Chapter 4:7-12 (ESV) - Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Question to consider: What does John mean by “God is love?”
One of the frustrating things about language is that it changes over time. If that isn’t bad enough, we live in an age where most of our written material is digital, and even our printed material is mass produced so these changes can happen rapidly and easily. When modern readers say, “God is love,” chances are they have an entirely different image of what that means than what was intended by the apostle John. Modern love is an emotional connection that is rooted in shared experience and common purpose. God’s love is rooted in God’s own will and purpose and has nothing to do with my worthiness to be loved.
Fortunately, the original text was written in ancient Greek which contains three different words for love. Modern love is rooted in phileo and eros, Greek words which respectively mean fondness and passion. We phileo someone because they possess a quality worthy of our favor, and we experience eros because their physical presence arouses an emotional response. God’s love as described by John however uses the Greek word agapē. This word denotes unmerited favor. God decided to show us favor even though we did not deserve it, and God is the embodiment of unmerited favor because He sent His only Son into the world to pay for our sins even though we deserved only judgment.
Today’s passage reminds us of these words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) The modern reader may read it as, “God loved the world so very much that He gave his only Son,” as if we were so lovable that we inspired God to grant us favor and forgive our sins. However, what is translated “so” is not a reference to the depth of God’s love but the manner in which He demonstrated it.
If we understand Jesus’ words by John’s commentary, Jesus was saying that God granted us unmerited favor by sending His Son to pay the penalty for our sins. This would have been shocking to Nicodemus for two reasons: 1. Nicodemus would have considered himself worthy of God’s favor because he was a descendant of Abraham and especially because he was a Pharisee, and 2. God did not send His son exclusively to the Jews but “the world” which included unworthy Gentiles and Samaritans.
Since God has shown such a great favor to such an undeserving creation, John emphasized that “we also ought to love one another.” Even if our neighbor does not deserve our favor, we should give it because God has done so for us. In fact, in serving and showing favor to our undeserving neighbor, we are extending God’s love into the world and demonstrating our gratitude to God even though we haven’t seen Him. In this, we love in deed and in truth.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for sending Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins. Help us to demonstrate our gratitude by loving and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ and making disciples of those who don’t know Him. Let our light so shine before others that they may see our good works and bring You glory in heaven. Amen.