Summary: We love because we belong to God and that's what he does. God's love is sacrificial, self-giving. It's a love that's seen in the way we love because we're his body here on earth.
Well we saw last week how important it is for us to love one another and here he says it again, but this time with an added couple of reasons.
God is Love
Twice in this passage he tells us “God is love.” Last week the motivation for loving God and remaining faithful to the gospel was that this would please God. But what’s the motivation here? Well it’s more fundamental isn’t it? “Beloved, let us love one another, 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 Sherlock would say: “Elementary my dear Watson.”
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 that we’re from God. Or to put it the other way around, if we say we’re from God how can we show his sort of love to others? Now as I said last week the term love can mean a number of things. 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. All the same word 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, the sort of love you have for your social group. There was sexual love, eros, the sort of love you have for a wife or a husband, a boyfriend or a girlfriend. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that eros is the only Greek word for love that most people would recognise these days. That, I think, 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 good words. There’s nothing wrong with loving your family, or your social group or your spouse. So what was wrong with those particular words when it came to describing God’s love?
Let me suggest the problem is this: when we use one of those first three words, we’re describing a love that’s essentially grounded in ourselves. 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, agapé love contains the idea of self-forgetfulness rather than self-centredness. It’s a generous, altruistic, sacrificial love born out of the need of the loved one. In short, where Eros wants to take, agapé chooses to give.
The chief model for this type of love, of course, is God himself. John says: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. This is how God showed his love among us.” How? Not by serenading us, not by offering us roses and chocolates. No, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Notice the nature of this love. There’s no sense that God loves in response to our love for him. Rather, as Paul reminds us, it was while we were still his enemies that Christ died for us. So it wasn’t that we loved God. Far from it. We were totally opposed to him. So much so that when His Son appeared on earth there were only a handful of people who accepted him for who he was. The rest rejected him out of hand. Even when he’d performed miracles among them, fed them and healed them and raised them from the dead, all they could do in the end was to cry out for his execution. And yet he willingly submitted to execution so those very people could be forgiven.