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God's Love & Ours

What is love, from a child’s point of view? Here are some actual definitions of love given by children...

  • “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
  • “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
  • “Love is when someone hurts you, and you get so mad, but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”
  • “Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is okay.”
  • “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
  • “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
  • “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.”
  • “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.”
  • “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”[1]

In this next section of his letter, John gives us his definition of love. Listen for God’s word to you from 1 John 4:7-12…


Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.


John begins this section of his letter with a simple command, “Dear friends let us love one another.”

When we are young, we tend to think this command easy to fulfill. After all, it is easy to love a spouse, is it not? At least, it is easy until the honeymoon is over. When poverty comes our way, and we are arguing about finances, then love does not seem so easy. When sickness visits our home, and we have to care for a spouse who is no longer attractive, suddenly love is not easy at all.

Perhaps this is because we all start with a limited definition of love. The Greeks called it Eros, falling in love. However, when we fall out of love, then what do we do?

Think of another example. It seems easy to love a child, does it not? Who could not love a child, a baby, who is cute and cuddly? However, once we bring that child home from the hospital, it is not so easy to love, when the child keeps us up at night with constant crying. It is hard to love when we are bone-tired.

Again, we start with a limited definition of love. The Greeks called it “storge”. Our English translation is: “affection”. This is the type of love that develops naturally between a parent and a child. However, what do we do when that child turns into a rebellious teenager, who spends the night out drinking with friends and then smashes up the family car on the way home?

Here is yet another example: the love between friends. The Greeks called it “philia”. Friends are great to have, are they not? At least, friends are great until they need us to help them move house, and they have a grand piano that has to be lugged from a third floor apartment to a new house across town.

Think about the love we ought to have for one another in the Church. It seems easy to love others when you first join a new congregation and you are getting to know new people for the first time. However, what do you do when someone hurts you through gossip or some other means? It is so easy to give up on the fellowship of the Church and want to run away and hide. We need a love for one another in Christ that is stronger than mere affection.

Eros, storge, and philia are all great in their own way. These feeling-based sorts of love get us started on the pathway, but they do not help us finish very well at all. We need an entirely different quality and strength of love to carry us through life and help us accomplish the nitty-gritty, dirty jobs of our everyday existence. For this we need agape, which John will tell us more about in a moment.

However, first we must ask a question: Why love one another at all?

John has a three-part answer. First, he says we should love one another because love comes from God. In other words, love is the way God created us to live. When we fail to live our lives in love, we are trying to cut the wood of life against the grain. Life just does not flow along very well without love.

Secondly, John says that everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. In other words, if you want to be sure that you are God’s child, not just by creation, but also by adoption, if you want to know God in a personal way, then you will get involved in the activity of loving. This is where you will discover God.

I think it is no accident that people who have left the church in their college years often come back to church when they become parents themselves. I believe the reason is because when we become parents, suddenly we realize that our personal resources in life are inadequate to carry on the job of love, even loving our own biological children. We suddenly recognize that we need help. Perhaps God can help us in our task of loving our children. Thus, we head back to church to try to discover God, to find a love that will empower the engine of family life.

What does agape look like? Belden Lane tells this Jewish legend:


Time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill, each night dividing the grain they had ground together during the day. One brother lived alone; the other had a wife and a large family.


Now, the single brother thought to himself one day, “It isn’t fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary to see that he was never without.


But the married brother said to himself one day, “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he’s old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s granary. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain mysteriously replenished each morning.


Then one night they met each other halfway between their two houses. They suddenly realized what had been happening and embraced each other in love. The legend is that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, “This is a holy placea place of loveand here it is that my temple shall be built.” So it was. The First Temple is said to have been constructed on that very site.[2]


Agape always thinks of the other and works for the other’s good.

John is telling us something very simple, yet profound. As Mister Rogers once said, “Life is deep and simple, and what our society gives us is shallow and complicated.”[3]

The deep yet simple thing John is telling us here is that: Wherever we see agape in action, there we are also seeing something of God. The converse is also true. Wherever we do not see agape, we are witnessing the absence of God. As John says, “Whoever does not love does not know God.”

Why is this the case? John answers: because God is love. With this statement, we come to the very center, theologically, of John’s letter. This statement is at the very core of what John wants to communicate to his readers.

Let us think about what this means. God is love. John is not simply talking about God’s actions, though God’s actions are loving. John is saying that love is the very essence of who God is. If we are looking for a definition of God, here is the best one: God is love.

Augustine once defined the Trinity in this way: God the Father is the lover, Jesus his Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love between them. God is an energy, the energy of love itself, an energy that has been pulsating for all eternity and will indeed go on forever.

Les and Leslie Parrott, in their book entitled Relationships, offer this analogy:


The sun only shines, just as God only loves. It is the nature of the sun to shine, to offer warmth and light. And it is the nature of God to love. We are free to get away from the sun—we can lock ourselves in a dark room—but we do not keep the sun from shining just because we put ourselves in a place where it cannot reach us.


