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Perfection

Someone once asked me, “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?” At the time I didn’t know how to answer them. It is the kind of question that is meant to reveal your dreams to you, to reveal yourself to you. I have a complicated relationship with my dreams, which is probably why I struggled to come up with an answer.

I bring up the question because I want to ask a similar question to you based on a famous verse out of 1 John. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (NKJV) “Perfect” in this verse does not mean what we consider the word “perfect” to mean. John is not talking Martha Stewart perfection here, he is talking Luke Skywalker perfect. That is, someone who has been tested and proven time and again, each time making the difference and turning the tide.

The exact Greek word for perfect is τέλειος (teh-lay-ahs), which means complete, perfect. I have it in its root form here. In the text, through the grammatical influence of the words around it, our word has a feminine ending: τελεία (the-lay-ah). This doesn’t change the meaning, it still means complete, perfect. The perfect love of God is complete, fully proven, fully given.

I wonder if John used τέλειος specifically to recall his readers to the last words of Christ before he died on the cross: τετέλεσται (teh-teh-lehs-tie). This is derived from the root word, τελέω (teh-leh-oh), which means: to complete, fulfill, accomplish. The two words are related and have related meanings. The cool thing about the final word of Christ is that it is in the perfect indicative verb tense. There is no exact parallel in English for this tense, so it can be tricky to translate, but basically it is an action that was completed in the past but that action has ongoing effects that impact the present. So you could translate the final word as “It has been finished.” But that implies that the effect of dying on the cross was a one-time action that is over and done. That is not the case, so a better translation is “It is finished.” Christ died, but the effects of that death on the cross are not over, they are still impacting us to this day. We can have fresh salvation today from the Christ-act which took place around 2,000 years ago. I think the perfect indicative case in Greek is a nuanced example of God’s eternal quality, His omnipresence.

In any case, John wanted his readers to remember the full extent of the love of God, which was revealed to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The perfect love of Christ casts out all fear, Christ declared it on the cross, and that declaration echoes throughout time and generations, “My love is finished, and it is perfected, and I offer it to you, if you will only take hold of it.”

This brings me back to my thought provoking question: If you had love that was tested and proven to the point where there was no doubt, would you still be afraid? If you had perfect love behind you, what would you do?

In verse 17 John says, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgement; because as He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17 NKJV) God gives us His perfect love through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That love enters our hearts and begins to grow our capacity to love and our love, in turn, becomes proven and perfect. We are meant to take that perfect love and go out in boldness to do the work of the Lord.

In 1 Samuel after King Saul overstepped his authority and offered a sacrifice that was meant to be offered by Samuel the Judge the Spirit of the Lord left Saul. God told Samuel that He was going to find “a man after His own heart.” (1 Sam. 13:14) So after Samuel grieved over the fall of Saul God sent him out to find this new king. Enter David, the son of Jesse, from Bethlehem. David was the youngest of eight sons, he had no social standing or social promise, David was merely the shepherd of his father’s sheep. In fact, when Samuel came to Jesse’s house at the direction of the Lord, Jesse didn’t even include David in the line-up of sons. Samuel went through the line and God said, “These aren’t the ones, you look at the outside, but I look at the heart.” God was looking for a man after His own heart and He found that heart in David.

Samuel anoints David to be the next king. Initially nothing changes. David returns to the sheep and Samuel to his home. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon David when he was anointed, at the Spirit stayed with him from then on. David ends up ministering to a troubled king Saul with his music. David also is around the camps of fighting men during a conflict with the Philistines and ends up volunteering to bring down Goliath. David is incensed that Goliath mocks and taunts not just God, but the armies of God. In David’s eyes an insult to the men of God is an indirect insult to God. David brings down Goliath with a combination of his sling and Goliath’s own sword (embarrassing!).

David goes on to become a wise leader and strategist. He grows in strength, social standing (becoming best friends with the king’s son and husband to the king’s daughter). It isn’t always easy, King Saul ends up getting really jealous and forces David to flee for his life, but David remains faithful to God. David isn’t perfect, he makes some pretty big mistakes (adultery and murder) but he repents and humbles himself. He returns to God, to a right relationship with God.

Through it all David worships God. Through it all he gives the glory of everything that happens in his life not to himself but to God. David is considered the greatest king of Israel. He brings the Ark of the Covenant back from the Philistines. He tries to build a temple, but God says that is a task for his son. David wrote most of the psalms in the book of Psalms. David was a shepherd, a mighty man of valor, a leader, a king. (David’s full story can be found in 1 Samuel 16 – 1 Kings 2:12)

In Acts a sermon of Paul is recorded, in which he tells the story of Israel up to King David, and then the story of Jesus who was descended from David. As Paul is describing King David he says this, “He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart wo will do all My will.’” (Acts 13:22 NKJV) This is confirmation that God indeed found what He was looking for in 1 Samuel 15, when He first told Samuel that He was looking for that heart.

David didn’t have the finished and complete love that we have through Jesus, but he had the full love of God behind him. David was chosen by God and he knew it. Look what David did with his life. He fought for God’s honor whole heartedly, he worshiped whole heartedly. He sought after and loved God with all his heart, soul, and strength.

David went from shepherd to King David with an anointing and some words from the prophet Nathan. What might we do with the love of Jesus behind us? With the personal relationship that we can engage in daily? Sometimes I read the Bible and think, they did so much with so little from God and we do so little with so much from God. Some people do much, but why aren’t we all doing much?

Here’s the thing about my thought provoking question, I started it with “if” when in reality there is no “if.” We have the perfect love of God backing us. So what are we going to do?

-Etta Woods

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