A flower bed lies along the front of my family’s home. We inherited many of the plants from the former owners of the house—spirea, phlox, boxwood. We also have added some plants of our own. We transplanted hostas from our old house in Petrolia via my parent’s house in Bancroft to our home in Bracebridge.
I don’t know much about flower gardens, but I have learned the difference between annuals and perennials. Perennials are the plants that come back every year, while annuals are the pretty ones that have to be re-purchased and re-planted every year. One of my favourite annuals is the snapdragon. Last year, Donna bought a few of them and planted them in the garden bed to add colour to the front yard.
This spring we were surprised to see that the snapdragon had sprung back to life with no help from us. Imagine that—an annual behaving like a perennial! This little arboreal abnormality helped me to understand 1 John 4:17-18 that speaks about how we are to be like Christ in the world.
The Goal of Love
John wrote about how love is “perfected” in us (1 John 1:17 ESV). When I hear the word ‘perfect’, I immediately think of words like ‘pristine’, ‘flawless’, and ‘excellent’. It’s the sort of word I would use to describe a test score of 100%. It’s important to note, however, that “perfected” in this verse is a translation of the Greek verb teleioō, which refers to the goal to which something points—the mature form of something. Using this Greek term, you could say that a baby is “perfected” by becoming an adult, whether that adult aces her tests or not!
What does this say about love? John wants us to consider what the goal of love is—what the mature form of love leads to. Now, it’s important to note that this is not the only goal, but it’s the goal that John wanted to emphasize here:
The goal of love is confidence in light of God’s judgment.
The Day of Judgment
The end-time judgment of God is often called “The Day of the Lord” and the prophets painted it in terrifying images. Take Amos, for example:
Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why would you have the day of the LORD?
It is darkness, and not light,
as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
(Amos 5:18-20 ESV)
The Day of the Lord is that time when God will act definitively to make all things right. God’s people who have suffered unjustly will be vindicated, or proved right in the eyes of those who have mistreated them. On the other hand, those who mistreated God’s people will be punished for their actions.
The prophets spoke in terrifying terms of God’s judgment because they recognized that many of God’s people had become the very oppressors they expected God to punish! Don’t look forward to the Day of the Lord if you’re on the wrong side!
A message like that should be enough to strike fear into any modern day Christian. After all, who is to say whether or not we’re on the side of the oppressor or the oppressed? Sure, we feel the disdain of a secular world, but what would an Old Testament prophet plunked into twentieth century North America have to say about our spending habits, our financial priorities, our relative luxury?
John provides us with a way to know our security: when we allow God’s love to consume us to the degree that we cannot help but love those around us in the same way then we will have no need to fear the judgment of God.
As He Is So Are We
Are you wondering where that snapdragon flower comes in? Right here.
Jesus referred to himself as a seed.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat [or a snapdragon seed] falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24 ESV)
Jesus was that seed that fell into the ground at the end of the season and died. Then, in his resurrection, he became the first born from the dead. We’re next. In the same way that Jesus was in the world—the very life of God enfleshed—we also are in the world with the life of God coursing within and among us. We are the next season of snapdragons growing in his wake, children of our Father in heaven.
John wrote it so concisely and lyrically:
As he is
so also are we
in this world.
(1 John 4:17 ESV)
Jesus died and returned to life. In Christ, we have died to our old selfish selves and have entered into his life. Jesus is now incarnate in this world in us. His Spirit transforms his followers into his Church, his family, his own body. As he is so also are we.
Now all that remains is to tie these two thoughts together:
- Love finds its goal in confidence on the day of Judgment.
- We are called to be Jesus incarnate in this world.
Love v. Fear
Have you ever procrastinated about something to the point where the consequences became painful? Perhaps you put off making a decision to ask for help until asking for help became too awkward to ask for? Maybe you know the unsettled feeling, the fear, that sets in when you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.
John tells us that “fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18 ESV). You could also say that fear itself includes an aspect of punishment. When we consider this in light of the whole passage, the truth becomes clear.
When we go about our lives living only for ourselves, essentially enthroning ourselves as Lord, we push the love of God away from the centre of our lives. As we put ourselves in the centre (as Adam and Eve chose to do so long ago), we increase in selfishness as the perfect love of God is pushed to the periphery of our being. The more we live like this, the more we begin to fear God’s judgment because we know deep down that something is not right with the way we’re living.
On the other hand, when we relinquish the throne of our lives and allow Jesus to take his rightful place by the power of his Spirit, we reflect that love more and more to the people around us. This perfect love of God drives any fear of judgment out of our lives because we know deep down that we’re aligning ourselves with God’s purpose for the world (on earth as it is in heaven).
Kruse wrote it concisely:
Perfection in love here involves a love for God which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship is what removes our fear as we face the day of judgment. (168-9)
May we all live lives of fear-free abandon to the perfect love of God.