The Apostle John is often referred to as the apostle of love. And it’s easy to see why. John is very concerned that his readers understand the nature of God’s love and the way that God’s love should be manifested in our lives.
Over and over again in 1 John, he tells his readers to love one another, and reminds them of the great love that God has shown us in Jesus.
Then, he makes a grand claim. In 1 John 4:9, he says:
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
This is a serious accusation for anyone who claims to know God, isn’t it? If you don’t love, you don’t know God. Why? Because God is love. And this begs the question:
What is love?
We talk a lot about love. We say people are in love. We say we love our computer or some movie or our spouse or our kitten or bacon. We comment when someone is being unloving. We talk about our “love language.”
But how do we define love? Or more specifically, what does John mean by love “love” when he says that God IS love?
This is something we should really know.
Well, There is one verse in 1 John that helps us identify love. It’s 1 John 3:16, and it says:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
John says here that we can identify the love that God showed us by looking to the cross. This is what love looks like: God, laying down His life for us. So, if that is how we know love, then how do we know if we are loving the way we should love and therefore, worthy of saying that we know God?
Well, do we, like Jesus, find ourselves laying aside any sense of worth or title or prestige that we have been given in order to ensure that even our most bitter enemies are cared for?
That’s a hard question. But it’s one we need to ask. Christ laying down his life for us is exactly what true and perfect love looks like. It is so true and perfect that John says that God IS this sort of love. It is an impossible standard for us to achieve. There may be no one to have ever walked this earth, other than Jesus, who has actually loved anyone in this way.
But that is the reason why God showed us this great love in the first place. We can’t achieve anything that even looks like this love, but Jesus did for us. He did die and sacrifice Himself that His most bitter enemies (us) might live. So, even though we can’t attain that love, we can know God because Christ has made it possible.
And because of this great love shown to us, we are called to love others. To seek the good of even our enemies at the cost of our lives. The love of Christ compels us to love others. And others see God when we love them in this sacrificial way. For God is love, and He shines through clearly when His people seek to display His glory in their love toward those who need Him desperately.