“God is love, and the one who abides in that love abides in God and God abides in him. In this, that love has been perfected with us, so that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because just as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in that love, but that perfect love casts out that fear, because fear has punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in that love. We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 16b-19
I am coming to understand, sadly more and more all the time, that love is a word that is used often in Christian circles, but true understanding of what that word means is not commensurate with the level of usage.
Inside every person, there is a desire to truly know and to be truly known. And it is that love that is found in God that allows that to occur. How often has it been said that people put on a mask when with others? Why does that person feel it necessary to put on that mask? Because of fear at how others will respond and react if they are allowed to see who that person really and truly is. That person fears reprisal, harsh criticism, nonacceptance, and/or condescension. And those feared responses can be seen as a form of “punishment.” And it is often the case that that fear is justified.
And the one group where that love should be flowing can often be the very place where it is not shown – congregations, assemblies, groups of followers of Jesus. It’s not that there are not other places and groups where that love isn’t shown, but it hurts even more when the very place where one expects to find that love is given the exact opposite.
I have talked with many different people who have told me that the one time where they feel like they cannot be who they truly are due to responses is when they are with groups of Christians. They fear hard reactions and harsh words because it has been their experience that Christians are very good at giving both, both in front of them and behind their back which eventually get back to them. I have either experienced myself or been told by others of their experiences of anonymous criticisms leveled, criticisms which were hard and scathing and down right mean-spirited. And I have no problem whatsoever believing that those who offer these types of anonymous comments feel absolutely justified and righteous and holy in doing so.
There is just one problem – God doesn’t agree. That love that finds its origin, its source, in God casts out fear – ALL fear. So, if an action does not contribute to a person’s willingness to be known by others, then that action is an unloving action and goes against God’s character, nature, and heart.
And just saying that it was said in love (claiming to be “speaking the truth in love,” which by the way is a smelly pile of manure) isn’t evidence that it was love. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. If the action or comment doesn’t cause the person to whom said action or comment was directed to allow themselves to be known more fully, than that action or comment is not loving, no matter what the person doing or saying it thinks.
And here’s another thing – there is an opposite reality to the Apostle John’s words. If the one who abides in that love (meaning that love is truly demonstrated and is the source for all that one does) abides in God and God abides in them, then if one is not abiding in that love, that person does not abide in God and God does not abide in them.
Want to know why a marriage is to be an excellent image of God? Because in a good marriage, neither person has any fear about sharing anything. Neither has any fear of truly being known and truly knowing. And that’s because of the presence of true and pure love. That’s the reason why a person, with one’s spouse, can fully be who s/he is, without fear of reprisal or “punishment.”
So, the next time, before you make that comment, write that anonymous note, or do that action, ask yourself, “Will this encourage or discourage that person to allow themselves to be fully known?” Be honest in answering it; don’t rationalize it. If someone were to say or do to you what you are going to say or do to them, would it encourage or discourage you? And if it will truly discourage, then it is not loving. And, therefore, it is not an example of abiding in God because you are not moving in love.