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25. Perfect In Love

Chapter 25

Perfect In Love

We discussed perfect love at the conclusion of the last chapter. We caught a glimpse of its importance for our lives as new persons in Christ. In this chapter we consider other aspects of this essential life quality, a quality that endows and adorns our lives with spiritual excellence, enabling us to leave behind the spiritual mediocrity which we tend to become accus­tomed to. It brings Christ’s beauty into our lives.

1. No Perfect Love, No Living Church

To begin with, we must realize that without perfect love there is no church, the body of Christ, in the New Testament sense of “church”. It is as fundamentally important as that. If that statement is too compact, let me repeat it in this way: Without perfect love there is, in prac­tical terms, no such thing as the body of Christ, the church. What does this mean? Let us answer this by asking: If we subtract “love” from “church,” what exactly is left? An organization and its members? Church buildings? Christian doctrines? Yes, all of these. But do these constitute the church in the Bible?

In the New Testament “church” never refers merely to a human organization or to buildings. There were no church buildings in New Testament times. What then is the church? The word for “church,” ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία made up of ek, ἐκ, “out” or “out of,” and klētos, κλητός the “called, invited, chosen”) literally means a group of people who have been “called out”.

The word was used in a secular context among the Greeks to refer to an assembly of citizens called out by the town crier. In the Septuagint it referred to the assembly or congregation of the Israel­ites. Its meaning in the New Testament is well expressed by the apostle Peter’s statement that it is God “who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. The whole statement reads,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may pro­claim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2.9, ESV)

Light and life are inseparably related. Christ gives us “the light of life” (Jo.8.12). God is both light and life, and so is Jesus.

This means that we have been called out of death into life. The church is a community of people who have been called out of the darkness of this world to live in God’s light and life;[79] this is the new life that He has given us in Christ.

But light and life are also inseparably joined with love, which is God’s very nature (1Jo.4.8,16). It is therefore impossible to have His light and His life without having His love. If we don’t have His love, then neither do we have His life. This is a truth that John, espe­cially in his first letter, never tires of emphasizing.

It follows therefore that if the church is a community of people who have been called out of a loveless, egotistical world, into God’s marvelous light and life, then the church has thereby been called to live in His wonderful self-giving love.

When speaking of the church, Paul’s first preference is to refer to it as the “body of Christ”. The word “body” in itself does not indicate whether it is dead or alive. Certainly Paul is not speaking of a dead body, but of a living body with its various members working together for the benefit of the whole (1Co.12-14). And what do we find in the heart of this discourse on the body? A homily on love (ch.13)! Doesn’t the word of God intend to tell us, by means of this striking arrangement, that love is the very heart of the body of Christ? And since it is Christ’s body, it must of necessity pulsate with God’s life and God’s love.

(1) Where Do We See the Body of Christ Today?

In the world today, where do we see the body of Christ in the Biblical sense of that term? There is no shortage of church buildings and church organi­zations, but where do we find a body of God’s people that conforms to what we see in Scripture?

Let me explain. In my student days in London, England, I at­tended one of the most famous churches not only in London, but also in England. In that church there was a preacher and pastor of great renown with an extraordinary gift of teaching; he was gifted in the clarity and the expository skill of his preach­ing. Church attendance was perhaps about a thousand per service. People flocked from all over London to listen to his preaching. When we walked in and sat down, there was a certain sense of expectation as we waited for the preaching of the word. But after the service was over, people would head straight for the door, rarely greeting or shaking hands with anyone.

It was in this church that many of us received our spiritual nourishment. We were also attending another church at that time, but like so many churches, there was little teaching or preaching of any substance there. To survive spiritually, and to get solid exposition of God’s Word, people had to go elsewhere.

An old friend of mine also attended this famous church. I once asked him, “We attended that church for several years in our student days. Did you get to know anybody there?” His answer was no. Of all the amazing things that could happen in the world, we attended that church for several years without knowing anyone in it! There was not even a church get-together where people could have fellowship over a cup of tea.

In what sense, then, is this a New Testament church? It is, of course, a church in the sense of its having a building, a congregation, some administrators, and a preacher, but not in the sense of its being a body in which people are related to one another. How many churches in the world would you describe as an integrated body, not in some vague theoretical sense, but in a dynamic and spiritual way?

(2) A Bible Lecture?

