So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. – 1 John 4:16 ESV
1 John 4:7-21
Love is a feeling. Love makes the world go round. All you need is love. Love is a many splendid thing. There are as many sayings about love as there are definitions as to what it is. But John wants us to understand that love is of God. In fact, God is love. Everything about love emanates from God. And because man was made in the image of God, all men have the capacity to love. It is a part of God’s common grace bestowed upon all mankind. But only those who truly understand the love of God as expressed in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, can even begin to grasp the true nature of what love really is. Left to our own devices, we will tend to redefine love in our own terms, focusing on ourselves and seeing love as something designed to fulfill us or bring us satisfaction. Which is why we tend to fall in and out of love. We have turned loved into little more than a feeling that can come and go based on whether we have the motivation to love the other person or the persuasion that they are loving us in the way we demand. Like everything else God has so graciously given us, we can somehow find a way to make it all about us. But true love is about God. Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His Son. Yes, God loved us while we were yet sinners. But what we have to remember is that God’s love had nothing to do with our loveliness or lovableness. We did not deserve His love. We had not earned His love. Yes, we were the recipients of His love, but for no reason whatsoever on our part. And until we understand the significance of that reality, we will never understand the love of God.
John ties loving others and knowing God together. He writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 ESV). Our capacity to love others the way God commands is directly tied to our knowledge of God. And what is it we are to know about God? His love. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have a unique perspective on the love of God because we have experienced it firsthand. At one point in our lives we were told about the love of God manifested or shown through the arrival of His Son here on this earth. Jesus was God in human flesh, sent by His Father to bring salvation to man by His death on the cross. “God sent his only Son into the world” (1 John 4:9 ESV), “to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV), and “to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14 ESV). And John sums it all up with the words, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us” (1 John 4:16 ESV). We have come to know and believe in Jesus. It is through our acceptance of God’s love as expressed through Jesus that we truly come to know who God is and what love is. Even as an old man, John was blown away by this kind of love. “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.” (1 John 3:1 MSG).
I love how the apostle Paul puts difficult concepts into language most of us can understand. Speaking of God’s amazing love, he writes, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:6-9 NLT). You and I might be willing to sacrifice our lives for someone especially good. We might take a bullet for our spouse or one of our children, but we’d probably have to think long and hard about anyone else. Yet God loved us enough when we were at our worst to send His own Son to die in our place. Jesus took the bullet for us. D. A. Carson has this to say about the love of God: “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.” The love of God shines brightest when seen against the dark backdrop of the cross. The cross was and is a symbol of man’s sin, guilt and just condemnation. It represents what we so justly deserved as usurpers of God’s authority and rebels against His will. And yet, it is at the cross that we truly come to know God. We see His justice, wrath, righteousness, patience, mercy, grace, and love on display through the life of His Son. Because of His love, we are His children. Because of His love, we are forgiven. Because of His love, we abide in Him and in His love – constantly. Because of His love, we have His Spirit within us. Because of His love, we have our future determined for us. Because of His love, we can love others. But only as long as we remember how He has loved us. If we don’t love, we don’t know Him. That doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t saved. It can simply mean we don’t recognize and appreciate the unbelievable nature of the love with which He has loved us. To know God is to know God’s love for us. Whenever we forget, all we need to do is look at the cross.