7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
(1 John 4:7-13, NASB).
Love is From God, and Love IS God
“The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” I have taken over a month to digest and think about this verse. It is hard to add comments to it! We have a similar construction here to John 1:1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
(John 1:1, NASB).
The Word was “with” God, and the word “was” God. He was with and was God at once. There is a unity and a division. In the same way, love is from God, and God is love. There is a unity of identity, and a division of manifestation. People in charsimatic Christian circles often talk about the “manifest presence” of God, which is thought of as a mysterious or subjective feeling of the presence of God. Here we have the true definition: where there is love, God is there. The love is from God and actually is God.
The Mad Rush to Qualify Love
As soon as you say, “God is love”, there is a mad rush to explain what it doesn’t mean! We have to make sure we say that every little instance of puppy love or love of a nice car isn’t God. Our main instinct is to put this notion of God being love in a carefully controlled box, to qualify it down to nothing and domesticate it to a certain tameness. I feel it in myself quite strongly, the need to say what this isn’t saying. I want to say, “This is agape love, not eros, not even phileo love. This is from zoe life, not bios or psyche life.” We want to qualify it until it doesn’t mean anything you can connect with; so it becomes meaningless. We want to make sure we get across that this means selfless love, not selfish love. Every Christian teacher wants to make sure we make this statement safe for the masses. You can’t just say God is love!
But who is to really say that certain loves are the right kind of selfless kinds of love in which God is found, and which are not? How do we divide it? Perhaps every instance where someone finds joy in the blessing of another person, where kindness is shown to another, where small sacrifices or great sacrifices help other people, God is manifested in some way in that place. However, even in the most beautiful instances, I believe that these things are only dim shadows of the blazing love of Christ for us. I believe it is the highest love which believes that the blood of Jesus is sufficient for another person, which believes that the blood of Jesus demonstrates that person’s worth and the excised and separate awfulness of their sins. It is the love which recognizes that this is a person worth dying for, a treasure worth forsaking all else to obtain. It is the love which is born of belief in Christ and Him crucified. This is substantiated in the context; look at 1 John 1:7 as well as 1 John 4:10; the God who is love is the God who incarnated and died for us. We see this as well in Paul’s teaching, in verses such as Romans 5:
6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
(Romans 5:6-10, NASB).
It is a cheaper love which pretends that a person is simply beautiful and has no faults, or is cheaply forgiving of their faults. It makes their hurt, their woundedness, all the more marginal, and their guilt all the more ignored, and so far more powerful. Their faults end up defining them because they are the thing that must be hidden lest they be rejected. It is love directed to a false persona and not a real person. Love may cover a multitude of sins, but love faces the humanity and sin of the other and through Christ’s propitiation still seeks to bless.
It is also a love which bears affection and seeks the welfare of the other, from the heart and with a true desire. It is a love born in the light, which sees a person’s flaws but also sees a person’s worth from the perspective of Christ.
And so, a mother’s love for her child bears the stamp of this kind of selfless cherishing and nurture. It is a misnomer to say that it is selfless, because it finds deep satisfaction in the blessing of the other one who is loved. A marital love can also bear this same dynamic. The best love is the love which finds pleasure in the joy and blessing of the other person. You cannot make the distinction between God love and fake love by pretending to discern which instances are selfless and which are selfish.
Is this a salvation proof text?
Now, is this a proof text, that saved people love and unsaved people don’t? I think we all don’t love well, believer or unbeliever. I think we need the blood of Jesus, to save us all the time, and that the love of God bears the stamp of this forgiving power. Always, walking in the light involves confession of sin and the need for forgiveness, and this always means that in those cases we were not exhibiting the love which indicates God’s presence. Sometimes we act and think in a way that is not mindful of God, not from faith that we are loved by Him, and we live in a way that is not from a knowledge of Him. So I think that in view of the context of 1 John 1:5-10, this is something we experientially can phase in and out of, that we can forget and then return to, and it may prove that we are sinners in need of confession and forgiveness, but I don’t think it negates that fact that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin.
This does not have the effect of limiting or weakening the meaning of love down to a dry theological term. It does not turn love into an exclusive club for the theologically informed. It has the effect of opening up the presence and power of love to all sinning loveless inward-curved people. It has the effect of allowing loveless people to admit their selfishness and come into the community and fellowship of those who are together powerfully and completely forgiven. Far from being an exclusivity clause, it is an open door to all to enter into love.
Know His Disciples by their Love
Is it possible that people that do act in a loving manner and are not Christians exhibit His love? I think many times they do, but the love of God comes with power centrally through faith in Christ and His work. God loves the whole world and gave His only begotten Son, but without faith in the power of that it is difficult to conceive that grace and not wrath would ultimately rule these relationships. Jesus Himself said that the world would know Christians by their love (John 13:35), so He Himself claimed a recognizable uniqueness in this regard.