O Perfect Love

O Perfect Love

I read this article once about an American who went to the island of Crete and was conversing with one of the natives of the island. A translation problem came up. The Cretian had been reading some Western literature and was confused by the term “making love” and wanted this American to explain it to him. Rather sheepishly, the man had to explain how we use the term “making love”.

The Cretian nodded and smiled and explained to the American that the phrase “making love” meant something completely different for them. In Crete, the custom of arranged marriage continues. The Cretans think romance is delightful when it happens, but they don't regard it as a particularly good basis for marriage.

The Cretian went on further to explain. When two families agree that a son and a daughter seem suited to one another, the man and woman are expected to work at becoming compatible partners, in the same spirit that one might work at achieving competence in a life's vocation. This effort is called “making love”.

Time and experience - mistakes and difficulties - are all part of the equation, whose sum is a lasting relationship. Love is not something you fall into, they believe. Love and marriage are "made."

The American then learned that in Crete when a married couple are overheard arguing or fighting, neighbors smile knowingly and say, "Ah, they are making love."[1]

Isn’t that interesting. In Titus 1:12, Paul related a well-known saying of his day that “Cretians are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies”. I can’t say that is true today. They seem to have a very mature way of looking at love. How our society interprets that phrase “making love” says a lot about our culture and outlook on love and marriage.

Our society promotes a very immature superficial love. More often it is lust and not love. The concept of commitment in love is eroding more and more. It is easier to give up, to move on and NOT to learn from our mistakes. After disappointments we seek for alternatives and substitutes. This is immature love.

The Bible inspires the opposite. What it calls a mature or perfect love. Have you ever seen the phrase “perfect love” in the scriptures? Remember that the word "perfect" (Greek: telios) does not mean 100% flawless but has the connotation of mature, complete, of a full age.

There are two obvious places in scripture where this phrase "perfect love" is used and we will look at them closely in 1 John and Colossians. After that, we’ll then look at two other passages where it is not so obvious but hopefully they’ll pop out at you. At the end what we are seeking to do is develop a deeper appreciation for what perfect love is according to God and how we can strengthen our marriage, our families and our ecclesia.

1 John

The first place we’ll take into consideration is 1 John 2:5,

"But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him."

Now is this "love of God":

  • The love of God towards us? Is God's love somehow imperfect until we constitute the fullness of his purpose?
  • Or is it our love towards God? Do we need to show God's love so that we may be perfect?

Oddly enough I think it’s “God’s love”. There’s a very similar passage in chapter 4:11-12,

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.  (12)  No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.”[2]

You notice here that it is “his love” that is God’s love which is “perfected in us”. This is not to say that God is not perfect but that his love or purpose is not complete until we grow up and act like Christ.

Here's a quote form Bro. Neville Smart's book on 1 John,

"The eternal love that sent Christ on his errand attains its full sway and development, and realizes itself to perfection, only when men love one another in Christ's fashion. Till we are brought to this, till perfect love has cast out in God's children all bitterness, meanness, self-will and self-seeking, the love of the Father finds itself wanting and imperfect, since it misses its due effect and full display, and is robbed of its crown of beauty." (pages 110-111)

This brings out the awesome message and responsibility in John's message. When we don't love one another then we thwart God's will. Who would want to be held responsible for that? It is God’s will that we would all manifest his divine characteristics. When we do that we dwell in God and God in us. Strange as it may sound, God is then complete.

You’ll notice now in 1 John 4:17-18 the pronouns are different. The focus is on “our” love.

“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.  (18)  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

For “our love” my margin has "love with us". The NIV translates it this way,

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment.”

He’s not talking in an individual sense but in a collective sense as the body of Christ. It is not something that is done in a corner alone but between and amongst the brothers and sisters. This is a trying time for the ecclesias. How are we doing? Is love being perfected among us?

Secondly, when this love matures among us then we, all together, can have a boldness or confidence in the day of judgment. Now this boldness is not full of pride or self. It has the idea of being open, of hiding nothing back. I think it portrays a wonderful aspect that we are developing now of a friendship and respect for Jesus Christ so that when we see him at the judgment he may truly call us friend and we can open up our hearts fully to him. To have a friendship like that on earth is a blessing, how much more is it with Jesus Christ who knows our weaknesses and understands our temptations. In fact, that is what John says next, "because as he is (Jesus), so are we in this world."

There is a place for fear. Fear of God but NOT the fear of death or judgment. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), having the fear of God before our eyes (Acts 9:31), passing the time of our sojourning here in fear (1 Pet 1:17). Yet this should not be the prime motivator. Love should be the motivator. It is not the torment or punishment that should drive us but the reward and the joy.

Colossians 3:12-15

The next passage that mentions perfect love is Colossians 3:12-15,

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;  (13)  Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  (14)  And above all these things put on charity (agape love), which is the bond of perfectness (telios).”

The word “charity” in verse 14 is the Greek word agape, which is our word “love”. The word “perfectness” is the Greek word “telios” which, again, means complete or mature. Here then is another example of our call to perfect love. The interesting thing is that he says love is the “bond” of perfectness. That word “bond” (sundesmos) he used back in chapter 2:19,

“And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands (sundesmos) having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.”

