God is Love, Right?
Reading: 1 John 3:14-17; 4:7-11
God is love! Right? Yes…sort of… maybe. Don’t get me wrong, I know the Bible says that (1 John 4:8), and I do believe the Bible. My only hesitation is that the meaning of the statement, “God is love,” could mean something entirely different if one defines the word “love” differently than John the apostle defined it.
“God is love,” could mean something entirely different if one defines the word “love” differently than John the apostle defined it.
What is Love?
When we say, “God is love,” what do we mean? Is God the kind of love that one has toward ice cream? Is God the kind of love that a guy may have for a gal he has recently become attracted to? Fortunately for all of us, the one who penned “God is love,” also told us twice how love is to be defined. He told us before the statement, and just to make sure we didn’t miss it, he told us right after the statement that God is love.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
How do we know what love is? “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out in Ethics, the statement that God is love does not mean “… that we first of all by nature know what love is and therefore know also what God is.” Rather, “no one knows what love is except in the self-revelation of God.… And the revelation of God is Jesus Christ” (p. 53). In other words, love is revealed in Jesus Christ. Specifically, love is revealed in the act of God in the person of Jesus Christ—the act in which God, in Christ, lays down His life for us. God is love.
Love is revealed in the act of God in the person of Jesus Christ—the act in which God, in Christ, lays down His life for us. God is love.
This means that in order to understand what is meant by the declaration that God is love, we cannot think about what love means to us, or how love is defined by our culture, and then think, “That’s what God is.” Rather, we must have God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and then, looking upon the cross, say, “That’s what love is.” God, and how He acted to save us in Jesus Christ is the very definition of love. Only the cross can ultimately teach us what love is. (This does not apply, obviously, when I say, “I love ice cream.”)
Just after the statement “God is love,” John reinforces this truth.
10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)
Why does this matter?
It matters because we are commanded to love, and in order to do so we need to know what love is. We are not told, “God is love” so that we can know what God is, but so that we can know what love is. We need to know what love is in order to love others.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
John tells us that we are commanded to love one another. In fact, “because we love one another” is offered as a key piece of evidence supporting the fact that we have been born of God—that we have passed from death to life (1 John 3:14). If we do not love, we do not know God, since, in fact, God is love. We need to know that love is defined in the person of Jesus Christ and in His act of laying down His life for us. Now that we know that, we need to do that, for it is in loving (as defined that way) that we know God.
Love is not defined in a feeling, but in an action.
Follow the logic: If the one who does not love does not know God, then the one who does love does know God. But remember, love is not defined in a feeling, but in an action. Neither is love merely telling people we love them, or speaking loving words to them, but must act on their behalf in a manner consistent with Jesus Christ laying down His life for us (1 John 3:17-18).
So in the moment that love is made known to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ laying down His life for us, we are called to lay down our lives for one another. When we lay down our lives for one another, we come to know God in a way otherwise not knowable! Why? Because that’s what God is—God is that One Who acts to save by laying down His life on our behalf. If you know Him, you do that too, for to know Him is to become like Him. If we do not become like Him, we do not, in fact, know Him.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,