What Love is this? Is it a sincere desire motivated by a strong attraction? It is a serious devotion evidenced by undying attention? Or is it a deep emotion fueled by an enduring affection?
Every major theistic religion in the world encourages its followers to “love God”. Loving God is usually expressed through the keeping of religious rituals. Religion is where the faithful focus on loving their God. This love is an action from man to God. Therefore, it makes sense for the created to worship (love) the Creator. In fact, for many this is the highest sign of being a true believer.
In John’s first epistle he writes, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”
In this passage, we are confronted with a classic question of cause and effect. If this “love” that John is writing about is a love FOR God from man, then we bring ourselves into being “perfected in Him” by keeping His commandments. But if this “love” is a love FROM God to man, then God alone brings us into being “perfected in Him” which encourages us to subsequently keep His commandments.
God’s Love for Man
Christianity alone tells its followers that “God loves them”. This love is understood and enjoyed through a personal relationship with Him. Therefore, God’s love for us creates a love for God which creates a love for God’s ways. John continues his teaching on the love of God by stating, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
In order to appreciate this wonderful declaration we need to look deeper into the original Greek text and unpack it word-by-word. John begins with the Greek word eido, which is simply translated “Behold”. It is a word that means to “stop and really think this statement through for a moment.” How many times do we run past the stop signs of God in our life and miss the hidden beauty waiting for those who take the time to pause and reflect on the revelations by God? Selah (Think on these things).
John then uses the word potapos, which is translated “what manner.” It is a term that expresses amazement and wonder. This term is used only 13 times in the Bible. It could be translated “what peculiar out-of-this-world kind of thing is this,” or more simply a great big, “WOW!” It was used by the disciple of Jesus after witnessing Him calming the ragging sea. It was used by the disciples to describe the massive stones of the Temple and it was used by Mary when she is addressed by the angel Gabriel.
So John begins his declaration with “Behold what manner of LOVE…” The word love here is predictably the Greek word agape which should be familiar to most KI students. Agape is not merely a warm feeling or attraction, but a lasting, sacrificial commitment. Agape love is not often understood nor practiced by mankind. The apostle Paul defined this all-pervasive attribute of God in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians.
John then gives us the source of this love by using the Greek word patayr, which is translated “the Father.” This title speaks of a procreative relationship. It expresses both origin (that is to say the originator and transmitter of anything) and authority (which is an all-encompassing dominion). The Psalmist reminds us concerning God, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” This is the Father figure that John is referring to.
What does this loving God do?
John’s declaration provides action through use of the Greek word did’omee, which is translated “has bestowed.” It means an act of complete benevolence. The apostle Paul told the Ephesian Christians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” The focus of this benevolent act of God is “upon us”. In this passage of Scripture we are the sole subject of God’s attention and affection.
What is the substance of this benevolent act? John tells us “that we should be called…” Here he uses 2 Greek words hina kaleo that communicate the idea that we are given a new name and a new relationship.
What is this new name and relationship? John uses the Greek word teknon which is translated “children” or “sons.” It literally means a “new-born baby.” On the surface, no one wants to be treated like a new-born baby. After all, they are helpless. They are completely dependent on others for their every need. But John uses this term to describe how we are ideally to be in Christ. We are to be completely dependent on Jesus for every aspect of our life.
John introduced this concept in his gospel when he wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John uses a term that is referencing a direct procreative act of God. In the Bible there are only three types of creations that are called sons (children) of God: the angels, Adam, and born-again believers.
But wait, there is more. We are new-born babes of “God,” Theos in the Greek. Theos is the generic word for god. There are many concepts and representations of God throughout human history, so we need to define what the Bible describes as God to fully appreciate the identity of this benevolent gift giver. Unfortunately, man has a history of creating gods in his own image. “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.”
In contrast, the God of the Bible is the One who created everything. He is the one who sustains all things seen and unseen. The Psalmist stated that we can never escape His authority over our life: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”
The God of the Bible is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere all the time, lacks nothing, and is unfailing is His love for mankind just to name a few of his attributes.
Now let’s look again at John’s declaration. You could expand the English translation to read,
“Stop and really think what peculiar, amazing, and wonderful out-of-this-world kind of lasting, sacrificial commitment the One who is responsible for both the origin and authority in our life has benevolently endowed on us that we should be given a new name and relationship as the direct offspring and dependant of God.”
What does this understanding produce in you?
It should produce astonishment. King David wrote,
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?”
- It should produce spiritual strength. The apostle Paul declared, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
- It should produce security. “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Selah.