I am not a fan of how we usually understand this word, "perfect." It's problematic. It is excused. It is overused and used as a club. It is full of pressure, or it becomes a word of despair for some. But really, what does it mean?
In college, I was a fan of Friends (the show... I also appreciated actual friends, in case you were wondering). The personalities were a bit extreme at times, but that made it interesting. Ross was the nerdy, somewhat awkward one who couldn't get a relationship right until the very end of the series. Chandler was the one who was also awkward with women, but had a joke for every occasion. Joey was great with the women but couldn't hold a job down very long and was an average actor at best. Phoebe was the flighty, happy-go-lucky one with what seemed to be a checkered past. Rachel was the one with the fashion sense and sometimes seemed a bit emotionally overwrought. Then there was Monica. Once upon a time in her life, she was really big. Then she lost a lot of weight. In the show, she was the picky one. The hostess. The ultra-competitor. Theperfectionist. In one episode, Chandler (who was now dating her) tried to clean the whole apartment to do something nice. Everything was moved back into place as best he could remember, but she could still tell that the coffee table was too far from the couch.
I fear that some of these impressions of "perfect" have all but ruined how God might see it. 1 John 4 is a great chapter if you want to learn about the character of God and of love. But within it is a picture of perfection that I feel can be liberating.
"12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him."
So, if "perfect" really means "like God," this is pretty significant! God, after all, "is love..." First, love is something that is not ours. It is His! Second, we aren't the ones who perfect it. He does! In fact, the word "perfected" could have just as easily been translated "completed." This tells me that there was a starting point and that His love, being completed in us, is a process.
We see and testify of Jesus. His act of saving us is the ultimate expression of God's love. When we do this, we are given the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told His disciples in John 14:15-18. The Spirit, whom Christ refers to in a personal way, is at work in us as Christ was at work with His disciples, only He is even closer. And as He works, what is He perfecting (or completing)? Love! And the proof is in the pudding. We know that God is one with us and we are one with Him (another way of translating this passage from the word "meno" that John would have written in Greek is to remain in, be in, live in, or be one with) when we love one another. This is "agape" love that is more interested in the other than in self, that dearly regards the other and would do anything for the other. It is the closest word that can be used to describe God's love. This kind of love proves that we are in God, that God is in us, and that the Holy Spirit has been sent by Jesus into us, to live as "Jesus in us."
Perfection? Perfection of life and character is completion of love! It is completion!
I don't know about you, but I don't always feel there yet. Sometimes I don't act in a way that reflects that kind of love. It is proof to me that I am still in process (we call that sanctification "churchese"). But I am getting there, and the grace of God and the character of Christ is something I can always call upon. When I am in Him (or even back in Him), I am complete again because "... where I am weak, He is strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
So what to do. A few thoughts on becoming ONE WITH LOVE (or complete, or perfect).
Love one another. Do you regard others as dear ones? Do you think of them with loving regard? What would you sacrifice for that person, even that person who cut you off, flipped you off, insulted you, or ignored you at church? How much would you inconvenience yourself for another person? Not that you have to be a pushover... that doesn't help the other person any more than it helps you. But how well you love those that are hard to love is a litmus test for how well Christ's love is being completed in you. But as you love like Christ, and love others, you prove that God is in you and you are in God. It proves that the Father has sent the Spirit to live in you as Christ in you. It proves that, yes, He is completing (perfecting) you.
Talk about God's love. This is called "testimony." It is telling others how you have experienced God's love. For me, it was the first time I laid eyes on my newborn daughter. Or the first time it hit me that Jesus overcame the world for me (John 16:33 is my favorite text). Testimony also includes your confession and praise that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to save everyone.
So, about that... How has love been easy for you? How has it been challenging for you? How have you experienced God's love? how have you experienced Christ's salvation? Share away!