by Al Maxey

Issue #568 ------- March 13, 2013
Make a beginning of love
and you will be made perfect.

St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

The Perfecting of Love
Reflective Study of 1 John 4:12

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a missionary in Nicaragua who, in the course of his comments, asked me the following question: "I am looking for some understanding on 1 John 4:12 -- 'His love is made complete in us.' I have searched your archives and found a number of Reflections on the topic of love, but none on the idea of love being made complete/perfect. What is your understanding of this passage of Scripture?" As one carefully examines the first epistle of the aged apostle John, one will quickly perceive that a major theme found within this brief work is love. Not only is love proclaimed to be the defining principle-based-on-precept of a Christian's daily walk, but it defines both who and what our God is -- "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16). Thus, if we are truly to be His children, we must become visible and audible expressions of that love, reflecting the very nature of our Father. Love is therefore the summation of all the Law and Prophets; it is the greatest of all the commands; it is the validation of our claim to be the disciples of His Son. Without it our religious professions and practices are a sham, a pretense. But, in what sense is love "made complete in us" (1 John 4:12) and "made complete among us" (vs. 17)? Or, to use the wording of other translations, in what sense is it "perfected in us"? Is it possible for mere men, no matter how well-intentioned, to possess and display perfect love? If so, how? These are important questions that deserve a reasoned response.

Clearly, the first step in our journey toward understanding this passage is defining the term translated "made complete" or "perfected." It is the Greek word "teleioo," which appears 24 times within the pages of the NT writings, with over a third of these appearances being in the gospel and first epistle of the apostle John. It is the verb form of the term "teleios," which appears 19 times in the New Covenant writings, but, oddly enough, is only used once by John, and with the force of an adjective: "perfect love" (1 John 4:18). W. E. Vine defines the word as meaning "to bring to an end by completing or perfecting; bringing to completeness; to accomplish, finish, fulfill" [An Expository Dictionary of NT Words, vol. 3, p. 174]. It also carries with it the idea of being "fully grown, mature" [ibid]. The renowned Greek scholar Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest concurs: "to bring to completion, to accomplish, finish" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 166]. Thus, in the passage before us, John is speaking of love having been brought to a point of completion: the purpose for which it is given is fully accomplished; the goal has been achieved.

The desire (indeed, the command) of our Lord is that we grow and develop in love to the point where we are truly a reflection of the nature of our God, who is love. To the degree we manifest His love, that love which is evidenced in and through us in our relationships with others is said to be "perfected" or "made complete." To the degree we withhold or suppress this love in our lives (as self interferes), it is thereby less than complete and mature; less than "perfected in us." The bringing of our nature into tune with His nature is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, for the transformation of ourselves into His image is not something we can accomplish on our own. That is why immediately after stating His love is made complete in us (1 John 4:12), we read, "because He has given us of His Spirit" (vs. 13). Paul tells us that the "sinful nature" cannot please God; indeed, it is impossible for our nature, on its own, to elevate us to a point of acceptance. "However, you are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9). In this chapter Paul repeatedly stresses the importance of the work of the Spirit "who lives in you" (vs. 11). He takes away fear and gives confidence (vs. 15), He affirms our status as children of God and heirs (vs. 16-17). In Galatians 5:13f Paul states that the sinful nature leads us to works of the flesh, which include strife, hatred, discord, fits of rage and other relationship destroying attitudes and behaviors. However, we are called to "serve one another in love" (vs. 13), for "the entire law is summed up in a single command: 'love your neighbor as yourself'" (vs. 14). Thus, when we "live by the Spirit" (vs. 16) and are "led by the Spirit" (vs. 18), the "fruit of the Spirit" evidenced in our lives will be seen in relationship building attitudes and behaviors such as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (vs. 22-23).

When Spirit-led disciples of Christ, who have Him living within them, exhibit the fruit of LOVE in their daily lives, they reflect the very nature of their Father, and in so doing "His love is made complete/perfected" in them (both individually and collectively). In this way our Father, who is not visible to the naked eye and thus cannot be seen by men, is made visible in the lives of His people. Men see Him in us, whether individually (a disciple) or collectively (the church). That is why the testimony of our LOVE is so important, and why a failure to LOVE one another is so detrimental to the cause of Christ. Indeed, if we do not LOVE, we are not truly His children. "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (vs. 20). "Anyone who does not love remains in death" (1 John 3:14). John declares that if we will not love others, then we are children of the devil rather than children of God (vs. 10). "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth (i.e., sincerely, genuinely)" (vs. 18). Again, in so doing we bring to completeness His love within us: we make it visible to those around us in its pure, perfected form. The benefit to us in doing this is that "we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him" (1 John 4:17). When His love is brought to maturity in us, then fear is driven out and replaced with assurance (vs. 18). Where men are fearful of their Father, love has yet to be brought to maturity (completed, perfected) in their hearts and lives. "The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (vs. 18). "Perfect love drives out fear" (vs. 18). "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us" (1 John 4:16-17).