Can we find a church in the New Testament sense of the word? We scarcely know what it is. Today we go to church to listen to a Bible lecture with some time allotted for hymn singing. Dignifying a lecture with the word “sermon” or “homily” does not change the reality of the matter. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having Bible lectures or calling them sermons, but that does not make a New Test­ament church.

A church service is basically a meeting that you attend for an hour or so, in which you sing several songs and listen to a sermon, and then go back home. If the same sermon was given in the faculty of divinity of a univer­sity, it would be called a “lecture”; but because it was delivered in a church building, it is called a “sermon”. Yet there is no fundamental difference be­tween the two apart from the fact that at the university you would not normally sing before the lecture! But is this what God wants His church to be?

(3) Is a Church Really a Church Without Love?

What is the answer to this question in the light of Biblical teaching? As we will see, a church is truly a church only where there is love. By that definition, of course, a college is not a church; in fact even a church may not really be a church. We will need to elaborate on this def­inition because we could easily arrive at a simplistic understanding of what a church is and what love is. We do not seek a theoretical but a practical spiritual understanding. The church as the body of Christ is a profound concept and can only be touched upon in this chapter in a preliminary way; love as perfect Christ-like love is also extremely profound, and we aim to consider it more fully in the following pages.

The church I attended in London had a thou­sand people per service. Love one another? Well, we did not even know one another. Christian love was certainly mentioned in the preaching from time to time, but that meant very little in reality because in the rush to get home for lunch people hardly even found time to greet one another.

At the end of the church service, the speed at which the people rushed for the doors was amazing. Those who are pressed for time might wish to take up jogging in order to beat the traffic jam at the exits, where a thousand people are trying to get out. It is advisable, of course, that you preserve your dignity in so doing by not rushing for the door like a commuter chasing a bus, but quietly trucking along with long, elegant strides (where space permitted it) without paying much attention to people on either side.

In that church, the matter of love was brought up occasionally during a sermon, but most of the people in the church were not interested in communicating with other people apart from showing a polite smile.

In all my years in this famous church, I was wondering if it was a church. I attended the lectures (sermons)—good solid lectures—week after week for several years without knowing anyone there, not even the pastor. In all those years, only once did I speak to him, and it was not even in church. We bumped into each other at the narrow door of a Christian library, and exchanged a greeting. I never spoke to him in church because he never stood at the door to greet people. Immediately after the church service, he would retreat to the privacy of his study. Somehow people got used to it.

(4) What is a Body?

Without perfect love there is, in reality, no New Testament church, that is, a church as delineated in Biblical teaching, where it is called the “body of Christ”.

What is a body? We don’t have to study medicine to know what a body is; we all possess a body and know something about it.

And what can we say about a body? For one thing, the members of the body don’t need to be in direct contact with all the other members. That is not even physically possible. A brain cell cannot be in direct contact with a liver cell; they are linked indirectly only through the network of cells in between. Each cell has a direct link only with its adjacent cells. The link is not, of course, a mere physical juxtaposition but a vital, living connection. If a cell is isolated from its neighbors, it will die.

Likewise, in the body of Christ, we don’t need to be directly related to every other person in the church universal; that is not physically possible. But it does mean that we are, or should be, vitally related to those immediately around us.

Let us suppose that, like many Christians, I go to church once a week. On Sunday I go and say hello to the people there. When the service is over, I don’t rush for the door but stay back ten minutes, or even half an hour, to greet some of the people. I chat with them for a while, “How are you? You’re down with a cold? Take some medication and drink plenty of fluids. And how about you over there? Oh, you’ve bought a car? Well, I hope it’s running well.” After this I say goodbye and head back home.

If we call this the body of Christ, we must be joking. Does a cell come into the body once a week to say hello to the other cells, and then disappears for another week? If you think this is getting comical, you are getting the picture. Someone may point out, how­ever, that this is the way things are nowadays, people are individ­ualistic, so they are not in the habit of getting too involved in other people’s lives.

If that is so, how can we ever prac­tice love? For the moment, I am not even talking about perfect love but about a general and rather superficial love that we might call communal friendship or social rapport. How do we practice love when we are living an individ­ualistic way of life? By sending Christmas cards? Or contributing cans of food to the needy? As we shall see, there is simply no body of Christ without perfect love.

Moreover, how does a conventional church as we know it differ from a secular organization? If you say that your church is a “body,” what about your company? The non-Christian works from nine to five, and spends far more time with his colleagues than church members spend among themselves. He knows the people in the office better than the church people know each other because he spends far more time with his colleagues. In fact, the people in the office are more appropriately called a “body” than are the people in church.

