That wind is still blowing today. Jude exhorts us in verse 21, “Keep yourselves in the love of God,” and gives us the key in verse 20, “praying in the Holy Ghost.” Go with the wind of His Spirit. It will lead to a life of love, joy, and peace!

Over forty years have passed since that Sunday morning in the Philippines when I offered Him the reins of my life if only He would teach me to love. Now, at 78 years of age, how glad I am that God took me at my word, even though some of the lessons were learned through deep suffering.

There is a word of encouragement to each who makes perfect love their goal. 1 John 2:5 and 4:12 use the word “perfected,” indicating it involves a process requiring time. I noticed in 4:17, 18 the expression “made perfect,” indicating it is God who does the perfecting!

  1. Teri Peterson Reply
    Wow, it is as though Brother Davidson is here speaking directly to me. So often I feel I am a "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal" I long for Perfect Love.

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