The love of which John is speaking in this passage "is not primarily God's love for us or our love for Him, but the love which God IS in His nature, produced in our hearts by the Holy Spirit ... which is brought to its full capacity of operation by the Holy Spirit in our lives" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 169]. Wuest quotes Vincent (another noted Greek scholar), who says the same: "The words 'His love' do not refer to our love for Him, nor to His love for us, but to the love which is peculiarly His own, which answers to His nature" [ibid, p. 166]. "It then has its full accomplishment, having molded us according to its own nature" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 920]. Thus, our nature is transformed by the indwelling Spirit into the likeness of His nature, and the degree of attainment to this goal realized in our lives is the degree of completeness (perfection) we attain and evidence. The ideal is to be fully like Him; the reality, sadly, is that too often our own nature resurfaces and diminishes the reflection of His. But, life is a journey of imperfect souls, led by the Spirit, longing for an ever-increasing perfecting of our nature into the likeness of His. Paul lamented his own personal imperfection in this quest (Romans 7:15-25), yet celebrated his victory given by grace through the offering of the Savior and the operation of the Spirit (Romans 8:1ff).

God is love -- that is His essential nature. Our Father desires His children to reflect His nature to their fellow siblings, and also to those who do not yet know the Father. Indeed, we are to love all people, even those who may afflict us. In so doing, we truly reflect HIS love: a love that is being "perfected" (brought to maturity) within us as the Spirit transforms our nature into the likeness of His. We reflect this love by loving one another, and even by loving our enemies. We love as HE loves! "Seeing that God is invisible, His abiding in us can be shown only by His essential characteristic being exhibited in us: i.e., by our showing similar self-sacrificing love" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 104]. "Though God is invisible, He yet is not only very near to us, but may be in us, the Life of our lives. ... The manifestation of active love by men witnesses to two facts: (1) the abiding of God in them, and (2) the presence of divine love in them in its completest form" [Dr. B. F. Westcott, The Epistles of St. John: The Greek Text with Notes, p. 151]. Loving others is evidence that this divine love dwells within us; indeed, His love within us, transforming us, is what motivates us to love as He loves. "We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). He placed that love within us, and, with the aid of His Spirit, our natures become increasingly like His, thus becoming perfected. "The verb teleioo is here used in the emphatic form of the compound perfect, with the meaning of ongoing fulfillment, rather than static 'completion'" [Stephen S. Smalley, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 51, 1-2-3 John, p. 248]. In other words, our nature will never, during the course of our fleshly existence here on earth, attain to the absolute fullness of His nature. However, with the help of His indwelling Spirit, we progress daily toward that perfection, and in those moments (which we pray increase in quantity and quality daily) that we love as He loves, that love within us is shown in its most complete and perfect form. Thus, Paul prayed that we would all grow and mature toward the goal of that fullness (Eph. 4:13f), for the world will truly know we are His when they see Him (and His nature = love) evidenced in our lives. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples!" (John 13:35).


Special Appeal -- Many noticed (and sent emails about) the fact that there was no issue of Reflections last week. It was a challenging week in many ways, and one of those challenges was the concern Shelly and I had (and still have) over our little 6-year-old grandson: Jacob Maxey. He was born with a fairly rare condition (bladder exstrophy), and in his short life has had 20 different surgeries and surgical procedures. Recently he has developed a condition that often accompanies such problems with the bladder: a serious vesicocutaneous fistula, which the physicians are having great difficulty correcting and healing. He has been in and out of the hospital repeatedly the past few months, and is now facing a very major surgery in the next 6-8 weeks. Needless to say, this is difficult for the whole family in many ways. Our son and daughter-in-law have put together a web site where people can follow Jacob's journey toward healing, offer prayerful support, and also help financially (should that be their desire). On that site April writes: "This year has been especially hard on Jacob, and he has had some setbacks on his journey to recovery. Jacob is the strongest boy we know and has been a shining star during these trials; he has taught us so much. Due to rising health care costs, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with our medical bills. We want to make sure that Jacob can continue to receive the best care from the best physicians in the country, and that is why we are asking for your help." The web site, where that journey may be followed and/or supported is: I know many have already responded with fervent prayers and daily acts of kindness and encouragement. Some have additionally chosen to give financially (either through the above web site or by direct communication with our son and daughter-in-law). Each of you have the heartfelt gratitude of the entire family for your acts of love, compassion and grace. May God's richest blessings be upon you for your loving support as we seek the healing of our precious grandson.