Is there any reason for being reluctant to call the company a “body”? In the company you have the boss, the operations manager, the sales manager, the office staff, and so on. They spend a large part of the day and of the week (and often a good part of their lives) working together, and even eating together at the cafeteria. That is more like a body in actual or realistic terms than what can be found in most churches. There is a commitment to one another in the sense that the company’s survival—and therefore their jobs—de­pends on cooperation and shared objectives.

In what sense, then, is the church a body if the people get together for an hour or two a week? Perhaps that is why some theologians talk about the “mystical” body of Christ—a body so mys­tical that nobody knows what or where it is!

The New Testament never talks about a “mysti­cal body” of Christ. We read only of the “body of Christ” as a tangible, living, dynamic body. Today this body of Christ is scarcely visible any­where, so in a sense, sadly, they are not entirely wrong when they say it is mystical. But if we say it is “mystical” to justify its being nonfunctional (in the light of what it is meant to be according to Scripture), then we fall into self-deception.

(5) Where in Practice is the One Body?

We won’t have a body of Christ in the New Testament sense unless its cells are vitally related to one another in love. This can be practiced, initially, on a small scale. There is a body only when all the cells are related to one another in a dynamic way. But the aver­age church today has no structure of interconnected cells, much less a body in which there is constant interaction in a vital relation­ship between all its members.

Students who share a household will understand what I said at the beginning, namely, that without perfect love there is no body of Christ. When you live toget­her, you will see the importance of love, without which it would be impossible to tolerate each other for long. Perfect love is vital when you stay together as a household, or a team, or in some form of com­munal life, because without perfect love, people won’t be able to hold together in oneness. (On “Oneness” see Chapter 13.)

People who isolate themselves won’t concern themselves with love because they are not living in a direct relationship with other people. All they need to do is to show up on Sunday with a friendly smile. Your facial muscles can endure ten minutes of this, maybe even an hour.

But when people stay together, love is an indispensable necessity. It is easy to put up with people one hour a week, but not ten hours a day; so if you lack love, you are obliged to seek refuge in isolation.

Many Christ­ians are afraid of communal living because they cannot take the pressure. But if you live a solitary Christian life, in what sense are you a member of the body? When people remove themselves from a living relationship to each other in the body of Christ, the body starts to fall apart.

Right after Pentecost, as love was being poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, the Christians at Jerusa­lem began to draw close to one another. Where love permeates the heart, people are drawn together. These Christians “broke bread” or had meals together whenever possible. They inter­acted with one another. Not even the married couples isolated themselves from the main body. They gladly prac­ticed hospitality. Everyone had a vital link to others in the body of Christ, at least on the cell level.

If we think this is unnecessary in the church today, then we don’t understand the nature of the New Testament church. In the body of Christ, commitment to one another is not something option­al.

If you live an isolated Christian life, commitment would be unnec­essary. Do you still remem­ber how easy it was to be a Christian when you stayed by yourself? Love was not really necessary. But when you moved in with other people suddenly it became very hard to be a Christian. You stepped on each other’s toes, and stumbled over each other. In the same household you have people of different temperaments and different ways of doing things. In this situation the necessity of love becomes perfectly clear.

(6) What is our Concept of the Church?

Now we can see why we do not, in practical terms, have a body of Christ; today we rarely see the kind of love that makes Christ’s body a reality. The question confront­ing us is whether we are really engaged in building up a New Testament church. If all we want is a church where people get together every Sunday, but who don’t interact for the rest of the week, then the task is relatively easy. If we all surrender to our individualism and our egoism, what will happen to the body of Christ? What will happen to us if we are found not to be members of his body? Do we think we could be saved without being members of his body? If yes, we do well to consider carefully the word of God again.

Has love become a luxury today? In this age of spiritual poverty, is talking about perfect love as farfetched as a beggar talking about living in a palace? Do we say to ourselves, “Perfection of love has nothing to do with reality? We spiritual beggars should not waste time talking about love and other lofty topics. Perfect love is unrealistic and irrelevant in this age.” If that is so, we might as well say the Bible is irrelevant, for it was Jesus himself who called us to be perfect.

