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
This passage teaches that love is a defining characteristic of Christianity. If a person loves, then she is a Christian. If she does not love, then she has not yet met God. But is the Bible really saying that only Christians love? Does this mean that an unbelieving husband and wife don't love each other at all? More likely, I think, is that this passage teaches there is a unique kind of love that is peculiarly Christian. This is not to say that non believers do not experience or show any kind of love but rather that this particular type of love is the hallmark of the Christian believer and is found only in them. Let's examine briefly what I John has to say about this Christian love.
- "But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them." (I John 2:5, see also 5:3)- Christian love for God leads us to keep His commands. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment God ever gave mankind was not a "do this" or "don't do that" command but rather was simply to love Him. If we can get that right, then we will succeed in keeping the rest of God's commands, because a person cannot love God and rebel against Him at the same time.
- "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them." (I John 2:15)- Christian love is faithful. The Bible regularly refers to Christians as the bride of Christ, and we are a faithful bride. Christian love doesn't two-time its heavenly husband by loving the world. No. Christian love only has eyes for Jesus.
- "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister." (1 John 3:10, see also 3:14 & 4:20-21)- Christian love overflows beyond just loving God and causes us to love other believers as well. We cannot love the Father and hate His children. (I John 5:1). It's simple: if we don't love other Christians, then we aren't Christian.
- "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." (1 John 3:16) "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:17-18, see also 4:9-12)- Now we get into details on what kind of love this is. Christian love finds its origin in the self-sacrificing, self-giving love that God has shown us in His Son Jesus. Christian love puts others ahead of itself. It pours itself out to love people who do not deserve such extravagant sacrifice. Oh how often we miss this point! Especially as we talk about helping the homeless and the poor in America. We often turn the conversation toward ways they might misuse our help and whether or not they deserve our help. We talk as though we are only called to love those who are deserving of our love, as though Jesus only loves those who deserve His love. This is a very subtle form of heresy. The way we treat other people reveals what we believe to be true about what God has done for us. Christian love leads us to sell our possessions to care for other believers. Christian love leads us to lay our lives down in service to those around us - not only in grand gestures, but in the mundane struggles of everyday life as well. We must constantly consider others better than ourselves and put them first.
Examine your life and heart. Is this peculiarly Christian kind of love evident in you? If not, why? Is it because you have not truly been changed by the love of Christ? Or are you a true believer but the cares of the world have grown up around you and begun choking your effectiveness? Either way, repent, ask for forgiveness, and begin to follow Jesus' example in earnest.
For further reading...
- Check out the entire book of I John. It's only five chapters.