Love Explored – Part 3: Love Gives God
“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
In the last two blog posts we’ve looked at 1 John 4, verses 7 and 8, respectively. In summary, we’ve seen that love is the definitive mark of a child of God and, indeed, that only a child of God can truly love because love comes from God. At first this seems opposed to our experience…many people who are not Christians love, do they not? I believe John would say that love flowing from a heart that is not submitted to Christ is to true love what a mannequin is to a human being. The two might look identical, but one is the product of machines and molten chemicals while the other was born out of intimate relational union…one is lifeless and moved only from without, the other is warm with life and moved from within….one is an imitation, the other is the real thing.
We’ve also seen that love is not something that we can define in whatever way we want, rather it comes from God and is, therefore, defined by God. The fact that love derives its definition from God was made especially evident in verse 8 where John tells us that “God is love.” This means that what we call “love” is simply an echo or reverberation—sometimes greatly twisted—of the melody of God’s own Intra-Trinitarian Life. When Who God Is shows up in the sphere of creation, it is called “love.”….This, I submit, is what is meant by “God is love.”
However, we are still waiting for John to help us understand exactly what love is. If we have seen that love cannot be defined in any way we want, then what is the right definition? As we look at verse 9 today we begin to answer that question.
“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 the Love of God Was Made Manifest
This is an awesome statement. John is about to tell us how the love of God—who is Himself love—was revealed, unfolded, communicated to us. If we want to know what love is—if we want to arrive at a clear and biblical definition of love with which to engage our culture—surely this is the place to find it! Love Himself has manifested His love to us; there has never been a more pure depiction of love in all created reality. Whatever John is about to say, it is the “Let there be” of love’s light within the sphere of creation.
But before we look at how the love of God was made manifest among us, consider the weight of what such a manifestation means. If God is love, then the manifestation of His love is nothing less than the manifestation of Himself. When Love loves, He communicates Himself. So whatever John says in the following verses, bear in mind that it is not only going to help us understand the essential nature of love, but also the essential nature of God. With these things said, we now examine how this God-revealing love was made manifest to us.
“God sent His only Son…” God’s love is made manifest to us first and foremost by an act of giving. The Father sends His Son, the Son—as we read elsewhere—gives Himself up, and the Spirit is poured out in love from the Father and Son. Absolutely core to the essential nature of true—biblically defined—love is that it gives. Here in 1 John, but all throughout scripture, we see that God’s love pours itself out, gives itself up, lays itself down. It is more like a spring than a drain, more like a fan than a vacuum, more like a star than a black hole. It is radiant by nature, breathing itself out for the pure joy of the beloved rather than as a means to a further end.
And how much more we could say about this! How crucial is it for us as Christians to cultivate hearts that rejoice to pour themselves out for others….but we have to move forward. Suffice to say that the first element of our biblical definition of love’s essential nature (and, therefore, of God’s) is that it gives.
His Only Son…
Notice what the love of God gives: His Only Son….For God the Father to give God the Son is an outpouring that we cannot imagine. John’s gospel begins with the bold affirmation that the Son is not only the eternal beloved of the Father, but that He is God, just as the Father is God (John 1:1)….He is one with the Father (John 10:30), equal to the Father (John 5:18), the perfect revelation of the Father (John 1:18), and the one whom to see is to see the Father (John 14:9). This means that—while there are some similarities—for God to give His Son is categorically different than for a human father to give his son. When God sends His Son into the world He is—for all intents and purposes—sending Himself.
The Son is all that the Father is made manifest (John 1:14). He is the fullness of God (Colossians 1:19), the radiance of His beauty and exact imprint of His nature (Hebrews 1:3). So, while the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father, for God to send the Son is truly for God to give His entire self to the world in the person of the Son. For this reason, when John tells us that God’s love sends the only Son, he is saying no less than that God’s love sends Himself.
How does the God who is love manifest His love among us? He gives Himself to us, He pours Himself out for us, He breathes all that He is out in love by sending the Son into the world. Our definition of love—and of God’s essential character— is becoming more clear: Love gives itself.
So That We Might Live Through Him.
Now we arrive at the goal or fruit of God’s love. If the act of love is the giving of Himself to us in His Son, the fruit of His love—according to 1 John 4:9—is that we might live through Him, that is, through Christ.
God sent Christ so that we might live through Him. What does it mean to live? It must mean something more than physical life because Jesus was sent into a world of people who were already alive physically. This means that the love of God must give another sort of life, namely, spiritual life, or as John calls it, “eternal life”. But what is “eternal life?” Here is Jesus’ own answer:
“This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
– John 17:3
Simply put, eternal life—the life that God’s love gives us—is to know God and to know Jesus Christ. However, as we’ve already seen, knowing God and knowing Jesus is not two different things, rather, we know God in Jesus (John 1:18, 14:9, etc.). So eternal life is to know God in His Son. And this knowledge is an affectional, intimate, communing sort of knowledge, the kind of knowledge that God has of Himself within the fellowship of the Trinity. When we begin to know and enjoy God with God’s own knowledge of and joy in Himself, then we have truly been made alive.
In John 17:3, Jesus teaches us that the core, essence, vibrancy and heart of true life is to intimately know and be deeply satisfied in God as revealed in His Son. And when we apply this definition of “life” to 1 John 4:9, we arrive at an incredibly God-centered understanding of love. Plainly stated, through the lens of John 17:3, 1 John 4:9 teaches us that God’s love gives God so that we might know God.
An Initial Definition
And so we come to the beginnings of a definition of true love (a definition that will be clarified in the next verse). What we have seen so far is that the essential nature of love is to give itself, and the goal of this self-giving is “so that we might live.” However, in light of John 17:3, the kind of living that John has in mind here is the knowledge of who God is in His Son. This means that the ultimate goal of love’s self-giving is that GOD MIGHT BE MADE KNOWN in the Son. Here, then, is our definition of love thus far: True love gives itself with the goal that the beloved would know God in His Son.
And remember, this is not just a definition of love; it is a revelation of the essential nature of God’s character. God Himself is—at His heart—one who gives Himself to Himself in love and so reveals Himself to Himself in love…..this, it would seem, is a central element of God’s own Intra-Trinitarian life. An awesome truth to consider and one that deserves life times of exploration…There are so many implications that we might track down in regard to the musings addressed in this post, but for the sake of time, let’s conclude this section by simply restating the awesomely God-centered picture of love that John gives us in this ninth verse of 1 John 4,
“In this the love of Love Himself was made manifest among us: that God gave Himself in His Son so that we might know Who He is.”
The love of God gives God so that the beloved might know God.