Theologians, philosophers, ethicists, romantic poets, betrayed spouses, dreamy-eyed teenagers and cynical adults, the hopeful and the hopeless have all asked, and are still asking, “What is love?” Whether we know how to define it or not, love is what most of us are searching and hoping for. St. Augustine wrote that before he followed Christ, “I loved not yet, yet I loved to love… I sought what I might love, in love with loving.”
Does loving other people come naturally to you? Have you ever wondered if being able to love and be loved by others depends on how successful you’ve been in your own past friendships? How much your parents loved you or whether you have lots of friends in your life automatically makes you a loving person?
The good news is that no one has been so broken, or made so many mistakes in the past that they can’t love well and be loved in the future. Anyone who enters into a genuine relationship with the living God can be transformed into a loving person. You may, like me, have a lot to learn about love, and thankfully God is an excellent teacher.
As we think about love let’s dial to the classic book on the subject, 1 John. In 1 John 4:7-21, the word ‘love’ is referenced twenty-six times in these verses alone. It is a love-drenched passage. The overriding theme is God’s life-giving love. Notice that John doesn’t write that love is God, but “God is love.” In our search for the definition of love we begin at the very person of God and His Divine character.
John’s main point is that God is the source of Love and the model for love. This passage traces the relationship between God’s love and human love and shows human love flows from God’s own love.
Love comes from God and God is love. I don’t know about you, but I can’t insert my name into that same phrase and say ‘Erin’ is love. Because to tell you the truth, yesterday I was not love. And by the end of today I may, again, not be love. In contrast, at any moment the reality is always that God is love. You might be able to think of the most loving person you know and say that “ ____ is loving,” but to say that their very nature is love is another story. God’s nature is love.
God is the source of love. Like an electrical power plant that transmits its energy through the wires, God is the power plant of love and we are the electric wires. Love comes from God to us, flowing through us to others. God wants us to transmit His love to the world around us.
Though we help spread it, Love belongs to the divine dimension; He is the source. The stuff that God is made of is not hate, anger, bitterness or deceit, but love. Love does not describe the fullness of God, but God inhabits the fullness of love.
Is this how you picture God? Whether you have followed God for many years, or you are questioning God’s very existence, is your understanding of the nature of God that He is love? If you pray, does love characterize the posture of the one you picture receiving your prayers?
“There is nothing you can do to make God love you more! There is nothing you can do to make God love you less! His love is unconditional, impartial, everlasting, infinite, perfect!”
John’s directive to his listeners is “let us love one another.” He encourages us to let God’s love flow through us. The Greek verb here has the sense of an act that is continually performed. Not an action that is performed once but one that is ongoing. Let us “continually” love one another.
Human relationships persist and thrive on the repeated choice to love the other person. The need to demonstrate love in human relationships is continuous. And don’t we know it! What if a wife said to her husband, “I love you, but I’m never going to tell you again, because I told you once and now you should know.” The need to demonstrate love is continuous. But loving is hard work.
John knew his instruction to go on loving would be difficult for his listeners to hear. In his book, John was writing to a church divided. This was a community of people who had come together to worship Christ, but who were very different from one another. So his command was not just a platitude or a gentle suggestion for keeping the peace at the dinner table. The instruction to love one another continuously was a difficult thing to ask of this group of people.
It was a difficult time for the community and people had started to leave the church. These very people are those to whom John is speaking when he encourages them to ‘continue’ to love one another. This message was not an easy one for John to deliver but the good news for them, and for us, is that God is the source of love. John says that, “No-one has ever seen God”- but the love of his followers makes him visible! How? Because God is the source of love, we his imperfect followers can act in love towards one another, thereby demonstrating the loving character of God!
It’s kind of like chilli. Have you ever cooked a really good pot of homemade chilli or gone to a home of a friend who is cooking? When you walk in the door the whole place smells like chilli. You leave the house and everything you are wearing smells like chilli. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 says, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?”
We, the church, are meant to be cooking up love among one another. People should walk in to places where the people of God are gathered, and the aroma of love should be all around. Because God is love, he is the source of our love and His love flows through us. When people enter our churches they should smell love cooking. God is the source of love, he’s where we get it. Human love derives its character and shape from the standard of divine love.
 1 John 4:7
 1 John 4:8
 Richard Halverson
 see also 1 John 3:11, 23
 1 John 4:12