Summary: The wonderful thing about being made God’s children is that he gives us his Spirit to enable us to be like him, and that likeness is shown most clearly in our love for others. And so, as we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in u
I always get edgy when I hear someone make a definitive statement about God. There are so many aspects to God that any single statement always feels a bit deficient. So, for example, when someone says God is all-powerful, I find myself waiting for them to add that he’s also all-knowing, and ever-present. That he’s compassionate, but then I want to hear that he’s also just. When they say that God is the creator, I wait for them to also say that he’s God the redeemer. But when I read John’s writings It’s different somehow. For example, when he tells us in John 4 that God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth I’m not worried. In ch 1 of this letter he tells us that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all and that seems OK. When I read these sorts of statements I’m happy to accept them as they are, I guess, because I’m aware that John isn’t trying to provide a systematic theology of God, but simply picking up aspects of God that help to illustrate his point, or to encourage us in our Christian discipleship.
Well, John does it again here in this passage from 1 John 4. In fact twice he tells us "God is love." We began to look at the need to love one another last week. Do you remember the two things we found in ch3 that were necessary for pleasing God? They were that we love one another, and that we remain faithful to what we were taught about Jesus Christ. Well, here again, he exhorts us, "Beloved, let us love one another." And what’s the motivation we’re given? "Because love is from God." In fact, he says, this is the test that you’ve been born of God. "Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God." Why? "For God is love."
As we saw last week, the source of love is God, just as the source of hatred is Satan. So love is the evidence that we’re both born of God and know God.
Well, the question then is, how can we show love. Again, as we saw last week the term love can be an ambiguous term. Its meaning has been hijacked by popular culture. And what makes it even trickier is that we only have one word to cover a whole range of meanings. So I can say: "I love my wife," or "I love my children, or my parents," or "I love chocolate," or "I love lying by the pool on a hot summer’s day" etc. But unless you look carefully at the context to see what sort of love I’m talking about it isn’t necessarily clear. What’s happened, you see, is that we’ve come to use the same word for that wide range of meanings as though they were all equal. Well in the Greek language it was a bit easier. There were 4 different words in Greek that were used for love. There was family love, storgé, that kind of love you might have for your parents or your children or your brothers and sisters, There was social love, philia, that sort of love you have for your social group. There was sexual love, Eros, the sort of love you have for a wife or husband, a boyfriend or a girlfriend. By the way, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that Eros is the only Greek word for love that most people would recognise these days. That probably says a lot about the way popular culture has twisted the idea of love. Finally there was agapé love, which was a practical and unemotional love, fairly nonspecific in its normal usage.
Well, why did the disciples choose the term agapé when they wanted to describe Christian love? What was wrong with the other words for love? They were all right. There’s nothing wrong with loving your family, or your social group or your spouse. So what was wrong with these particular words when it came to describing God’s love? Well, perhaps the problem is this: when we use one of these first three words, we’re describing a love that’s essentially grounded in self-gratification. Family love loves those who are of the same flesh and blood. Social love loves those who are of the same social grouping. Both have the virtue of cementing relationships in those groups, and ensuring the groups remain strong. So both are basically aimed at self preservation. Eros, sexual love, by the same token, is biased towards satisfying the desires of the lover. It can be a demanding, craving, hungry love; a love born out of the need of the lover. On the other hand, as opposed to those other three forms of love, agapé love contains the idea of self-forgetfulness. It’s a generous, altruistic, sacrificial love born out of the need of the loved one. In short, where Eros wants to take, agapé wants to give.