What is love? It is a question that has been asked for centuries. People have written volumes of books on trying to explain love. If you Google the question, “What is love?” you will get thousands of different answers. One answer I found was this: “What is love? An intangible connection between two people that feels exceptionally good” (www.selfcreation.com/blog/the-worlds-best-definition-of-love). Psychology Today says, “Love is a force of nature. However much we may want to, we cannot command, demand, or take away love, any more than we can command the moon and the stars and the wind and the rain to come and go according to our whims” (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-without-limits/201111/what-is-love-and-what-isnt). This is an interesting definition in light of the fact that God does exactly what this article by Psychology Today says cannot be done: command love. We can see why there is so much confusion about love because love is defined so differently by so many “authorities.” But, just perhaps, we should consider the authority who created us and defined love himself: God. So we are going to spend the month of December looking at the subject of love as revealed to us by the apostle John. We will begin our study by turning our attention to 1 John 4:7-9.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:7–9 ESV)
The Command (4:7-8)
The apostle John begins with the command of our Lord: Let us love one another. Friends, we are commanded to love. Love is not an option. Love is not something we can decide if we will do it or not. We are commanded to love one another. The reason we must love one another is because love is from God. Real love has its source from God. We only understand love because of God. We can only know true love by understanding God because he is the source of love. This is the reason why so many people are trying to define in love in so many ways. They are not looking to the source of love. They think they can explain love but love is from God and so we must look to God to know what this means for us. Love is not natural nor innate. Love comes from God. God shows us what love is and what love looks like.
But there is more. We must love one another because love shows that we have been born of God and that we know God. Loving others is the fruit of knowing God and experiencing the new birth. Notice that there is nothing said by the apostle John about the other person being deserving of our love or being lovable. The reason for this is because what the other person does is not part of this equation. If you know God then you love others. The equation is as simple as this. Genuine love cannot be exhibited in any community unless it reflects God’s love.
Now I want us to hear how shocking these words are that God taught us through his apostle John. Listen to verse 8. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Those whose lives are not characterized by love for others are not Christians, no matter what they claim. If you do not love, then you do not know God and you have not been changed by God. We probably want to argue with this but this is what God says. If you do not love others then you do not know God because God is love.
Love is who God is, just like he is light and life. Therefore, God defines love. Love does not define him. We cannot impose on God our human view of love. We cannot tell God what love is among humans or toward him. Notice that the text does not say that “love is God.” No, God is love. God defines love. God is the source of love. We look to him to understand love. When someone says that they love another person yet the relationship is a sinful relationship that is condemned by God, then it is not love because God is love.
Sin is self-focused and self-absorbed. Sin is the opposite of love. Love and sin cannot go together because God is love. If you truly loved the other person, you would not compel that person to be in or remain in a sinful situation. Instead, the problem is you love yourself and you want to call the sin love. But it is not love because God is love and sin is not love.
This shows how much we are the problem when it comes to loving others. We are far too occupied with loving ourselves. We are far to self-focused to love others the way God calls us to love others. Our deepest problem is in us, not outside of us. Here is an illustration to prove the problem: how much of our anger is because others were in our way! How much of our anger comes from people not doing what we want them to do! How much of our anger stems from our expectations of what we think people should do! You see that we are the problem when it comes to love. Consider in your marriage how often your anger was because you were thinking about yourself. You were not loving your spouse but loving yourself. How many conflicts happen in the church because we are thinking about ourselves and not loving others. How many strained relationships happen among our friends, relatives, parents, and children because we are loving ourselves and not loving them. We should consider the word God gave to Jonah in his anger: “Do you do well to be angry?” James told us, “Man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Our love for ourselves interferes with genuine love for others.
Therefore a radical heart transplant must take place within us for us to love one another. Knowing God is the way this radical change of our hearts occurs. This is what John says in verse 7. “Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” To have the capacity to love others I must know God more. The world tells us that to have the capacity to love others I must love myself more. But this is exactly the opposite of what God says. We cannot tell God what love is or how to love because God is love. To have the capacity to love others the way God tells us to means I must know God intimately. Here is how I can know if I truly know God: I love others.
The Cross (4:9)
Now how do we get there? How do we get to this transformation so that we will love others as God commanded us to love? How can we love others with the love that God has because God is love?
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9 NRSV)
This change happens when we focus on the love of God that was revealed among us. God is love explains the cross and his plan of redemption. If God is wrath, then things go completely differently for us. If God is justice, then things go very badly for the world. If God only operated on the basis of law and justice, then we would be convicted of sin and justly judged to eternity in hell. God’s love is the remedy.
It is one thing to talk about love but another thing all together to show love. God is love and God showed us love. God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. You are loved by God and will always be loved by God. How do we know? John says that we can look at the fact that God sent his Son into this world. We see Jesus and the coming of Jesus is how we know that we are loved by God.
God sent his only Son. Sending your only Son shows his sacrifice and sacrifice shows love. Love is ultimately displayed in sacrifice. Love is ultimately displayed in the giving of yourself. We can say that we love but love is shown through sacrifice. God sent his only Son shows genuine love toward us. What did God’s love accomplish? John says in verse 9, “so that we might live through him.” His sacrifice is our victory. His loss is our gain. We now have a new way of life through him. He gave so that we live. We struggle to love because of who we are but we are to look to Jesus to change who we are so that we genuinely love one another.
We love others because we remember the love God has shown for us. When we begin to be angry, we remind ourselves, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35 ESV)
Love others because God has loved you and you know God.