So it is with God’s love. We can reject it, but God keeps on loving us. No matter what our choices, God still loves. And because God loves us, a relationship with God is possible.[4]


Now, John knows that to simply say “God is love” is very abstract. Therefore, he brings matters down to brass tacks. John says if you really want to know what love looks like, then look to Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus defines love. God demonstrated his love in Jesus. Supremely, God revealed his love for all people by offering himself as a sacrifice for sin in the form of Christ.

John uses the same word here that he used at the beginning of chapter two: ἱλασμὸν, sacrifice of atonement. The ἱλαστήριον was the mercy seat: that place on the Ark of the Covenant, between the wings of the cherubim, where the blood of the sacrifice would be placed on the Day of Atonement by the Jewish high priest. This was also the place where God appeared to his people.

Now, John is saying that Jesus is our place of atonement. Jesus is the place where we become one with God through his sacrifice on the cross. In that event, we see what love really is: agape, God’s contra-conditional love for human beings. It is a love so great that our holy God offers himself completely on the cross for sinful humanity.

Time magazine carried an interesting story a number of years ago about former President George Herbert Walker Bush. It described a trip he took back to the South Pacific. During World War II, Bush had been a bomber pilot, and was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire. The article detailed Bush’s return to the very spot where he was rescued from his downed aircraft.

During his return visit, Bush met with a Japanese gentleman who claimed to have witnessed Bush’s rescue back in 1944. The man related that as he and others were watching the rescue take place, one of the man’s friends remarked, “Surely America will win the war if they care so much for the life of one pilot.”[5]

God loved you so much that when you were down, when you were stranded and in need of rescue, he became a human being and sacrificed his life so you could be retrieved. God would have done this for you if you had been the only person in need of rescue. Such great love surely will win in the end.

In his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller uses the following story to illustrate how experiencing God’s love can transform our lives:


The acclaimed foreign film Three Seasons is a series of vignettes about life in postwar Vietnam. One of the stories is about Hai, a cyclo driver (a bicycle rickshaw), and Lan, a beautiful prostitute. Both have deep, unfulfilled desires. Hai is in love with Lan… Lan lives in grinding poverty and longs to live in the beautiful world where she works, but in which she never spends the night. She hopes that the money she makes by prostitution will be her means of escape, but instead the work brutalizes and enslaves her.


Then Hai enters a cyclo race and wins the top prize. With the money, he brings Lan to the hotel. He pays for the night and pays her fee. Then, to everyone’s shock, he tells her he just wants to watch her fall asleep. Instead of using his power and wealth to have sex with her, he spends it to purchase a place for her for one night in a normal world, to fulfill her desire to belong. Lan finds such grace deeply troubling at first, thinking that Han has done this to control her. When it becomes apparent that he is using his power to serve rather than use her, it begins to transform her, making it impossible to return to a life of prostitution.


Keller notes that in a similar way God’s contra-conditional love demonstrated in the sacrifice of his Son can transform us when we simply receive it. Keller asks: “Why wouldn’t you want to offer yourself to someone like this? Selfless love destroys mistrust in our hearts toward God.”[6]

What should our response be to such a love? John says, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one anotherThis brings us right back to where we started.

John reminds us that no one has ever seen God. John is probably thinking of the story of Moses who asked to see God and God allowed Moses to see only his backside. Sinful human beings cannot, in and of themselves, handle a face-to-face encounter with a holy God.

However, John says that when we love one another, God actually lives in us and his love is made complete in us. Amazing! When we love one another, we have the privilege of thereby showing God to the world.

John Trent writes,


When I led a Young Life group, I did my best to round up kids who really needed to hear the gospel when we went to summer camp. Mark was one of those kids.

Bob Mitchell, the main speaker that week, called most of the shots—including when meals would be served. So “Mitch” was always talking with the cook.

The cook loved her work, but it was exhausting. She always looked tired. Whenever she talked to Mitch, he got up and gave her his chair—and a moment’s rest—while they discussed meal plans.

Nobody noticed Mitch doing this ... except Mark.

Mark hadn’t come to hear about Jesus. But when he saw Jesus’ love lived out in that simple act of kindness by the camp speaker, he began to listen to his talks. Later that week, Mark asked Jesus to be his Savior.

It wasn’t because of the messages, Mark said, but because of the love he saw in Mitch.

“If that's what it means to be a Christian,” Mark said, “I want to be one.”[7]


I wonder: who is there in your life, or in mine, to whom we might “give up our chair” this week? Doing so might just reveal the love of God to a watching world.

[1] What Is Love—From a Kid’s Point of ViewLightSinger, (accessed 3-14-02); submitted by Jerry De Luca, Montreal West, Quebec,

[2] Belden Lane, “Rabbinical Stories,” Christian Century 98:41 (12-16-81); submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California,

[3] Fred Rogers, Christianity Today (3-6-00), p.45

[4] Les and Leslie Parrott, Relationships (Zondervan, 1998), p. 172

[5] Canadian Edition, Time (11-23-02); submitted by Darin Latham, St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada,

[6] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (Riverhead Books, 2008), pp. 96-98

[7] John Trent, co-author of The Hidden Value of a Man. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1


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