“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:8
Love is one of the great mysteries of this life. Songs and poems have been penned to try to explain its powerful sway. Plays, movies and books have been written around its theme. Philosophers and religious leaders have struggled to define it. Yet according to the apostle John, love is the Christian obligation. So we better understand what love is if we are obligated to practice it. The pope and his ilk are traversing the globe defining love as social justice, environmentalism, and other such things. But is that the biblical understanding of love? Let us take a moment to examine whether that is true.
Before we get to define what love is, we must first understand how we can get it. 1 John 4:7 tells us that love comes from God and that our love is an evidence of being born from God. That is an important boundary marker. It means that those who are not born of God cannot actually truly love, in the biblical sense of the word anyway. The apostle is saying that love is a uniquely Christian behavior. This opens up a host of rabbit-trails for us to potentially chase, but let us stay focussed on the task of understanding what love is.
The Apple Dictionary on my computer defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Certainly this definition contains part of the truth. Love is a feeling, but it is not only a feeling. Love is a feeling that requires expression. That is one of the reasons we buy presents and perform acts of kindness for each other. We must express our affections for one another in action, otherwise love is of no use. And yet there must be some overriding principle that helps us understand what action should govern our feelings of affection. Again the apostle John helps us: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3a). So what the Bible is teaching us is that love is a three-fold thing: first, it is a fond affection; second, it requires expression; third, this expression is governed by the commandments of God.
Think of love as it finds its expression in God’s work of redemption. The Father loves the world. But he does not love it as an exercise of feeling. He expresses this love in the sending of his Son to accomplish this redemption for us. Then the Son and the Father together send the Holy Spirit to strengthen and sustain his people as they wait for the final consummation of the kingdom of God. God does that sacrificially and for the good of his people. When God expresses love to the world he does so according to the following definition:
Love is an expression our feelings of affection according to God’s law with the other’s best interest at heart.
So when John says that love is from God, he is not kidding. Love is from God and it ought not surprise us to find its perfect expression in his work of redemption. Next installment we will consider man’s expression of love following the definition above.