Have you ever done something that won almost unanimous praise? Did the experience teach you what it taught me? That almost unanimous isn’t worth much?
As a pastor, I get a lot of feedback on things our church does, whether it’s my sermon , or the music , or some other choice I’ve made, like what I wore or my hair. I’ve been blessed to have had many people compliment me on the way things are done at our church. Occasionally, though, someone will have a criticism. And you know what? The criticisms are far more memorable than the compliments.
I think this is true for everyone. It seems like ninety-nine compliments can be swallowed up by one bit of criticism. It just goes to show you: pure and perfect love is what we long for most. Not love with a “but” or love with a footnote. In other words, it is only perfect love that can cast out fear.
So why are we still afraid of God?
To borrow the language of John’s first letter, we fear because we “have not been perfected in love.” Our loving is still addicted to the reactions we get. I love the positive comments, but that love dies under the poison of criticism. In other words, our love is reactive. We love the things that appear to be loving us, and hate the things that we think hate us. We assume that because this is the way we relate to the rest of the world—and the way the world relates to us—that this must be the way of God, too.
But God loves differently than we do: we love, in fact, “because he first loved us.” This wonderful sentence shows us more than the source of our loving—though it shows us that. That God loved us first means that he loved us before our performance. When someone walks up to me, I reserve my love until I hear what they have to say. God lavishes his love on us whether we’re good or bad, to him or to each other. We are only capable of love because of this radical, one-way love of God, a love that doesn’t depend on anything I might give or withhold.
The deepest cry of the human heart is to be loved without condition, no matter what. The gospel of grace announces that you are.