As I was studying for an upcoming marriage ministry that Melissa and I are a part of, the lesson converged in a beautiful and unexpected way with my meditations on home and I hope it blesses you the way it blessed me.
Our marriage ministry class is going through a workbook called Husband & Wives (I highly recommend it) and we’re on the chapter about love. In it I came across 1 John 4:18 that says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”
It prompted the question, “What is the fear that this verse is referring to and what does it mean by torment?” Before I had completely formed the thought, I already knew in my heart what it meant. I am familiar with that torment.
It’s the torment of failing so miserably, being so broken, that no matter how you try, you’re utterly unable to fix it or to do anything that makes you worthy of acceptance. It’s the fear of rejection, of being abandoned and stranded, having no way home, it’s the terror of being alone.
And, that led me to understand what it meant to be “made perfect in love”. You know who was made perfect in love?
The Prodigal Son.
I know because I am the Prodigal Son. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32 take note that the son was loved by the father in such a way that “when he came to himself” (v17) he had reason to believe that he could return home. And, just as importantly, he also knew he could not return home and continue to live however he wanted -he had to repent (v18).
The son acknowledging his sin and assuming a posture of humility in his heart, began the trip home. He was on the way, but while “he was still a great way off” and before he could get out the apology he had been practicing, the father ran to him and embraced him. The son repented and asked to return home, not as a son, but as any other stranger whom his father might hire as a servant. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.” (v23)
Rather than treat him as the prodigal and wayward son that he was, the father gave the son his best and restored him to what the father had always seen the son as: a prince. What amazing grace! It was as that moment, that what the son had only considered as a possibility before (maybe my father will accept me), he now knew irrevocably. It was then that the son was perfected in love because he knew that his acceptance was sure, because it was not based on his goodness but on the goodness of his father.
But, there’s more.
The father had another son. And as my mentor and spiritual father Pastor Gregory Jones would wisely point out, the lesson is as much about the second son as the first. The elder son who had remained home and who had been obedient was enraged at hearing of his father’s reception of his wanton and wasteful younger brother. But, “[the] father came out and pleaded with him”(v28) saying to the older son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (v31-32)
The lesson of the elder brother is this: you can “stay” in the house, do things that look right and be just as wayward in your heart as the prodigal son who “left”. To be perfected, we must have more than a mere association with the Father and more than works done out of rote obligation (Matthew 5:20). We have to know the Father (this is what Jesus came to teach us -John 14:6-7, John 17:1-4) and we must have the Father’s heart (when we believe Jesus, this is what He gives us -John 3).
To be made perfect in love is being assured of our acceptance in the beloved (Ephesians 1:6) because we know the goodness of the Father. Such love transforms us and gives us a heart to love the way he loves, not the world’s love that allows and approves of wrongdoing, but love that perfects, builds up and is gracious while affirming good and resisting evil. When we love the way He loves we become as He is and…
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgement; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.” -1 John 4:17-19
Whatever your proximity to God, no matter how far you think you’ve gotten, getting home takes only one step because God has been unceasingly moving towards you, His heart for you has never changed, before the beginning He made up His mind about you to love you. His love letter to us, the Bible, says that everyone who comes to Him, He will “by no means” turn away (John 6:37). And, the Way is Jesus who will teach us of the father’s goodness, give us the father’s heart, build us up into a spiritual home for others on this journey and perfect our love.
I’m a witness.