What is love? There have been many answers offered over the years, but in our current day the answers have become more and more irreconcilable and distant from any biblical foundation. Should we accept the notion that love is merely a "secondhand emotion" (as Tina Turner sang)? Is true love defined how we want it to be defined and according to our own experiences? Is there a true and biblical definition which we should embrace? The Scriptures do provide a definition and that definition begins with who God is. Verse 7 says that the source of love is God. So if He is the source, true love reflects His character and being. That is, being made in the image of God, we have the capacity to love and be loved. But that love must conform to God's love in order to truly be love. Love is not merely (or primarily) an emotion or feeling, but is properly a reflection of the faithfulness and self-giving that is intrinsic to who God is. Further, the apostle defines love both positively and negatively. First, everyone who lovesâ€¦knows God. Notice, it does not say, â€śknows about God.â€ť Knowing God is more than mere head knowledge; it is close fellowship with Him. Second, whoever does not love does not know God. So, the lack of love demonstrates a lack of knowledge and fellowship. And the reason for this is because, "God is Love." The definition of love is inextricably tied up in the nature of God Himself. It is not so much that God is a loving God, true as that is, but that the definition is seated in Godâ€™s unchanging character. Love does not so much define God; God defines love.
The supreme example of such divine love is found in the giving of our Savior, Jesus Christ as verse 9 says. This love was extended to His people, not because we loved Him, but because He loved us. Lest we have the wrong idea, the Apostle begins with the negative. There is nothing in us that would prompt us to love, or that is lovable. Indeed, we were enemies and rebels. Rom. 5:8 - "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God is the source, and performs the primary act, of love. The Father sent His Son to be our propitiation. Godâ€™s wrath had to be satisfied and that satisfaction fell on Christ, the one given to us. We could not turn away the just wrath of God ourselves and God provided what we never could in order to restore us.
This is all beautiful and wonderful theology, but theology without application is useless and the Apostle gives us the divine application. Since God has loved us, we ought to also love one another. If we claim to love the God who no one can see, and yet fail to love the one we can see, we are deceiving ourselves. The invisibility of God reinforces the argument for response on our part. We do not see God directly, but we do see the image of God in our brothers and sisters in Christ and even in those outside the household of faith. So one of the ways we are called upon to demonstrate love to God is to show love to those around us. True biblical love is not just warm and fuzzy feelings; it has an object. This is true whether it is the divine love towards us, or our love to one another. It is not disconnected from our everyday existence. In the case of the divine love toward us, Godâ€™s love is perfected, that is, it finds its terminus, its desired goal and purpose in us. God did not just take a handful of love, scatter it around the universe and we were lucky to have some fall to earth. No, Godâ€™s love is particular, focused, and it has a purpose and that purpose is found in us, in our being reconciled. And your reconciliation to God should not end there. We are loved so that God may be glorified in us in this life in real, tangible ways; in particular with respect to our neighbors.
Tina Turner asked, "What's love got to do with it?" The answer is, love has everything to do with it. But not love as the world defines it, for true love is defined by the attributes of God, and not by Hollywood, MTV, or any such thing, It has everything to do with it because love was shown to us while we were altogether unlovely and unlovable. It was the divine love that brought our Savior to this earth. It has everything to do with it because everyday, and in every way, we reflect, or should reflect, the love of God to us toward those around us.
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