Either we strive for perfection, aiming for noth­ing less than perfect love, or it may be better if we don’t talk about the church at all. When we talk about the church, for example, we talk about raising money for a church building, but the Bible never talks about a church building. We talk about going to church, but we have nothing like a New Testament church where people functioned as a body.

We form a congregation and call it a church. It is not a New Testament church unless its members are wholly committed to one another in love. The New Testament doesn’t know of any other kind of church.

Today “church” refers to any Christian group with an organizational structure. We have the Roman Catholic Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, and so on. That is not the New Testament meaning of “church”. The New Testament has in view a body that functions as an organism, not merely as an organization. A body is a living organism, or else it is not truly a body. The Body of Christ is truly a living spiritual organism, hence Paul could speak of those who function as feet, or ears, or eyes, or hands, within this spiritual organism (1Corinthians 12.15ff).

I am preaching the gospel today, but maybe I should get another job. If we have no body of Christ in the New Testament sense, then neither do we have a church. If so, then I have no ministry and I don’t want to preach the word of God as a Sunday lecture. Either the preaching of the Word brings about the body of Christ, or I have no useful function in the church. My task, as I see it in Scripture, is to build up the body of Christ. I am, in this sense, a “bodybuilder”!

Summarizing my first point: a church is not a New Testament church or body of Christ unless there is perfect love and commit­ment to one another.

2. The Danger of Partial Obedience to the Church

One of the most dan­ger­ous things in the Christian life, and therefore for the life of the church, is partial obedience or the partial fulfilling of something, as opposed to perfect obedience. Partial fulfillment deceives us because it only manages to soothe our con­science by making us think that we have done something when in fact we have not done it perfectly. If we obey partially, we think we have met our obligations in one sense or another.

Anything less than perfect obedience will only lead to self-deception. As we saw earlier (in chapter 16), Scripture says that no sacrifice is acceptable to God unless it is perfect. You cannot offer Yahweh a sacrificial sheep that has the slightest blemish. If it has a limp, or a deformed ear, or any kind of blemish, it is unacceptable. The priest must inspect the sheep thoroughly to make sure it is perfect. Only when it passes the inspection can it be offered to God as a sacrifice.

In so much of Christianity today, it seems that people dare to offer just about any kind of junk to God. Christianity has become a garbage collection center where people offer to God imperfect, partial, or half-hearted service. But in doing this, they think they are doing quite well because they feel they are better than those who go to church offering nothing at all, not even a tithe. And there are those who go to church only with the intention of getting whatever they can for themselves.

Saul fulfilled God’s command partially, and thought he was obeying God. God’s prophet Samuel said to him, “Why then did you not obey the voice of Yahweh?” To which Saul retorted, “But I did obey the voice of Yahweh” (1Sam.15.19-20). Like so many Christ­ians today, Saul thought he had obeyed Yahweh God when in fact it was only partial obedience.

Partial obedience, as Samuel pointed out to Saul, is disobedience and the rejection of God’s word: “Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, He has also rejected you from being king” (v.23). If Saul had continued to obey Yahweh, his kingship over Israel would have remained in his house and in his lineage forever; but it was taken away because of his partial obedience which, in God’s sight, is disobed­ience. Samuel said to Saul:

“You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the command­ment of Yahweh your God which He commanded you, for now Yahweh would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure… because you have not kept what Yahweh commanded you.” (1Sam.13.13-14)

When will we Christians ever understand the im­portance of com­plete obedience? Many say or think to themselves, “Well, I did obey to some extent,” as though that is enough for God.

On the Day of Judgment, there will be those who commend them­selves to the Lord Jesus by saying, “Lord, Lord, haven’t I done this and that, and even cast out demons in your name?” Yet Jesus will reject them, saying, “Depart from Me, you evildoers” (Mt.7.22-23).

Evildoers? How could he say that? Surely exorcism helps in the spread of the gospel, and demons are cast out only by the power of God. Satan doesn’t cast out demons because this would weaken his kingdom (Mk.3.23,24). Therefore, those who cast out demons must be of God and function by God’s power. In what sense, then, were they evildoers?

We can imagine them pleading, “Lord, Lord, haven’t you called us to cast out demons and do other mighty works to build your kingdom? Surely we have done your will.” Yes they did obey, but it was partial obedience.

When will we learn, once and for all, that disobedience in one area despite obedience in another is, nevertheless, disobedience in God’s eyes? Christians don’t seem to grasp it. They feel that be­cause they have obeyed in one area or another, they will be safe on the Day of Judgment.

