By Wolfgang Schneider
In a study about the topic of love from a biblical perspective, the truth that God has loved us Christians first, must always stand at the beginning. This great truth is really the basis, the foundation. Because God has loved us first, we now can also love others.
A section of Scripture from 1 John which extensively deals with love is the core of this study. We will work through these verses and also include some other sections of Scripture to add and round up our study.
1 John 4:7 and 8:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God [this love has its origin with God, it is of God]; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
What a tremendous truth is expressed here! “Love is of God!” Furthermore, it then reads, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
This last statement cannot be just turned around to say “Love is God”. If we consider what some people today all call “love”, this is quickly obvious. What is being called “love” today may have absolutely nothing to do with God. Here it is made clear that not all statements and comparisons in the Bible can simply be turned around as if they were a mathematical equation.
This truth – God is love – is repeated in verse 16.
1 John 4:16:
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
But before we get to a detailed look at this verse, we want to read the part in between these verses where more is explained and set forth about how God is love and what this love of God is all about.
1 John 4:9:
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
This is the greatest thing which God has done and in which He exhibited His great love. God gave His only begotten Son – in that the love of God was manifested toward us. This reminds us of a very familiar verse from the gospel of John, which also speaks of this work of God.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In 1 John it said, “… was manifested the love of God toward us …, that we might live through him.” Here now these truths are stated in a more general ways, “… God so loved the world …, that whosoever believeth in him, … have everlasting life.” God’s love was manifested and expressed in the giving of His only begotten Son in order to save man and make available eternal life to man. Man certainly had not deserved this in any way, and yet he can receive by faith in Christ what he did not have before – life, everlasting life. God gave, He gave freely. This is how His love was manifested. The greatness of His love was then seen in what He gave. He gave His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, and now all those who believe on him receive everlasting life when they believe on him. How great is God’s love!
The epistles to the Ephesians declares to us in chapter 2 the situation in which we once were and what God has made available to us in Christ. The situation in which the world really is, and in which we too once were, is set forth clearly in front of our eyes, and again it becomes evident how great and wonderful God’s love is.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in time past ye walked … But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
God gave His only begotten Son because He so loved! God acted in “his great love”, and even us “who were dead in trespasses and sins … hath he quickened together with Christ.” In Christ we now have received life again, eternal life. We were dead in sins, but now we have been made alive with Christ. God has given us eternal life, we were raised, “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places” through Christ Jesus. How great was God’s love! How much did God love us! He acted out of His great love.
Another passage in Romans 5 with further truths about Christ’s work gives us some more aspects of the great love of God.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Once again it becomes obvious how great God’s love really was! We were in a situation where we had nothing to offer which would have been deserving of His love. We were by nature that which normally doesn’t make a person very lovable – God’s Word calls us “weak”, without God” and “sinners”. And yet, even at that time God already gave His son for us. Christ died for us when we were yet sinners – what great love God had for us!
We will pick up the record in 1 John 4 again to read about some more details given about the love God had for us.
1 John 4:10:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
This verse shows us wherein love really is. Again, God’s Word emphasizes that God has sent His Son and that in him a “propitiation for our sins” has been accomplished. 1 This love is not in that we loved Him, but rather in that He loved us!
1 John 4:11:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Here now we are shown and we can learn how we are supposed to “answer” to the love which God has shown toward us. Because God has loved us, because He gave His only begotten Son, we now also can love. And we are to love one another among the believers in the church.
We now have the ability to love one another like that because of what God has given us when we were saved. He has given us of His spirit. In that He made possible for us that we can love one another with this love. This becomes more clear as we read a scripture from 2 Timothy 1 where this spirit is described in more detail.
2 Timothy 1:7:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
God’s spirit, that spirit which God has given us when we were born again, is further described here with three terms showing various things which this spirit is for us. God’s spirit is not a spirit which gives us fear, which causes us to be afraid, which would lead to a state in which we would have to fear again. The spirit from God is instead a spirit providing for us power, and love, and a sound mind. We see, this spirit from God is a spirit of love, with the giving of this spirit, when we receive it, it is possible for us to now love according to God’s way.