The most recent news, which April sent out just the other day, is: "UPDATE: Well we have some unexpected news. We are home again from the hospital! I am not 100% sure this is a good thing, but time will tell. At least during this time we can be comfortable at home. Nothing has changed with Jacob's condition, in fact his incision opened more after a procedure and placement of his bag today. The Drs feel that there is no more they can do for him at this time and we will have to start over in 6-8 weeks with a pretty major surgery to repair the bladder and graft healthy tissue to help it heal. There is always the possibility that God can completely heal his wound in the meantime! He has perfect timing! My motto for the past couple of weeks has been Ephesians 3:20-21-- 'Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory...'"

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in Surrey, UK:

Dear Al Maxey, May God bless you for your Berean spirit! Oh, how priceless your work is proving to be at this time in the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Please add me to your mailing list for Reflections. With warm regards from the United Kingdom.

From a Minister in Virginia:

The problem with your teaching is that you will not accept the only lawful positions on biblical doctrine: those taught by the inspired men who gave us the God-breathed words that the Holy Spirit gave humanity by searching the mind of God. I get your Reflections and have read after you for many years. I rarely find anything with which I can agree. Your teaching does nothing but make excuses for sin and fosters the ecumenical doctrine of "I'm OK, you're OK." How sad will be the judgment for your kind!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I would like to thank you for your ministry! Your Reflections articles have been an enormous help to me personally. I was raised in an ultra-conservative and legalistic congregation. If you didn't agree with our list of convictions, then you were marked as "worldly" and regarded as "unsaved." Many families left our church, or were disfellowshipped. About four years back, God began to open my eyes and lead me away from such thinking (i.e., that a person's salvation depended on getting all of these convictions and preferences down correctly). I began to ask myself some hard questions, such as, "Why are no visitors coming to our church?" and "Why do we keep ourselves away from other churches?" and "Why is everyone but us unsaved?" I am no theologian and honestly didn't quite know how to organize all my thoughts coherently. Then the Lord led me to your web site and your Reflections articles, and it was truly an answer to prayer!! It has been a very tough road getting out of legalism. That mindset was depressing, and it nearly killed all my joy in Christ. There were times I did not even want to go to church, and just wanted to "get out of the country" and escape somewhere instead. But, finding your studies was truly a Godsend! And, praise God, I did come out of that legalism. Thank you, and God bless your ministry.

From a Reader in California:

I ordered your book Down, But Not Out a few years ago, but now I need two more copies. Enclosed is a money order for these books. Also, please count me in for your Reflections mailouts. My husband and I "saw the light" back in 2008, and since then some of our family has joined us (but some have not). Please don't let the "nots" get to you! Thanks for all your work!

From a Reader in Texas:

I have a blind friend I visit with and read to regularly. He is one of the best Bible students I know. I have been telling him what a great writer and scholar you are. He asked me today if you had any audio materials available that he might be able to listen to. So, enclosed is a check for your two MP3 series: The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny (20 lessons) and Encouragement for the End Times: A Study of 1-2 Peter (28 lessons). May God bless you and your Reflections ministry!

From a Reader in Oregon:

I just wanted to thank you for all the summaries of the various prophets on your Study of the Minor Prophets web site. Very useful information in the vernacular for Bible students such as myself. I'm going over the prophetic books again (this time doing those who were contemporaries of one another) and formulating outlines of each chapter to keep myself straight on what's what. So, I'm quite appreciative of your work and the tidbits that otherwise might not be found elsewhere. Keep up the great work!

From a Pastor/Author in Florida:

I so much appreciated your exposition of the prodigal son narrative in your work "Symphony for Salvaged Sinners." In all my years, I have not seen anyone else (except for you and me) who has used our Lord's words as an "authority pattern" for praise in our Father's House. God bless you, Al. By the way, several key church leaders have ordered my book "Let's Just Praise The Lord!" I want to thank you again for your gracious endorsement, which is included in this book. I truly value you as God's voice in a great sectarian desert!

