John returns to the topic of brotherly love. From 4:7 through 5:12 John repeats themes he discussed earlier in the letter because he wants to make sure his readers fully grasp their importance. In these two verses John elaborates on what it means to love one another and helps us understand why it is so essential and what it shows about the believer. If Paul can say that all the law is summed up in the command to love your neighbor as yourself, it makes sense that John spends a significant part of his epistle emphasizing its importance to his spiritual children.
He addresses the beloved and states the command – let us love one another. He has touched on this throughout the letter. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him (2:10). The one who loves his brother shows he is a child of God (3:10). The command that originally came with the gospel was to love one another (3:11). Loving one another gives us assurance that we have passed out of death into life (3:14). We are not to love in word only but to love in deed and truth (3:18). And the main commandment of God is to believe in the name of His Son and to love one another (3:23).
Now he gives even more explanation for the command. Love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. To love in the way John commands one must abide in God. He must share in the divine nature. There is no way to love with a godly love apart from God. Consequently, the one who loves this way demonstrates he is born of God. And if he is born of God he knows God. And if he knows God he will love. Love proves our lineage.
Note that this is a love that can be commanded. This is not a feeling we cannot help or an emotion that depends on our natural affinity for the person loved. John would not command us to love if it were an action we did not control. If we are born of God and know God, we willfully love others with our eyes on God and our hearts full of God. We decide – through the empowerment of the Spirit – to look at God and love one another.
Thought: Looking at God is key. If we look at others or at ourselves we cannot love as God loves. We will never find enough reasons in our brothers to love them. And looking at ourselves means we only love those who treat us as we think we deserve (this is how the world loves). It is only when we fill our eyes with our Father and understand who we are before Him that we are able to see others as He sees them and love them accordingly. We must first love HIM (the greatest commandment) before we can love others. [The world says we must love ourselves before we can love others. The Bible says we must love GOD before we can love others as ourselves.]
This is why loving one another is proof of faith. We can only love others when we first love Him and we will love others if we do love Him. If we do not love others then we apparently do not love Him (or we love something more than Him – “Do you love Me more than these?” is really the most important question we grapple with). And if we do not love Him we must not know Him because it is impossible to know Him without loving Him. And if we do not know Him we are not His. This same logic works for keeping His commandments – the one who does not keep His commandments does not know him (2:3-6) and thus is not His. The two tie together in Jesus’ statement, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” – Jn 14:15.
This does, however, bring up another question. Why command something that we cannot help doing? Why tell us to love one another but then also say if we truly know God we WILL love one another? This is a difficult concept, but what seems to make sense is to understand that God uses His word to fulfill His promises. We would not know the importance of love apart from the word. The command communicates to us the emphasis God places on love. It tells us that love for one another is not optional. Armed with this knowledge, we then claim the promise that if we are of God we WILL love. The command fulfills the promise (the same explanation applies to 2:3-6).
The one who does not love also shows his lineage – he shows he is not born of God and does not know God. John once again states this in black and white without any gray. If we do NOT love we do NOT know God – it is that simple. And to back up his case even more, John gives us one of the most beautiful truths about God in all the Bible. God is love.
This is the second time in the letter John has stated what God IS. Earlier he said God is light (1:5). He used that attribute of God to explain that anyone who walks in darkness – practices sin and is typified by it – does not know God. A man cannot walk in the darkness and claim to know the One who IS light. It is impossible by definition (darkness is the absence of light). In the same way John says someone cannot refuse to love others and yet claim to know the One who IS love. In 3:24 John said the one who keeps God’s commandments abides in God and God abides in him. It is thus impossible to abide in One who is love and not love Him and love others. We cannot abide in love and not be loving. We cannot be born of love and not love.
Do not miss how he phrases this. He does not say “God is loving” or “God loves”. He says God IS love. It is who He is. His nature and essence are love. He loves perfectly and completely because He is the standard of love. All His actions are loving. He is the source of love. We would not know what love is apart from Him. He does not live up to the ultimate standard of love – He IS the ultimate standard of love. He is the definition of love. HE IS LOVE.
God’s absolute fullness of life and truth and beauty and goodness and all other perfections is such that He is not only self-sufficient, but also, in His very nature, overflowing. God is so absolute, so perfect, so complete, so full, so inexhaustibly resourceful, so joyful, that He is by nature a Giver, a Worker for others, a Helper, a Protector. What it means to be God is to be full enough always to overflow and never to need—never murmur, never pout. God is love. The implications of this for the way we live are big. (John Piper, The Greatest of These is Love, Sermon on I John 4; 03/12/1995)
All I know is that God, in the very essence of His nature and being, is love, and you cannot think of God and must not think of Him except in terms of love. Everything God is and does is colored by this; all God’s actions have this aspect of love in them and the aspect of light in the same way. That is how God always manifest Himself – light and love. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ; 122.)
Thought: What does this mean for us when we are tempted to judge God or question His actions? He IS light and He IS love. He is the standard for both good and love. What do we use as a standard to judge the One who IS the standard? (What do you add to powdered water?) How ridiculous is it to question or criticize God’s actions based on our standards of justice and love when the basis of those standards is HIM? What exactly does God not measure up to?
These, then, are facts about God’s nature we must preach to ourselves in the midst of circumstances that scream injustice or hopelessness. God controls everything and God is light and God is love. Nothing can happen to us that does not have at its core righteousness and love. God cannot act outside of His nature. We must remember this even when everything around us seems to contradict it. Regardless of where we are or what we are or what our world is doing, our Father IS light and He IS love. May this knowledge enable us to persevere when no other answers and no other explanations can.
This aspect of God’s nature declares the Trinity. If God is eternal and God is love then He must have loved before the dawn of time and before creation. If this is the case, the only target for God’s love – for love cannot be defined apart from a recipient of that love – is Himself within the Trinity. God does not need man in order to love – God the Father loves God the Son with the infinite Spirit of love between them. The source and standard of love practices love within the three Persons of the source and standard of love (Jn 17:24-26).
When Jesus told His disciples, “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48), He spoke in the context of loving our enemies. When that verse is compared to this text, it amplifies the truth that we love when we share in the nature of God and we share in the nature of God when we love. The Father’s nature IS love; consequently, one who is His son will love (with human limitations) in the same way. He will love those who do not/cannot return it. He will love those who do not deserve it. He will love because he cannot HELP but love. He shares in the divine nature that IS love and so will love because that is who he IS.
Loving makes us like God! God is love and love is from God and when we love we show we are born of God and know God. We show that we are partakers of the divine nature (II Pet 1:4). To love is to exercise our privilege of sonship – to love is to join ourselves with God.
And that is really what it comes down to. How much do we want to share in God’s nature? How much do we want to love our Father? How many things will we let get in the way of loving God and knowing God? When we know Him, we love Him and love one another. When we know things other than Him, we love things other than Him and ultimately love ourselves.
How important is love?
On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. Matt 22:40
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. Jn 13:35
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart… I Tim 1:5
Let all that you do be done in love. I Cor 16:14
He delights in unchanging love. Micah 7:18
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. Gal 5:6
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Gal 5:14
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. I Cor 13:13