We have now the ability because of God’s spirit in us to love one another with this kind of love. Only with this as foundation is it possible for the Word of God to address such a commandment to us as we read in 1 John 4. We now can love this way because God has made available with His act of love in Christ and by providing the gift of holy spirit for us.
1 John 4:11–13:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Verse 13 states again that there is a connection between love and the spirit which God has given us.
1 John 4:14–17:
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
What has already been set forth in the previous verses is now stated once again for emphasis. Remarkable is the statement, “No man hath seen God at any time.” Even now, we of course do not see God. This will not be until a future day, and then indeed we shall see Him.
The love of God which God has shed abroad in our hearts by the holy spirit is expressed as we love one another. When we love one another we express the love which God had for us when He gave His only begotten Son. We now do no longer have to get along without love for God has already loved us first so that we now can have love for one another with that spirit which He has given us.
How this love for one another is to be manifested becomes more clear from 1 John 3.
1 John 3:18–22:
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
Verse 18 demands, “let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Such kind of love demonstrates and lets us know that we are the children of God. That we are His children has its basis in God’s love. Ephesians reports that we are God’s children not because we accomplished some great work, but that we are God’s children because of God’s great love wherewith He loved us and because He accomplished something in Christ. When we realize that “we are of the truth” then we can indeed “assure our hearts before him”. It really isn’t a matter of any of our works, a matter of what we might accomplish, could accomplish, or could not accomplish. God loved us and He saved us. He gave His Son for our redemption. Therefore our heart need not condemn us anymore! God is greater than our heart, and He knows all things. If our heart then does not condemn us we can have confidence toward God that what we ask of Him He will give and we will receive it from Him for we are keeping His commandments and do what is pleasing unto Him.
Keeping God’s commandments is termed in another passage in 1 John to “love God”.
1 John 5:2 and 3:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
When we want to love God, we will keep His commandments. Then we really do what is pleasing unto Him. One commandment is mentioned in chapter 3.
1 John 3:23:
And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
This is actually a special reference to a commandment which Jesus gave to his disciples. 2 He had told them about a new commandment, which was to love one another as he had loved them.
1 John 3:24:
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
Here again we find another mention of the spirit from God which we have received. Every time when we utilize this spirit from God we have this assurance, this conviction, the knowledge that we are children of God and that He has loved us in Christ.
1 John 4:17 and 18:
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
We need have no fear of a future judgment, of the day of judgment, because God has already saved us from the wrath, as several passages of scripture in the Word of God indicate. 3
1 John 4:19:
We love him, because he first loved us.
This is the great truth which we must continue to keep in front of our eyes. God has loved us first, and we now can enjoy His love. He does not now push us aside – He did not push us aside when we yet sinners! Even at that time, when we were weak, ungodly, sinners – even at that time He was willing to give His only begotten Son for us so that we now could be His children.
1 John 4:20 and 21:
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
This is really tremendous! God has loved us — first! Therefore we now too can and should love. We love God by keeping His commandments. We then also love our brother, we love each other in the church of God. The love among each other is so to say really the “badge” of Christians. This is how it should be! This goes beyond just words and talk. Loving this way is more than just lip service, it is a matter of loving in deed and in truth. The love which we have received from Him now is exhibited as we love one another by following God’s Word and by doing that which we have been commanded.
1 Corinthians 13 mentions certain characteristics of this love of God. God’s Word tells us how this love is.
1 Corinthians 13:4–7:
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
In these verses a number of wonderful figures of speech are used for emphasis. Love is described as a person, and the various individual statements start and end with the same words each respectively. All these points are contributing to emphasize the love of God. This love is longsuffering and it is kind – quite a contrast to the quick upheaval of emotions seen in many in our day and time. This love is not busy being jealous and full of envy, it does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up, it does not behave in an unseemly manner; it also does not seek its own, it is not easily provoked nor does it reckon evil or rejoice in iniquity – this is a tremendous list of things which love is NOT! Then follows a list just as impressive with what love is and what it does: It rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things and endures all things. 4
1 Corinthians 13:8:
Charity never faileth: …
Certain other things will eventually cease, such as prophecy, tongues, knowledge; but love will not cease but continue.
