How to Love Perfectly: Jesus' Example

Do you know how to love? Do you know how you want to be loved? We all yearn to love and be loved well. We’re all yearning for Eden, for Paradise, for Heaven on Earth (Ezekiel 28:13; Matthew 6:10). We're all yearning for the love of the Father, as well as for a position from which we can adore Him rightly, as His children.

How can we love as best as possible in this broken world? The best imaginable love would be perfect love, and perfect love would be a love that perfectly reaches all boundaries of what love can be (Aquinas, 2.184.1). Perfect love encompasses every detail of love’s possibility. It is whole. Are we capable of some piece of that? Yes. In fact, we are called to it by God (Matthew 5:48).

Jesus, as the Son of God and Person of the Trinity, shows us how to love most wholly, most perfectly. We cannot match His perfection of love (Aquinas, 2.184.2), but we are called to imitate it as best as possible. If we look at how Jesus loves us, perhaps we can learn more about how to love those around us.

He Loves Us Perfectly While We Are Imperfect

We all bear the stain of sin (Isaiah 59:1-3). We’ve all messed up. We all grieve our mistakes and how we’ve hurt ourselves or others through them. Through repeated falls, our imperfections are perpetually made clear to us. 

Does Jesus love us regardless? He does (Matthew 23:37; Romans 1:7). Though all of us fall desperately short of deserving His love, He loves us still (Romans 8:39). That fact should rock us senseless, it should shake us to our core. To think that Justice dictates our right placing into Hell (and, if we are honest with ourselves about our sins and shortcomings, we know this easily), but that Mercy redeems us to a joy we’d never otherwise deserve ought to elate us into a religious ecstasy to envy all other sensations. 

Jesus Christ loves us perfectly though we don’t deserve love. What lesson does that teach us? Perhaps something like this: the perfection of love does not reside in the perfection of the object of love. No. The perfection of love resides in the perfect giving of love to the imperfect object of love. So, we love our imperfect parents and imperfect children as perfectly as possible, we love our imperfect spouses as perfectly as possible, we love our imperfect neighbors and imperfect enemies as perfectly as possible. It is here that love is perfected. Jesus Christ loves billions of humans to the limits of the definition of love, though none of those humans are loveable enough to merit that. It is through His giving fully, not our fully deserving what's given, that perfects the love. 

He Loves to Perfection Only When We Receive

Jesus extends us the opportunity of His perfect love. He mourns, painfully, emotionally, when we do not accept His offer (Matthew 23:37). He extends to us a love that can be perfect, and He extends it to us though we are imperfect receivers. However, His love cannot be perfected if we reject it (Luke 23:40-43). It is true that we do not need to perfectly deserve love for the love to be perfected, but we do need to be open to it. Love requires two parties. Love requires a propulsion and engulfment, a delivery and reception. We are the receiving party. We are His beloved Bride (Ephesians 5:32). 

His Bride need not be spotless. His Bride gave into Satan in the Garden (Genesis 3:6). His Bride rejected him once before. Yet, He continues to extend His perfect love to His Bride. We simply need to cooperate with it. God saves no one who rejects him. In fact, a fine definition of Hell is that of a place for those who reject God, God being perfect Love, Goodness, Beauty and Truth. If we come to God with receptivity, it matters not how stained we are. If we come with openness, we are greeted by the grasp of perfect love. But we must come forward and consent. 

Jesus’ mother Mary, the only human being who ever existed so privileged by God to touch Him so intimately, was extended the opportunity to deny God’s call for her life. Her consent cooperated necessarily in the story of salvation (Luke 1:38). 

While Jesus hung on the cross to save us from our sins and extend His love, He reached out His love for all. When one of the two criminals hanging next to Him reached back, open to participation in love, the criminal was saved through his reception of Jesus' extension of love (Luke 23:43). Love is relational.

What Can We Learn?

When we look to Jesus, we see a lover who loves perfectly even while His beloved is imperfect. We see a lover who cannot complete the perfection of His love if His beloved rejects it. Let’s glean something from this and apply it to our lives.

God calls us to love our parents, children, spouses, neighbors and enemies. We are not called to love only those who’ve never wronged us. Rather, we’re called to love everyone, just like He loved us (Matthew 5:44). We’re called to perceive them each with Christ’s eyes, Christ’s ears, Christ’s mind and Christ’s heart, and respond to them with Christ’s lips. We’re called to perceive them as truly lovable. 

However, we are also called to participate in the relationality of love. We are called to extend love to everyone, but our love can only be fulfilled with those who reciprocate. So many times in Christ’s journey or storytelling was He able to engage in reciprocal love with those who were outside His race, class or expectation, because they were the few who received Him (Luke 10:30-37; Luke 17:11-19; John 4:7-22). Who are those around us eager to receive our love, would we only give it more freely?

Let us love as Christ loved (Ephesians 3:16-21). Let us love those who fall short. Let us love those we're called to love. Let us love as ardently as possible those who may not deserve our love, but are open to accepting it. Let us extend our love to all those who wish to receive it, no matter how different from us they are. 



Aquinas, Summa Theologica 2.184.


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