On this Valentine’s day it seems appropriate to turn to the supreme theologian of love in the NT – the apostle John. No-one, not even Paul, speaks more of love than John. But it’s not just a matter of quantity – John’s theology of love elevates love to new heights. It is he alone in the Bible who describes God as love (vs 8 and 16).
A good way in to John is to look at the most condensed section of his teaching on love in 1 John 4:7-12.
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. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 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. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
It’s worth counting the number of times love appears in these 6 verses (I make it 13).
While John’s style is simple his content is anything but simplistic.
What strikes you from these verses?
Again, look for how love is both the MOTIVE and the GOAL of God’s action in his Son.
Here’s a 10 point summary
1) Love originates in God – he is both the source of love and, in himself, is love.
2) By implication, all that God is and does is loving. In him is no ‘unlove’ – or, as John puts it, since God is light, in him is no darkness at all.
3) No-one else loves like this, of no-one else can it be said that they are ‘love’. There is a qualitative gulf between divine and human love. Humans cannot ‘naturally’ love in the way God loves. Such love is a gift from God.
[An aside here: I don’t think John is necessarily saying humans cannot love – he is saying they cannot love in the way God loves without knowing God himself.]
4) The supreme way he shows his love for us is in the sending of his Son into this broken world (‘sending’ here is shorthand for incarnation, life, death and resurrection).
5) The cross of Christ is where sins are atoned for. While not spelt out, it is in and through atonement that humans can come to know God through being born of God. There is therefore a humility required in order to love – a need for faith and repentance and openness to God’s help and empowering to love.
6) God, out of love, enables humans to know him who is love, and therefore to be transformed into people of love.
7) Divine love in this sense is contagious. It is in knowing God and having God live in us that humans are enabled to love.
8) Yet this is not ‘automatic’: love is a moral choice. John invites and exhorts his readers – ‘Let us love one another’; ‘we ought to love one another’.
9) Love is an essential and universal requirement for every Christian – it is the fundamental ‘baseline standard’ for the Christian life. Note how John the great apostle includes himself in the call to love – ‘Let us love’. An absence of love reveals that God is not known at all.
10) What does love ‘look like’ in practice? The answer, as is so often the case, is Jesus.
Verse 17 ‘This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus.’
Love is a life looking away from the self and poured out for the good of others.
Comments, as ever, welcome.