1 Corinthians 13:13:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
These are the three great realities in the life of each believer: faith, hope and love. We believe God’s Word, and by faith we appropriate to ourselves that which God has promised to be available to us now. By faith we can receive what is available to us now. We hope in God’s Word and by hope we hold fast to that which God already has promised us for the future. Love then is the third great reality which must be in operation in our life. Love is that element which energizes both faith and hope in our lives now.
We have read in 1 John about the love we are to have for one another, and we have seen that it is based on the truth that God loved us first. We must not forget this truth. but rather be aware of it always. God loves us, He is not a condemning judge, but has offered to each one who believes remission of sins in Christ. Even now, when we sin we need not do any works ourselves to receive forgiveness, but we are to confess our sins and turn to God with a heart ready to repent. In 2 Corinthians this is called having a “godly sorrow”. A genuine change of heart and mind is necessary and must be evident, yet the forgiveness itself is God’s free gift. He gives or grants us remission of sins. Again, the great love which He has for His children is shown forth in forgiving us. The love we must have for one another, a walk according to God’s commandments – that is what we must pay attention to and carry out as those who have been beloved of God. Then we can enjoy a life with joyfulness and God’s blessing.
In order to walk in love we must first have a proper knowledge of God’s Word. We need the knowledge of God’s Word, of His commandments. But, with all the wonderful knowledge of God’s Word available to us for which we can be very thankful in this day and time, we must also not forget the great love which God shed abroad in our hearts by the holy spirit which He has given us, and which we can utilize in our daily walk.
In 1 Corinthians 8 the apostle Paul mentions knowledge as well as The results of both knowledge and love each become clear.
1 Corinthians 8:1–3:
… Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
Some Christian believers take Verse 1 and use it to almost claim that knowledge is not necessary. Why be concerned about knowledge? It puffs up, and who wants to be puffed up? The great slogan then is, “Forget the knowledge, love is important!” But, this is not quite what God’s Word declares here. A proper, correct and accurate knowledge of God’s Word is absolutely necessary. How else are we even to know what love really is? Those Christians who, because of their false understanding of this verse, allow themselves to throw out knowledge from God’s Word altogether and who then turn with great diligence to a rather worldly, unreal and completely emotional “pseudo”-love, will not get very far in the long run.
The context of 1 Corinthians deals rather with a false application of knowledge, and yes to a certain extent also false knowledge because the Corinthians seem, at least in part, to have misunderstood Paul’s gospel of the liberty in Christ. On the other hand, Paul uses the term “love” for he doing of God’s will, similarly to what is stated in 1 John. Verse 3 puts the emphasis of “love” especially on loving God! That of course is nothing else then keeping or doing His commandments.
God has loved us first. We now respond to His love. We now love Him by keeping His commandments. One of the commandments is to love one another. This should be the aim of our endeavors. When we think of how and when God loved us and how He still continues to love us – then we should find it perhaps much easier to respond in love to Him. Then it may not seem as difficult to us to keep His commandments.
We want to love one another in deed and in truth, support one another, be there for one another and thereby give a shining example to others as well. Then they can see this genuine and true love we have for one another which is based on the knowledge from God’s Word. And, this is whereby others shall and will know that we are Christ’s disciples!
(1) We receive forgiveness or remission of sins when we confess Jesus as Lord. We are then no longer lost, but have been saved and are given a new nature; we are a new man and have Christ in us (cp. Romans 10:9 and 10; Colossians 1:27).
(2) Cp. John 13:34.
(3) Cp. Romans 8:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:10.
(4) This is not speaking of “all without exception”. It speaks of all of that which is in accordance with God and the Word of God and His will.