On the day when Christians all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (for it is written that “we must all appear before the judg­ment seat of Christ,” 2Cor.5.10), many Christ­ians will find themselves in serious trouble with the Lord, not because of outright disobedience but because of partial obedience. Like the people in Matthew 7.22, they will say, “Lord, Lord, I went to church every Sunday, gave financial help to so-and-so, and even cast out a couple of demons,” only to hear the reply, “Depart from me, you evil­doer.”

In what sense an evildoer? Since this statement occurs in chapter 7 in the Sermon on the Mount, we can ask, for example, whether we are obeying the Sermon itself. For it is precisely in this Sermon that Jesus calls us to be perfect in love (Mt.5.48). Will not the rejection of this clear command be the downfall of many Christians on that Day?

3. Not Just Love, But Perfect Love: Jesus’ Love

Brothers and sisters, partial obedience is why we don’t have a functional New Testament church.

Even in the New Testament period, not all the churches lived up fully to the Biblical teaching. The Corinthian church is a well-known example. Towards the end of the New Testament period, we are shown serious failings in five of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. These failings were failures in their “obedience of faith,” resulting from their partial obedience. They were called to repentance, with stern warnings given about the consequences which must inevitably follow continued disobedience. We do well to heed these warnings in Revelation 2 and 3, for these were written also for our instruction.

Therefore, in speaking of a “New Testament church,” we are not idealizing the various local churches of the New Testament era (the period during which the New Testament writings were written), for they too had their failings even if they were generally better than we. What we mean by “New Testament church” is the church as it is meant to be according to the New Testament.

According to New Testament teaching, there cannot be a true church if love does not prevail in it. In fact Jesus’ require­ments are even higher than Christian love as we understand that term, for he says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you” (John 15.12).

Someone reading my repeated references to “perfect love” might ask me: Did Jesus really call us to perfect love, or are you setting a standard even higher than what Jesus and the Bible requires? We would never dare to set a higher standard than what Jesus sets for his people—but neither do we dare to affirm a standard lower than what he prescribes.

What is the standard that he himself has set? It is stated lucidly in the words, “Just as I have loved you”. The question is not whether we love one another, but whether we love one another as Jesus has loved us! And how did he love us? At the cross he poured himself out for us without reservation, holding back nothing even to his last breath. Is that anything less than the absolute expression of perfect love?

It is to this he calls us. “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1John 3.16). Here again is the call to love as he loved. “Perfect love” and “perfected love” are mentioned in 1John 4.18, but the idea permeates the whole New Testament, especially in the context of the saving work of Christ for us.

Moreover, perfect love is not something that appears for the first time in the New Testament; God had already called His people to such love in the Old Testament. Jesus himself emphasized this fact. To the question, “Which is most important of all the commandments?” Jesus replied:

The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12.28-31, NIV)

Notice the fourfold “all”. The totality of the call to love is absol­utely clear. Yet it sums up the commandments of the Old Testa­ment. That is why John writes,

Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new com­mandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. (1Jo.2.7,8)

Jesus’ perfect love for us is the standard of love to which we are called by this “new commandment”: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jo.13.34).

What is new about the “new commandment” is that it is now defined by the substance and character of the “as I have loved you” of Jesus’ cruciform love.

Can we love as he loved? Yes, but only if God’s love is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Paul affirms that God has in fact done this very thing in the lives of all those who have truly yielded their lives to Him in the obedience of faith. This is what he says in Romans 5.5, “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us”. This is also what the Apostle Peter teaches in Acts 5.32, “…the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”.

If we are truly God’s people, it means that He has provided us with a more than adequate supply of His love. Indeed, an abundant supply as expressed in the words “poured out”. What then would be our excuse for failing to love with His perfect love other than that we refused to open our hearts fully to His outpoured love?

Yet it is clear that we who profess to be God’s people have refused to open our hearts wide to the influx of God’s love; thus we don’t have His perfect or total love to channel to others. I once asked a co-worker, “Do you think your teammate loves you?” The answer was “yes”. When I asked further, “Do you think your teammate loves you totally?” This time the answer was “no”. Very significant indeed! “Yes, my teammate loves me, but he does not love me totally.” There was love, but it came along with a great measure of reser­vation.

The question is not whether we love others (to which the answer could be an easy “yes”), but whether we love them as Jesus has loved us.

