7 Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child. And so everyone who loves knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his only Son into the world to give us life through him. 10 True love is God’s love for us, not our love for God. He sent his Son as the way to take away our sins.
11 That is how much God loved us, dear friends! So we also must love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us. If we love each other, God’s love has reached its goal—it is made perfect in us.
1 John 4:7-12
“God is love” is a phrase that is often reversibly mistaken. As inadvertently as it seems, many try to turn the meaning around and say that “love is God” by assuming that we can do as we wish and then in the end God’s all consuming love will save us from Hell. But that is a misguided position. In this case we are told that God defines love, and implicitly we are told that love is not the defining trait of God. That is to say that love is simply the nature of God – it is a defining trait of God.
Because God is the defining trait of true love, then, true love is Godly – true love is love that originates and comes from God. Therefore, anyone who does not know true love does not know God. The converse is true as well: anyone who knows God knows true love because the true love is the love we express as a reflection of the love God first expressed toward us. We love others simply because God first loved us. True love is love created by God.
So what does true love look like? The best way for the average individual to understand what true love is would be to refer to a model that can be visualized. That model is Christ. Now, we are assuming that Christ was very God and very man while he was on this earth. This understanding of the trinity equates the essence of the Father with the essence of the Son, with the essence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus, who is the Son of God, is also God, as is the Spirit.
To understand this better, picture the economy of a country existing with only three commodities: corn, fuel, and a car, and their monetary system only consisting of three copper coins. Now assume that corn can be bought with “copper-coin A,” fuel can be bought with “copper-coin B,” and the car with “copper-coin C.” There are three distinct purposes for three distinct coins. But when you melt those three coins down into one you simply have a lump of copper. Similarly, Christ, the Spirit and the Father have three distinct purposes, but in all actuality, they are all the same at their fundamental level – they are all God.
Because God is love and Christ is God, Christ is also love. Christ was God’s love in action. Therefore, to really know what true love is, we must ask ourselves “what does God’s love look like?” The answer is Christ – Christ is what God’s love looks like. So, logically we need to ask “what did the love of Christ look like?”
The object of God’s love is the world. John 3:16 says:
16 Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world. He did not send him to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.
Simply put, He sent Christ as the means of salvation because He loved the world so much. Like Christ, we are to give ourselves, our own lives so that the world can have eternal life. This is not an active call for martyrdom, per se, but to point out the objective of Christians’ time here on earth – to give ourselves to those activities so that those in the world might find Christ.
Jesus was sent to save the world, not to condemn it. And like Christ, we are called to sit peaceably, making sure we do not point fingers at those we see sinning. We are not to simply try to guilt someone to repentance out of our own passion for Christ – we are called to simply let the Holy Spirit work. What many Christians seem to feel the need to do here is to create a Christian culture that shields them from the world. But that is not following the pattern of Christ. Christ went out into the world – so much so that those focused on following rules instead of being virtuous condemned Him for spending so much time with sinners. This in itself calls us to go out into the world with the goal of bringing others to Christ – whether it be in our own churches or not.
This can only be done by the shedding the individualistic focus of ministry and Christian living and an adoption of a more community-focused church. This is not to say that the goal is an increase in numbers, but that there needs to be a shift in focus from coming to church on Sundays and Wednesdays as the main task demanded of an individual or family by the church to becoming a tight-knit community that shares an intimate encounter on a frequent basis – so much so that we hold each other accountable by our consensus of the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Yes, as individuals we can be Christ to others, but as the collective whole, as a community, we, as a church, are, theologically and realistically, the reflection of Christ, and therefore the love of God that was presented in the life of Christ.
Then, brethren, because Christ was God’s love in action, and we are now manifest by Christ, we must also be God’s love in action by reflecting the love that Christ showed while He was on this earth. We do this by giving ourselves up, as Christ gave His life – yes, even if it means death – so that the world can experience salvation if they so choose. But we do this in such a way that we do not condemn the world and point our fingers at those choosing likewise. We do this in such a way that we let go and allow the Holy Spirit to work beyond us. And the most effective way to do this is to shed the idea that righteousness is a personal trait by striving to make the target of the entire community a righteous community.