God is love
Our pastor has been speaking about Jesus' disciples for the past few months. Today he talked about John, the beloved disciple. John is probably best known for his treatises on love (see 1 John). But in the early days, the time when Jesus walked the earth and John was yet a young man, he was known instead as one of the "sons of thunder." In other words, John had a temper and it set off quickly. So what made a hot-tempered young disciple of a Jewish rabbi become known for verses like: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
"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." (1 John 4:7-8)
The answer is found in Acts 4:13. After Jesus returned to his Father in heaven, Peter and John were arrested for preaching and healing in His name. When they stood before the Sanhedrin accused by the same men who had been party to Jesus' crucifixion, they were asked by what power or what name they did these things. Peter boldly replied, "by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead." He then proclaimed that salvation could be found in no other than Jesus the Messiah.
Then verse 13 says, "When they (the Sanhedrin) saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."
Unschooled, ordinary men. Unschooled didn't mean they were illiterate. They just weren't connected with one of the known rabbis at the time and hadn't completed any formal rabbinical training. But they had been with rabbi Jesus for three years. And Jesus showed John what love looked like.
The interesting thing our pastor pointed out was that the verse in 1 John that says "God is love" does not say "love is God." In the original language, he said there is a little article before God's name, which means it should really read, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because the God is love."
Some people try to make the two equal, saying God is love, therefore love is God (and they tend to also think that God is only love, not just, or holy, or any of his many other attributes). But verse 7 (1 John 4) says that love comes from God. God is love. Not the other way around.
We often think we understand love. We say we love someone or something and we think we can fall in and out of love with people. But that is not what God is like. God is love like no other.
One description of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a -
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
Also, the fruit of God's Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23 is considered by some as many facets of a single diamond called love. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."
John's temper was brought under control by such love, so much so that when he was in his 90s he could write, "Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God."
In 1 John 3:1 he adds, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" This love is lavished on us! Poured out to overflowing! It is an otherworldly love that we cannot truly fathom. Imagine! God loves us!
We cannot love someone without that love showing in our actions. Love is not an emotion. Emotion follows our obedience to love as Jesus did. And he loved us enough to transcend time, step into our world, and die for the sole purpose of spending eternity with us. Apart from that action, we could not be with him because of the dark wall of sin that came between us and his Father. His love is poured out in sacrifice.
To be like him, our love must be like His. To quote our pastor, "If we don't love by our action, we don't love at all."
John figured out that his anger was not loving. Wanting to call down fire from heaven on people who rejected them got him the nickname "son of thunder." Only God has a right to judge in that way. We are called to do whatever we can, with whatever means God allows, to rescue people from such judgment.
"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."