“I love you.”
“I love the subs from that place.”
“I love it when they come over.”
Love is a word often used but rarely understood. What is the true meaning of love? Here is my attempt at a definition:
Love is a deep passion, devotion, and affection for another person, rooted in Christ’s work, driving you to sacrifice yourself for their wellbeing, even when it is not deserved, with no expectation of personal gain.
Of course, this definition is grounded in a biblical view of love. To unpack this more, let’s look at 1 John 4 where we see three critical truths about love:
1- God is love and the source of all love.
1 John 4:7-8 – “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.”
God is the fount and source of all true love. True love as defined above can only come from God because God is love. Of course, those outside of God can experience a certain type of love and even give a certain type of love; this is God’s common grace. But love apart from God is often shallow, selfish, limited, conditional.
The biblical understanding of love is not mere emotion, passion, affection, or benevolence (though all those are part of and present in love). God defines love because he embodies love.
One of the wonderful things about God as Trinity is that God doesn’t need other creatures to be love or to give love. Love has always existed in the persons of the Trinity as the Father, Son, and Spirit each seeks the joy of the other.
The passage says that anyone who truly loves must be born of God and know God.
That’s because the only way to know God and experience his redeeming love is to be born again. 1 John goes on to say that if you are a person who doesn’t love others – doesn’t give of yourself to others, doesn’t put the good of others above yourself, isn’t walking in kindness, patience, mercy, and grace – then you do not truly know God, because God is love. Knowing God means to know him truly, deeply, in covenant relationship.
2- God’s love is revealed in Jesus’s sacrifice.
1 John 4:9-10 – “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.”
God’s love was revealed to us when God the Father sent his one and only Son into the world. Jesus, born as a human, lived, suffered, died on the cross and rose again for one reason – so that we might live through him. We were destined to die but received life.
This happens because the Son was the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Propitiation means that he was the sacrifice offered to appease the just judgment of God. He made atonement for our wrongs, paid our debt, appeased the justice of God. And now we can have true life with God.
Jesus is the manifestation of love. Jesus laid down his life. Love doesn’t begin with us loving God, but with God loving us and sending his Son for us.
3- God’s love drives us to love others.
1 John 4:11-13 – “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. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
Christian, if God loves us in this way, we must love one another in the same way. How can you be loved like this and not love others? John says that no one has ever seen God as a boundless, eternal spiritual Being. But, if we love one another as God has loved us – then something amazing happens. God resides in us through his Spirit, and his love is perfected, completed in us.
So, when the Spirit of God and the love of God abides in us, then God’s love is brought to its fullest expression in his people. And when we see this kind of God-centered love, we see the God who is love.
Wayne Grudem defines God’s love as “God eternally giving of himself to others for their blessing and good.” That means that loving others gives them God and treats them according to his nature. To truly love others, the love of God must be in us and overflowing out of us. And when we display God’s love, we display God himself.
To love as God loved means you take initiative. It means your love is free, with no strings attached. You don’t wait until you are loved or someone asks for your love. It begins with you. It means you give of yourself. Not just words or deeds, but yourself. And if God is in you, then really you’re giving them God.
This is love.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-8