From a Reader in Alaska:

I thank God for you and your talent of writing so well. You have been able to help me, and many others, get so much more depth of meaning from so many subjects. Also, Happy Birthday. I hope you have a fantastic day of celebration.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Happy Birthday young man! I am an octogenarian living in North Carolina, and am a fourth generation member of the Church of Christ, which, of course, is irrelevant except to point out that I am aware of and have lived through much of our recent (and some might say, "not so recent") history. I am rather non-demonstrative with my emotions, but have had the privilege and joy, in the past few years, to be a member of a wonderful Church of Christ congregation that worships openly, joyfully and celebratively. We have both an a cappella worship service and an instrumental worship service. We generally have only men leading in the former, but men and women taking part in the latter. Although a few of our members left over this change, we have seen growth in attendance, with the second (contemporary) service having consistently larger attendance, and the number of people thinking about becoming members has increased significantly. Our prayer is that God will bless us by helping us reach the unchurched. It is wonderful to see the power of the Spirit at work among Christians and congregations, and also in you and your writings. I believe God looks at the heart of the worshipper rather than the style of worship. Several years ago, when I began learning that I'm saved by grace through faith, rather than through my own perfections in getting all of the details of my life lined up with someone's preconceived understanding of correctness, I've been thrilled to see how this fundamental insight expresses itself in our lives and worship. It truly makes one want to dance and laugh -- even in church! Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Preachers often talk about the father, the younger brother (the prodigal), and the elder brother in Christ's parable in Luke 15. But, what about the role of the servants in this famous parable?! "The father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet." WE are those servants, and our role is the same when a repentant brother or stranger comes to Christ. We servants are to bring the best robe, the ring, and the sandals as we prepare him for the celebration in the Father's house. I love and appreciate you, brother. Happy Birthday ... and, by the way: application for retirement denied! Your work in the kingdom is far too important!!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Thank you for your thoughts in "Symphony for Salvaged Sinners." I recently spoke on this parable in a congregation I was visiting. I believe this is the greatest exposition on grace in all the Bible. As I had on other occasions, I emphasized the celebration that went on in heaven -- in the Father's house -- over the restoration of lost sinners. What a difference between what Jesus said goes on in heaven and what too often takes place here on earth when a person is restored or immersed! Oh, we shake their hand or hug them and slap them on the back, but that is the extent of our "celebration." We then abandon them on the steps of the church building, and later wonder what happened to them when they fail over time to show up for the mandatory solemn ritual and creed rehearsal. The next thing, of course, is that we have to "withdraw" from them because they have become "unfaithful." How little we understand or appreciate what God is really like!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

I really liked your last Reflections ("Symphony for Salvaged Sinners"). It reminded me of a story about a group planting a church in a Jewish area of New York City some years ago (one of the members of the group was the younger brother of our Bible class teacher). The new Christians converted from Judaism insisted on coming to the assembly dancing, singing and playing tambourines, which they would do all the way down the aisle 'till they sat down. The "Gentiles" tried to stop them, but couldn't. They insisted this was how their people had come into the presence of God for centuries, and they intended to continue. Eventually, the ones objecting gave up and let them. I thought of this story and laughed all the way through your article! Jews = 1, Gentiles = 0. Can't win 'em all. (LOL)

From a Minister in Kansas:

In the book "Messianic Church Arising," the author describes Messianic Christianity. They still celebrate the Sabbath, and it is indeed a celebration with dancing and singing. It is also a time of rest, community and prayer. A good read, and something to ponder.

From a Reader in Georgia:

As I read your article "Symphony for Salvaged Sinners," it came to my mind that most people would certainly rather attend a wedding than a funeral. Not that "church" is all about personal enjoyment, but even Jesus seemed to look forward to His coming back (the great wedding feast) more than His death on the cross. It was for the JOY that was to come that He endured the misery. I'm not sure He would have made it out of Gethsemane if all He'd known was all six verses of "Just As I Am." Love ya, brother!

From a Minister in Alabama:

Your article "Symphony for Salvaged Sinners" reminded me of Psalm 47:1-2 -- "O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy. For the Lord Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth." We so often think of reverence in cultural terms (solemn, somber, grave, dignified, etc.), but here, in this psalm, reverence for the Lord involves clapping and shouting to God with a voice of joy! Not what most people think of when they think of reverence. Amazing how we miss these kinds of things because our upbringing and culture influence our reading so profoundly.

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