1 John 5.1-5
As John begins to drawn his letter to a close we find him using the word “love” five times in the first three verses of the final chapter. We learn that those who love the father will love the son (v. 1), that it is by loving God that we know we love his children (v. 2), and that love is the keeping of his commandments (v. 3). A question keeps coming up as to the meaning of love – put simply, is it a noun or a verb? Is love a relationship that expresses itself by loving acts or is it the acts themselves? Perhaps it is only a question of semantics, but it is worth pursuing.
Verse 3 gives us the clearest definition and it says that love is keeping his commandments. The point is clearly made by the translation in the NJB – ”This is what the love of God is: keeping his commandments.” Granted, the common point of view is that love is a relationship that expresses itself in acts of kindness, but here it is understood not as something you have but as something you do. I believe the difference is significant. Love calls for involvement, for action. To love your friend who has just had a heart attack is to get up and rush him to the hospital. It is not feeling bad about the unfortunate turn of events but doing something about it. If you were that person how would you want your friend to react?
I’d like to turn for the moment to another book written by John for help on the distinction. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave . . .” In almost every translation the little word “so” is understood as expressing the intensity of God’s love; he SO loved the world. But the Greek text rules against that and understands the verse to read, “For this is how God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son (Mounce in GEINT: cf. also the Holman Bible). When it comes to loving and giving one doesn’t produce the other but they are one and the same.
I emphasize this point because of the philosophical tendency to move from action to its cause. When truth becomes something to talk about rather than something to do, its basic purpose has been derailed. God wants us to “love another” which is not to think about the other but to do whatever is appropriate for them in the immediate context. In the case of God his love was not a tender feeling but an act – the giving of his Son to die for us. Let’s keep the emphasis where it belongs.