Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for 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 4:7 – 9 (NRSV)
In his first letter, John doesn’t simply say that “God loves,” which would mean that God expresses love along with several other different emotions: Anger, pride, jealousy, joy, and so on. No. John says, “God is love,” which means that love is at the very center or heart of who God is.
John backs this up by saying that “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” (v. 9). This echoes the classic verse from the gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). We know that God is love. Not because God says it, but because God lives it – God shows his love by sending his only Son into the world, so that we will not perish but have eternal life.
But what do we mean by the word “love”? Is this just a human description of a warm and wonderful feeling? Not at all, insists John. “In this is love,” he writes, “not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). John makes the case that God is the source of love, and that this love is seen most clearly in the death of Jesus on the cross – a sacrifice designed to bring us forgiveness of sin. It is a sacrificial, unconditional, agape love!
Therefore, God is love because love is at the very core of God’s being. God reveals that he is the source of love by sending his Son to bring us forgiveness and new life. As recipients of such amazing love, there is only one response we can make: To show love to one another. And this is precisely what John recommends: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11).
These are challenging words. After all, John is not talking about a mere human emotion here, but a deliberate act of the will that can have a transforming effect on our hearts and lives. “If we love one another,” promises John, “God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (v. 12). If we take the bold step of loving one another – friends, enemies, blacks, whites, Muslims, Christians – God will live and bring his love to completion in us.
All of this means that agape love is at the core of what it means to be a Christian. John tells us that God lives in those who love, and at the same time, God lives “in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 15). Loving one another and believing in Jesus as Savior are two sides of the same Christian coin.
Such a powerful love can change our lives, giving us “boldness on the day of judgment” (v. 17). It can eliminate fear, for “perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18). It can also be a test of our integrity, showing that our words about love are matched by our actions. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars” insists John; “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (v. 20). The bottom line is this, according to John: “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (v. 21).
When this Christian teaching takes root, an amazing fruit is produced. Mamie Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, was asked if she harbored bitterness toward the men who murdered her son in 1955. “I did not wish them dead,” she said. “I did not wish them in jail. If I had to, I could take their four little children and I could raise those children as if they were my own and I could have loved them. [. . .] I believe the Lord meant what he said and try to live according to the way I’ve been taught.”
Indeed, the Lord meant what he said: “As I have loved you, so you ought to love one another.” In the United States, in Honduras, in conversations with fellow Christians, in dialogues with Muslims, we need to live according to God’s way of love. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also, no matter their race, creed, culture, or nationality.
Brothers and sisters, our distinctive Christian belief is this: We love, because God is love . The only question remaining is, “How are we doing living out this unique Christian calling?” Because some of us who are struggling either with the truth that “God is love” or the charge to “love one another” may need additional “lessons on love.” And there’s no better source for more lessons on love than the Bible, which is the Word of God from a God of Love. Just a thought . . .