The bands are the ligaments of the body. The ligaments are what hold our body together. What does love “bind” together into perfection? It’s all these things he has listed here. The NIV translates it like this,

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Love is the action of all these qualities used together. Paul is using the analogy of the body because he uses that word "bond" which is the idea of "ligaments." That which holds the one body of Christ together. It’s almost as if you've got your bowels of mercies, your heart of kindness, your humbleness of mind, your kidneys of meekness, your sweat glands of long suffering and finally holding it all together is the sinews of love. When it all comes together and is grown up it becomes a man, mature, complete and perfect.

Paul puts it this way in another place,

"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:" (Eph. 4:15)[3]

There’s more here. Verse 13 says that we should "forbear one another." That word forbear has also been translated, "bear with, endure and suffer." That means suffering with or over our brethren. This is not an easy word. It means to put up with, to hold yourself up against them. When they begin to fall you are there to catch them, to bear their burdens which are dragging them down.

"If any man have a quarrel (grudge or complaint) against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." It's almost as if he's saying, "I don't care who or what is the problem! I want you to resolve it." If we bear a grudge against our brother how can we come before God and ask for forgiveness from him when we haven't done the same. That message is said more than once in the Bible. If somebody is truly repentant how can we harbor anything against them. The hardest part is truly letting go.

Paul give us an example, “as Christ forgave you”.[4] When have we sinned against Christ? Remember the passage that says, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:45)? Or, how about, 1 Cor. 8:12 “when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ”? When we fight, when we harbor a grudge, when we are angry with our Brother or Sister it reflects on Christ. Remember that.

More Obscure Passages

1 Cor. 13

Now it's time to put you to the test. I have two more passages which indirectly mention this perfect or mature love. Let's see if you can spot it and if you agree. The first one is found in 1 Corinthians 13:10,

“But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

That word perfect is the word "telios", the one we have been studying. What is "that which is perfect?" What is the context? This is the love chapter which speaks of all the aspects of love. Paul is trying to show the Corinthians a "more excellent way" by laying out how love is the best and most lasting gift of all.

Remember in Colossians Paul called love the bond of perfection and here we see love binding together all the same characteristics,

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7) “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, (5) Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; (6) Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; (7) Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

If we have true love, then we can overcome all things. Paul is using absolutes here for a reason. We can do “all things” through Christ if we truly open up to such a suggestion.

Matthew 5:48

The next test is found in Matthew 5:48,

"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

To me this verse always seemed to come out of the blue. That word perfect is once again the word "telios", our word for mature. Is our perfect love here? Let’s look at the context. What is Jesus talking about?

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. (44) But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (45) That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (46) For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? (47) And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? (48) Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Jesus is here teaching about perfect love. In the parallel account in Luke 6:36 it says,

“Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

It seems he’s saying two different things but he’s not if we keep in mind the teaching of love being the bond of perfection. The teachings of Christ embody the perfect love as shown from the Father. It knows no bounds for God gives to all. To love somebody who shows no signs of loving you back is crazy to the world but to the ways of God it is salvation.


It seems like we've come full circle now. This type of love is not something that is reserved for marriage or family. It goes out beyond this room and even beyond the brotherhood, right out to the whole world. It is not a warm gushy feeling that just mysteriously comes but it is made and developed and nurtured over years of trial. As we have seen agape love embodies many qualities of compassion, kindness, humbleness, meekness and longsuffering bringing the peace of God. If we together can develop this love, then we fulfill God's plan and purpose and we can stand before the judgment seat unashamed.

Before us now we have the greatest act of love. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. That was while we were yet sinners and enemies to God. As we eat this bread and drink this cup we show the Lord's death until he comes. Soon we will leave this place bearing this in our bodies. Let us depart with this conviction to love one another so that we may attain unto perfection.

[1] Robert Fulghum, "Maybe (Maybe Not)", 1993

[2] NET Bible note, “The phrase “his [God’s] love is perfected (τετελειωμένη ἐστίν, teteleiōmenē estin) in us” in 4:12 is difficult. First it is necessary to decide whether αὐτοῦ (autou), which refers to God, is (1) subjective (God’s love for us) or (2) objective (our love for God). It is clear that a subjective genitive, stressing God’s love for us, is in view here, because the immediate context, 4:11a, has believers as the objects of God’s love (ὁ θεὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, ho theos ēgapēsen hēmas). The entire phrase ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν τετελειωμένη ἐστίν (hē agapē autou en hēmin teteleiōmenē estin) then refers to what happens when believers love one another (note the protasis of the conditional sentence in 4:12, ἐάν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους [ean agapōmen allēlous]). The love that comes from God, the love that he has for us, reaches perfection in our love for others, which is what God wants and what believers are commanded to do (see 3:23b).”

[3] Ephesians 4:13-16 is another perfect love passage with telios in v. 13 and agape in verses 15-16.

[4] Modern versions have "Lord" but I’m not sure why since the textual evidence seems to favor Christos