It is quite possibly the most abused, misused, and flippant word in the English language. Consider how we use it. I love God, and I love sausage rolls. I love my children, and I love empty parking spaces. I love Jesus, and I love football. What is love?
According to some, love is mercurial. People, they say, fall in love, and almost as often, people say they fall out of love. Others view love as having an element of expectation. People say, “If you love me then buy me this…do that…or give me what I want.” What is love? The romantics among us picture love as the illusive dream of sitting down with someone of the opposite sex enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate watching the sunset while listening to the inspirational rhythms of jazz. Love, love, love, it's all you need, or so say the Beatles. But what exactly is love?
The Bible's picture of love is as striking as a diamond. There are many beautiful and wonderful facets that gleam in the Scripture's descriptions and expressions of love. One of the best insights into the subject of love comes in the short little book of 1 John, often known as the epistle of love. In this letter, John gives us much insight into the origin of love as well as what it looks like. In 1 John 4, the author expresses at least three ideas that should sharpen our focus and understanding of love.
First, the author explains that love is deeply rooted to the character of God. As he explains the expressions of love and the significance of love to the Christian community, John reminds us love is ultimately a character trait that finds its origins in God. In a concise and startling way John simply states, “God is love.” Only two other times does John make “God is” statements. John 4:24 say “God is Spirit” and 1 John 1:5, “God is light.” By stating, “God is…” John is talking about God's character, His nature, His disposition. That is, by stating God is love, he is reminding his readers that at the heart of God's very being is the nature to “love.” When you think of God do you think of Him as a loving Father, one who really cares deeply for you? Do you think of Him as one who desires to benevolently bless and care for His children? Or do you view Him as a cosmic killjoy frowning at those who enjoy life? Love is first and foremost an attitude that reflects God's character. When we love others, we demonstrate what our God is like.
Second, John gives us a picture of what love looks like. In 1 John 4:9-10 we discover love is expressed most clearly in the sending of Jesus. Listen to what these verses teach, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (NIV). God does not merely state that He loves us. He demonstrates it. He communicates how much He cares, not in words alone, but in actions. Sending His “one and only Son” God gives His greatest gift. He expresses His love by giving His Son for those who did not at first love Him. His love is sacrificial in that it involves payment for our wrongdoings. By sending Jesus God shows the depths of His love. This was no cheap gift—it cost God everything. If you want to see love in action read the accounts of our Lord's life.
Finally, John explains that as Christian believers we too ought to be people who reflect God's character by loving others. Put another way, the act of love makes the invisible God visible (1 John 4:11-12). The defining sign of a Christian is the character trait of love (John 13:34-35). John writes, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” When you show your co-worker love, when you share with the lonely person, when you spend time showing God's concern for lost people, God is revealed. When you love, it is like God's character putting on flesh. When people look at your life do they see God's character, disposition, and nature shining through you?
The Beatles said “all we need is love” but they didn't tell us how to love. Fortunately the Bible does. How do you love? Let John be our guide, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Get busy loving and show the world how to make the invisible God visible.