Love One Another, For God Has Loved You
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
God’s very character is love, for God IS love. So, which love is John talking about?
- agapao – This is the love of God. It is the love that is unconditional, sacrificial, and volitional (born of the will rather than emotion). This is love that is born from the heart, that supersedes emotion, and is lasting regardless of circumstances.
- phileo – Also known as brotherly love, it a love that is born from strong emotional bonding, as love born through years of friendship and trials together. This is the type of love that is shared between close people, such as when soldiers go into combat, and come out as “brothers in arms”
- eros – This is the word where we get our word “erotic” from. And it has the same meaning
- storge – This is a familial bond type of love, such as between spouses, parents and children, or brothers and sisters and/or cousins.
In this passage, John refers to agape love. God has loved us with a lasting, eternal love. The love that God shows to us is born out in the death of His Son, who died for us while we were yet sinners. God consistently shows His love towards all of us insofar as He gives us every opportunity to be reconciled to Him. He doesn’t withhold the sun or rain from any of us, and He pours out His grace and mercy upon us every moment of our lives.
John also points out that the reason that we are able to even engage in agape love is because God shows us how to love in this manner. He is the ultimate example for how we are to treat one another, and by implication, that we need an example because we are unable to completely and properly model this type of love ourselves. It should be noted that God did provide women with an innate ability to love others selflessly in both duty and desire. Mothers especially are capable of loving their spouses and children regardless of how they feel about them. But because of our sin nature, they are unable to model this love in its purest form.
Lack of Love
John warns us that if we cannot agape love others who we can see, we are certainly unable to love God who we most certainly are unable to see. Our love is to be on public display, not carefully concealed in our minds, wrapped up in how we feel. Unrequited love is not really love at all. Love is used in the verb form specifically to show us that we need to act upon it to give it power. If we do not express our love in actions, we relegate the word love, and any emotions, desires, or accompanying mental states to the status of that of a trophy placed in a closet. It is pretty to look at, but has no real value.
And if we cannot show love to others, we are certainly not showing love to God. Some may say that they love God, but hate people. By implication, you cannot love God and hate people, because people are image-bearers of God. If a person hates people, they are hating the one who created them. We cannot love God without loving people as well.
Because of the extraordinary outpouring of love of God, we are to love one another as God loves us. In order to experience God, we must partake in God’s character. This is what transforms us into His image – the alignment of our character with the character of God. This occurs through the indwelling, power, and motivation of the Holy Spirit in our lives to conform us to the likeness of God through the word of God. Without experiencing the character of God, we will be unable to grasp and take hold of the lessons needed to move the intellectual understand of God into a practical expression and experiential knowledge of the character of God. We must therefore love as God loves, for we are image-bearers of God.
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: Am I loving the disciples of Christ as God has loved me?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, You show me through Your constant display of mercy and grace that You are love personified. Thank You for modeling love to me. Help me to love others as You love me. Transform my heart – all that I am – into a better representation of Your character. Help me to forgive others and myself that I may love as You love me. This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.