Read: 1 John 4:7–21
When I was five and my brother was three, we were living as missionary kids in eastern Europe. We lived high up in a small, grimy tenement building with a steel door at the bottom that led out into the alley. I remember, one day when my parents were in a rush to get us out the door, they were closing the huge metal door when somehow my little brother got his thumb caught in the door jam. Miraculously, when they got the door open, they found it wasn’t broken, but it was bleeding really bad, and some grease from the door had gotten into the cut. As my parents dressed the wound, they recall actually seeing the blood push out the grime from around the wound as it began to heal, almost as soon as the wound occurred! The human body is a miracle of divine engineering. Even when it’s broken or damaged in the most abnormal and messy ways, it somehow finds a way to heal and bring the mess back into order.
In 1 John 4:7–21, we find ourselves in the middle of a teaching about how Christians ought to love—and it’s here we’re let in on a fundamental truth about God’s character. Interestingly, it’s a personality trait belonging to God that we would never know about unless we shared it with Him: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (v. 8). God isn’t just loving, or lovely, He Himself is love! He is the standard, the root, the source of love.
If the phrase “God is love” doesn’t strike you as strange or even contradictory, then you’re not considering all its implications. If we say God created everything and He holds the world together (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17), then why is the world so often characterized by hate and violence than by love? If we are created in His image, why isn’t our basic nature to automatically love? The short answer is, at the fall human beings chose to step away from God and try to do the whole God-thing on our own terms. As a result, we were separated from the only source of love. He is the source of love and life and we cut ourselves off from Him, causing a separation, a deep spiritual wound which seemed impossible to heal.
But, since God is love, He did not leave the wound. He sent us His Son to be the bridge between corrupted human beings and the realm where God’s love is perfectly realized. Because of Jesus, not only are we able to be reconnected to God’s love, but with His endless love as the source of our love we can love endlessly (vv. 16–17). God is healing the wound between us and Him in love, making order out of the broken and bloody mess that humanity has become. God does this, not by loving us from a distance, but by coming down to us and loving alongside us. One of the most incredible features of this passage is how it does not describe us as passively receiving God’s love, but describes Christ followers as active participants in it.
As active participants in the love of God, we shouldn’t wait for things to “get better” before we start loving like Jesus. We heal the world and ourselves as we love others like Jesus did. Loving a world that doesn’t know the love of God isn’t always pretty, just like healing wounds isn’t pretty. There’s pain and mess, but there’s also hope and a growing awareness that we are getting better—drawing closer to God the more we heal in His love.
Ideas in Scripture like “the love of God” are not understood through tidy definitions, but through context. Take time to do some personal Bible study. Look up the term, “love of God” in an online Bible (I use blueletterbible.org), or use the index in the back of your Bible, and explore the surrounding verses for context. Keep an open mind as you read, you may just find the Bible’s meaning of this phrase runs deeper than you think.