Did you catch all that? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t. I started listing all the points that John makes in this passage – bullet points, some people call them – and came up with at least 23 different ones!
All of them have to do with love – a word John uses 27 times in this passage: God’s love for us, our love for God, our love for others, and how all that love is expressed.
Love one another
Love is from God
Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God
God is love
God showed His love by sending His Son to give us life
Because God loves us, we should love one another
If we do, then God lives in us and His love is completed in us
He has given us His Spirit
His Son is the Savior of the world
If we acknowledge His Sonship, we are united with God
This is how we know God’s love
If we live in love we live in God and God lives in us
Love is made complete complete
We will have confidence on Judgment Day
Because we are like God (in loving)
There is no fear in love
Perfect love casts out fear
Fear is connected to punishment
Those who fear are not perfected in love
We love because God first loved us
Claiming to love God is not enough – we must love others
Cannot love the seen, how can you love the unseen?
If you love God, who must love your brother
If John’s points seem to be circular, it’s because they are. Everything is interconnected – like a spider web – but it all goes back to a statement he makes twice – in verses 8 and 16: “God is love”
But what is John saying exactly? Let’s look at the word he uses for love.
But first, you need to know what I tell every couple I marry. The Greek New Testament uses three different words for love:
Eros – which is the physical manifestations of love: sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, inability to form a coherent thought …
Phileo – which is the fondness, the warm fuzzy feelings or affection that comes with love.
Agape – which is love from the will, a decision to do the loving thing.
And agape is the love that holds relationships together – especially when we don’t feel especially loving toward each other.
Feelings are tricky. The slightest thing affects them: a car that won’t start, a particularly good dinner, a checkbook that does or doesn’t balance, an illness, the loss of a loved one.
We can manipulate our feelings by watching sad movies or listening to happy music or going to a wedding.
At the same time, the stresses of life challenge our eros and phileo: Checkbooks that won’t balance, kids with chickenpox screaming at two a-m, and the changes that come with the years.
In the midst of all that, agape enables us to choose to do the right thing, to choose to act lovingly, choose to use kind words, choose to forgive, and above all, to choose to cling to each other, no matter how you feel.
How in the world did couples hold it together for life when their marriage was arranged by their parents, and they may have seen each other for the first time on their wedding day? Agape. They were committed to making it work.
Over the past century or so, we have married because of attraction and affection – and how has that worked out for us? A divorce rate close to 50%. But if we put agape into the mix, we can be patient and kind, not jealous or envious … Do those words sound familiar? Right out of I Corinthians 13, which is read at many weddings. And the word that Paul uses for love throughout that passage is agape.
Agape comes from God, because God chose to love us. Even when our first parents first sinned, corrupting God’s perfect creation and breaking our fellowship with Him – He chose to do the loving thing. He could have vaporized humanity at that moment, but He promised a Redeemer instead.
So God is the sole source of that kind of love.
Everything flows from that central truth:
God is love, therefore, if God is in someone and that person is in God, then that person MUST love – must love God and must love others.
It is not a command and it is not a plea – it is a simple statement of fact:
If we are in God and God is in us, then we must love God and each other.
God has always existed in relationship – the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And God created human beings because God wanted to share that relationship outside Himself.
God’s love was perfectly sufficient as it flowed among the persons of the Trinity – but God wanted it to be more, to be fulfilled, or as John put it, “perfected” by loving human beings and being loved by them.
But when John writes that love comes from God – he means just that.
We do not love (agape) naturally – we are not born with the capacity to love as God loves, nor can we learn that kind of love.
His love flows into us – or, as Paul wrote in Romans 5:
“God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit …”
Jesus told in John 15 of how He is the vine and we are the branches. He knew how growers would graft branches into a healthy, sturdy root. The nutrition would flow from the root into the branches, bringing life to them. At the same time, the nutrition created in the leaves would flow back into the root.
When we have been grafted into Jesus, His nature becomes part of our nature and His life and love flow into us. And we are able to send life and love into each other – eventually producing fruit that brings life and joy to the world.
The secret to loving each our sisters and brothers in Christ – including the ones who drive us up a wall – is to nuture our connection with God. The better the graft, the most nutrition flows. The better connected with are with God, the more His love flows into us and the more that love can flow through us to others.
So develop your relationship with God. Seek to be more and more deeply connected to Him. And you will be able to love others as He has loved you.