(1) Perfect Love: Love to the End

Since we are commanded to love as Jesus loved, the obvious question is: How did Jesus love his disciples? John 13.1 gives the answer:

Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus know­ing that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Jesus loved his own, but much more than that, he loved them to the end. That is perfect love indeed. The Lord was about to be crucified, and to lay down his life for his people. Having loved them, he loved them to the end—that is, unto death. The verse refers to the Lord’s impending death. And he expects the same from us when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The phrase “to the end” comes from the Greek “eis telos” (εἰς τέλος). Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich’s Greek-English lexicon (under “eis”, section 3) says, “In addition to place and time, it can be used to indicate degree: εἰς τέλος completely, fully, absolutely”. Referring specifically to John 13.1, the lexicon goes on to say that the verse “combines in εἰς τέλος (eis telos) the meanings to the end and to the uttermost”. That is to say, Jesus’ perfect love meant loving his disciples to the very end, to the farthest extent, to his last breath upon the cross. It also meant loving them to the uttermost, the highest degree, the absolute limit.

(2) Enduring to the End

To understand what it means to love to the end, let us look at another example of “eis telos”. In Matthew 10.22 Jesus says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved.” Here “eis telos” has to do with salvation.

What does Jesus mean by enduring to the end? A look at this verse reveals that it stands in the context of persecution: a persecution so severe that it could cost the lives of his disciples, as the previous verse states explicitly. “Enduring to the end” means, therefore, enduring to the end of one’s own life, enduring unto death. Enduring to the end has in view a martyr’s death, which could mean a death by stoning (Acts 7.58,59) or even by crucifixion—the most terrify­ing form of torture-execution.

This again demonstrates that the words “having loved his own… he loved them to the end” meant that he loved them even unto death—death on the cross.

4. Such love is possible in us only by grace and faith

Just as we are saved by grace through faith, so too per­fect love is possible only by grace through faith. That is because we need grace and faith to attain what we cannot accomplish for ourselves, things such as salvation, perfection, and loving to the end.

If the Lord didn’t require perfect love, why would we need grace and faith? It is humanly possible to love in a human way without any help from God. That kind of love would not, of course, be perfect love, but a partial or selective human love. The non-Christian doesn’t need grace to love his family members. Nor does he need grace to believe in Jesus intellectually; there is nothing inherently difficult about believing in the historicity of Jesus, or even that he died a heroic death. We don’t need God’s grace to believe in historical facts.

It takes grace and faith, however, to accom­plish the impossible. By any standard, perfect love is humanly impossible. That is some­thing everyone can know from experience. It causes us to see our desperate need for saving faith, because we now realize that if God’s perfect love is not in us then His life, eternal life, is also not in us. His life and His love are one integral whole. Without the one we do not have the other.

The necessity of grace becomes equally apparent. For it is out of His boundless grace that God gives us His life and His love. And when we draw upon God’s grace by faith, we will discover that He gives us the power to love with His perfect love—a love that loves to the end, to the uttermost, to the absolute limit, even unto death as in the case of Jesus.

5. Persistent, Stubborn Love

The term “eis telos” (to the end) appears also in the parable of the unrighteous judge who refuses to take up the case of a widow because she has no money to bribe him with. In her desper­ation, she takes the only course of action available to her: nag him to the end (eis telos). As a result, the weary judge says to himself,

Even though I do not fear God nor respect men, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection lest by continually coming she wear me out. (Luke 18.4,5)

Where does “eis telos” occur in this passage? In the word “contin­ually”. The widow pursues the judge “eis telos”—absolutely, persist­ently, to the end. When he sips his cup of tea, he gets a telephone call from her. When he collects his mail, he finds a letter from her. When he opens the door, she is standing outside. The judge is losing sleep over the widow, and has nightmares about her. This is “eis telos”—persisting to the end.

Therefore, when “eis telos” is used to describe love, it portrays persistent, determined, stubborn love. As the widow would not let go of the judge until her cause reached the desired conclusion, so Jesus loved his own to the end, irrespective of their weaknesses and failings, or how spiritually dull they may still be.

Now Jesus calls us to love one another as he loves us: tenaciously, tirelessly, resolutely—to the end, unto death, even death on a cross.

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13.34,35; NIV)


[79] The importance of the word “call” can be seen from its frequency in the New Testament. Kaleō “call” occurs 140 times; klēsis “calling” 11 times; and klētos “called” 10 times.


(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church