What is God’s kind of love?

Our casual definitions of love are a far cry from the kind of love which is God’s essential being, and which He grows in those who are His.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.” 1 John 4:16 NIV

“God is love” is big, all-encompassing statement. John is repeating the statement he already made earlier (v.8), so he is emphasising something in his teaching here. But what does he mean?

Love, for us, means a lot of things, from the early icon pop song refrains “Love, love, love” (All You Need Is Love, Lennon and McCartney 1967) to a classical view from Plato, “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet”.

We start with romantic love — Valentine’s Day quotes — and in today’s society, quickly home in on sexual attraction. But love is bigger and broader, encompassing filial loyalty like David and Jonathan, the love of particular brands, pursuits or places. The biggest and broadest of all is unconditional, faithful enduring love which is the meaning of the agape word used here.

That’s the kind love we all need: there’s a ‘love saturation level’ like emotional oxygen for healthy living. Sociologists’ research has found how social breakdown and dysfunction arises from a lack of love. Love is a powerful force for all kinds of healing,

Understanding something as abstract as unconditional love needs us to take a step back and find a wider perspective. To describe something we need a picture, and concepts don’t lend themselves to that. We might do better by thinking about what love produces.

Looking down from a hill on a patchwork of fields, we can’t see the fertiliser that has been applied. It might even be ammonia gas injected into the ground, invisible and buried! But it’s easy enough to pick out the effects, the darker green and vibrant growth. Similarly, where some mechanical glitch has caused a deficiency, the lack shows up on the overall picture.

Faithful, unconditional love produces the bonds and mutuality of relationship. If we say that God is relationship, this holds true because the Trinity of God is three distinct Persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit — but at the same time the relationship is so close (in a way we can’t fully understand) that they are one Person. Our receiving of the love of God inevitably produces this kind of relationship in those experiencing it and living in it — as John puts it, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them”. He is saying, that is the evidence of new life that has encountered God’s love — we are people that value and grow loving relationships. This is what church is all about. This is what the breaking of bread in communion (koinonia, fellowship) celebrates. We are reminded of God’s unconditional love for us, in the context of how we relate to all the others breaking bread all around us, all in it together because we all share Jesus.

And this kind of love is experienced in belonging. A lot of social dysfunction — drugs, alcohol, violence but also hopelessness and depression — comes down to a love deficit in early life, the pain of which spins off into all sorts of attempts to compensate.

What marks the Christian life in the kingdom of God as so indescribably valuable, like the precious pearl or the buried treasure that the man in Jesus’ stories had to have, even at the cost of selling all he possessed (Matthew 13:44-45), is not just the assurance of eternal life. It is the assurance of a kind of life NOW where, whatever the past has attempted to dictate, we know we belong. And in that belonging, we have the resilient, strong kind of relationship that is so desperately needed in our world of no-fault divorces and constructive dismissals, of strategic redundancy and judgmental discrimination.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.” 1 John 4:16 NIV

PRAYER

O God, as I turn to You I wonder how much I know, let alone rely on, this kind of love that I am learning You have for me.
Why would I deserve Your love? But I am slowly coming to see that this is the point — no one deserves Your love, but You give it anyway, without condition. And as we come to know You personally, in the way Jesus made possible for us, we receive a life-giving and restoring force far greater than our popular and self-centred idea of love.
I draw near to You now, and agree that You ARE love. May Your love overwhelm me, change me, grow in me — and spill out from me. To the glory of Jesus and His kingdom, Amen.

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Ian Greig

Ian Greig

‘Faith without the Faff‘ offered by a former pastor in the UK to encourage those who seek God and are not finding Him in church formality.