Love is a many splendored thing,
Love lifts us up where we belong,
All you need is love!
Love is just a game.
I was made for loving you baby,
You were made for loving me.
You’d think that people would’ve had enough of silly love songs…
So goes the lyrics of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (2001). It is a mash-up of love songs that highlight how confusing ‘love’ can be and captures many of the different ideas that exist about that wonderful little thing called ‘Love’.
In modern society, ‘Love’ is obviously a valued trait – yet for such a short little word, what it means to ‘love’ seems like a very complicated question.
Essential to the Christian life is the call to be loving. So what is Christian love? Christian love is a love for others that is both pleasing and acceptable to God.
1 John is helpful in explained Godly given love. Like a layered wedding cake, 1 John raises several themes and stacks them upon one another. As we read, we move our way from layer to layer and see more of how the whole cake fits together. Helpfully, John shows us that if we misunderstand ‘love’ (and let’s face it, we all have at one time or another), then we find ourselves in all sorts of difficulties – regardless of whether you call yourself Christian or not.
Let us start with the ideal. Perfect love.
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 c.f. also 4:16b)
John offers the template for perfect love by pointing to its origin, that is God himself. He is the backstory, the foundation, the reason why we have love at all. John says, whatever love is, it starts with God, it is best expressed in God, it is exercised thanks to God, it is determined most clearly by God, and it is experienced most effectively by anyone loving like God.
When we say ‘God’ here, we have in view the perfect relationship of the Godhead. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. And John describes this trinitarian way of understanding what it means to live and experience God’s love.
This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:13-16)
To know the love of God, you have been given his Spirit, and the Spirit has been given in the context of what the Father did when he sent his Son to save. As such anyone who acknowledges Jesus as the Son, lives in the love of God. To understand the nature of love, we look first at the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit and what they together did to love us.
In the Godhead we see perfect love, perfect truth, perfect obedience. They are the perfect example of what loving another should look like.
An implication then is if you take God out of the picture, then what you have is a tainted love. I do not mean to say that a person without God is incapable of love. Looking around our world there are countless examples of people from all walks of life experiencing and showing love – meaningful, real, genuine love.
The kind of love that John has in mind is a Christian love, one that originates with God and is first demonstrated in the Godhead. If replicated, it will be (by very nature) Christian, whether or not it is accepted by the world. Christian love is a love that is both pleasing and acceptable to God before it is to the World.
Next, to understand Love, it will help to understand how it is integrally connected to Truth and to Obedience, such that you cannot separate the three. These three ideas intersect with one another at almost every point. Without love, truth will not be valued. Without truth, it is difficult to know how to obey. Without obedience, it is impossible to demonstrate true love.
In the next four posts in this series we’ll consider the relationship between Love, Truth and Obedience and how that helps us to be loving in relationships.
For more in this Series:
Uncomfortable Love (Part 1 of 6)
Perfect Love (this one)
Love (Part 3 of 6)
Truth (Part 4 of 6)
Obedience (Part 5 of 6)
Loving in Relationships (Part 6 of 6)