“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
1 John 4:9-12
In this season of love, my husband and I have been privileged to be walking through premarital counseling with a wonderful couple who is planning to wed this summer. In true small-town spirit, he has been a long time attender of our church who ministers in the children’s and youth ministries and while she did not attend our church, we know her as a teacher in the school (in fact, she is my son’s English teacher and cross country coach, much to his joy and sometimes frustration).
While walking through the material we typically do with couples preparing to wed, this time together has been special. The relationships we continue to forge with one another through this time are grace and love filled. I noticed in our most recent meeting that my husband has mentioned the same verse over and over during our time.
Trying to explain the mystery of earthly marital love and also God’s love for us brings challenges. We don’t always have the words to explain it all and it’s something that, unless you have witnessed and experienced it, you can’t even begin to understand. But walking through this passage again and again leads us further and further into understanding (but far from completely understanding!) how we are to treat one another (in marriage and other relationships) and from where we are to draw our strength to pursue these relationships.
“God loves us,” is an easy enough statement. “He loves us so much, He sent His Son to atone for our sins,” is also a primary Christian concept. “If God loves us so much that He did this, then we should love each other,” is a sermon I’m sure you’ve heard before. But verse 12 addresses something important. Nobody has seen God, so we don’t have a visual example from Him of how to love people. But because the Holy Spirit of God resides in us, guides us, and because of the endless and boundless love of God, a natural byproduct in us is that we love one another with the same outpouring of love.
By God’s love being perfected in us, that love is continually renewed and replenished and can overflow to others. That doesn’t mean that we will always have everlasting patience to love difficult relations, or someone who causes strife in the church through gossip. But because of God’s love encompassing everlasting forgiveness, we have that available for us to share. It doesn’t mean that we will never face trials (check out the book of Romans for help with that), but because God’s love is full of grace and mercy, we know that the perfecting of His love within us produces the character we need to grow and endure during that time.
I think about the endurance of love that I have for those around me. I’m always shocked at the amount of sometimes ridiculous things I can endure in ministry. These verses help explain it. I can love (no matter the situation) because of God’s love abiding in me. It’s not my love to give or take away as I see fit. It’s God’s and He faithfully gives us more and more. Just as He’s given me endless love for my husband, He may put hurting and difficult people in my path, but He’s also going to give me the love and grace to help them as well.
So we’ll keep talking to this couple about the abounding love of God, how He faithfully provides everything we need in marriage and beyond, above and beyond what we can do or expect from each other in our own strength.
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