Love Explored – Part 1
“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. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
– 1 John 4:7-10
These four verses hold oceans of beauty about the character of the Triune God, and over the next few blog posts I’d like to draw up a few thimbles of water from those oceans and enjoy them together with you. Today I want to look at just verse 7.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God”
In this verse we get a command (“let us love one another”) followed by two grounds that support the command. The first ground has to do with the nature and source of love (“love is from God”), the second ground is further divided into two parts and has to do with what love evidences about the one who practices it, namely that they are “born of God and [know] God.” Let’s look at these pieces in turn.
The Command – Love One Another
The command to love one another is “an old commandment” that God’s people have had “from the beginning” (1 John 1:7). It has been a central element of the true knowledge of YHWH since the very beginning (Leviticus 19:18), and Paul says more than once that the entire OT law us summed up in the love of neighbor (Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14). Knowing the One True God has always necessitated the fruit of love to be borne in His people’s lives. However, when John calls God’s post-cross people to love each other, he is not merely repeating the “old commandment” because “at the same time it is a new commandment” that he is writing to them (1 John 1:8, italics mine). Because Jesus—the true light of Eternal Love—has come and shone on us in His supreme communication of love at the cross, the commandment is no longer to love neighbor as self, but to love as Christ has loved us (John 15:12). The death and resurrection of the One who is Love has left an indelible mark on this “old commandment.”
As John makes clear in his gospel and epistles, the love of Christ—True and Eternal Love—is marked by the willing outpouring of the whole self. Life laid down and self out-poured for the supreme good of the beloved….this is the love we’ve seen in Christ and this is the love—by grace—that we are called to manifest in our lives.
More will be said on the nature of love in the coming weeks as we look over these four verses, but for now it suffices to say that the command is to love as Christ has loved us. This is crucial to note. Everyone thinks “love” is good, everyone wants to claim “love” as a support for their cause. But “love” is something (someone) real and tangible and the definition cannot be changed to match our desires. When John talks about “love” he has something specific in mind, namely, the love that we’ve seen manifest in Christ. With that in mind, let’s move on to examine the two grounding statements that John gives in support for this command.
Ground 1: Love is From God
The first reason that John gives for the Christian to love others is that “love is from God.” Consider the paradigm altering weight of that statement. Love—this experience sought (in some form) by the entire human race, this universally recognized “good,” this fire of the poet’s mind and engine of the warriors resolve, this motivating power of history, this energy that drives nations and individuals to greatness and destruction, this gravitational inertia that “makes the world go ‘round”—Love is from God. Whatever this thing is that humans have labeled (in their various languages) as “love” finds its source and wellspring in the Triune God. That is awesome to consider.
It also means that God defines love. If true, ultimate, transcendent, actual Love is “from God,” then we must look to God if we are to know what love is. Love is not an infinitely malleable putty that we can shape with definitions into a comfortable, non-threatening form. It is true, it is solid; it IS one thing and IS NOT another. And if we are to know what it is, we look to its source: The Triune God.
However, we won’t be getting a definition of love in this series until we get to verses 9 and 10. For now let us just be clear that love is a definite reality sourced in and defined by the One True God, and that, because love is from God, we also ought to love (as He loves).
Ground 2a: Whoever loves has been born of God
The first thing to do in looking at this statement is to know what John means when he says, “born of God.” This phrase shows up a number of times in 1 John. Surveying a few of these instances reveals that someone who is “born of God”
- Practices righteousness (2:29)
- Does not live in unrepentant/un-fought sin (3:9, 5:18)
- Listens to and affirms the truth of John (and the other NT apostles) (4:6)
- Loves other believers (3:10)
- Overcomes the world by faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (5:4-5)
- Believes that Jesus is the Christ (5:1)
The list above is largely comprised of the necessary fruits that come from being born of God. In his gospel, John summarizes what it means to be “born of God” in chapter 1, verses 12-13:
“…to all who did receive Him [that is, Christ], who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born…of God.”
Essentially, to be “born of God” means to have received (as food and drink for our soul) and trusted in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who perfectly makes God known to us through His redeeming death and resurrection.
Alright, with that definition of “born of God” in mind, John’s statement in 1 John 4:7 becomes more interesting. He says that whoever loves has been born of God….or said another way, “whoever loves has received and believed in Jesus—crucified and risen— as Lord and God.” Does that match up with our experience? Is it true that whoever loves also believes in Christ as Lord? What about Hindu mothers who love their children? What about Buddhist monks who care for and even die for orphans? What about Muslim children who sacrifice for their parents? What about the atheistic philanthropist or activist who gives of themselves to help the underprivileged? Well—according to John—we must respond to these realities in one of two ways. First, either all of these people know and love Jesus as Lord and God (that is, they have been “born of God”), or second, we need to re-align our understanding of “love” to match the Johannine sense of the word. I propose the second response.
When John says that whoever loves has been born of God, he is saying that true love can only be manifested in those who have received and believed in the slain and risen Jesus as Lord and God. Only the people of God can love. Now, I do not (neither does John) mean that only the people of God can care for another person, or that only the people of God can give of themselves for the good of another, or be kind, or be generous, or be sincerely moved by the needs of the world…all I mean is that those things do not constitute the heart of what love is and can—apparently—be present in a person without true love being present. In this verse John tells us that the only place you will ever see a manifestation of real, lasting, eternal love on this earth is in the life of one who knows and loves Jesus as God the Son.
So, what is “real, lasting, eternal love”? What is this love that only the only a believer in Christ can have? We will see in the coming days. For now it is enough to know that only God’s people truly love, and therefore, we should love one another. Let’s move on to the second ground:
Ground 2b: “Whoever loves…knows God.”
Not only is it true that whoever loves has been born of God, but now we see that whoever loves also knows God. For John, knowing God, is essentially the same as being born of God, since true knowledge of God comes only in the person of Jesus Christ and is received only by belief in His Name (John 1:14, 18, 14:1,6-7,9). Not only that, but—in John’s writings—the affectional knowledge of the Father that the Spirit grants us in the Son is the center of Life itself, such that “knowing God” is synonymous to “eternal life” (John 17:3). So, when we read that “whoever loves [also] knows God”, we are basically hearing the same thing as outlined earlier in this post; namely, only those who have known their Lord and God in Jesus Christ—crucified and risen—can truly love.
The Grounds Summarized
So, why ought we to love one another as Christ has loved us? First because True Love has its source in God, and secondly, because Christ-imaging love is a definitive and necessary fruit that must be found in the lives of all of God’s people. We might summarize 1 John 4:7 in this way, “Love as Christ has loved because love is from God, and because—if and only if—you are from God, you will love.”
As we begin this short study on love and the nature of God in 1 John 4:7-10, may we revel in the truth that love is from God and is therefore a definite reality that cannot be bent to the whim of anyone who claims its name. And may we further rejoice that we have been loved by the love of Him who is the wellspring of love. We have received God poured out in His Son, and—in receiving Him thus given for us, in love—we know God and are alive. And lastly, if we have truly been born of God, may we—by His grace—bear the necessary fruit of love in our lives, to the glory of His Name in Christ.