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 4:16
Humans love love. It blares across radio waves and streaming services. It’s emblazoned on shirts, jackets, and all manner of clothing. A holiday is dedicated to its celebration, as is an entire genre of books and movies. Love is everywhere. We just can’t get enough of it.
In this blog post, we will explore love by looking at the meaning of 1 John 4:16 and see if it provides any insights into the world’s most popular emotion.
The Context of 1 John 4:16
Though the author of the three epistles that we know as I, II, and III John, never identifies himself, early church tradition attributes their authorship to John, the apostle. It is widely accepted that all three books and the Gospel of John were written late in the first century, around 90 A.D. By that time, the temple had been destroyed, and Emporer Domitian had begun persecuting the church. As church buildings had yet to be constructed, these letters were written to house churches.
When reading the Gospel of John, similar themes and language leap off the pages. In particular, John 14 through 16. On the eve of the crucifixion, Jesus encourages his disciples. He speaks of the Spirit and of his abiding in his love. These passages, much like the epistles, are eloquent and speak of God in language that is almost poetic. They focus on love—God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for one another. This is the soil from which 1 John 4:16 grows.
Let’s take a closer look at the 1 John 4:16 meaning.
The Meaning of 1 John 4:16
While the first half of 1 John 4 focuses on the Spirit, the later half directs the reader to love one another. The author draws a line from God’s love to our love. Just as God has loved us, ought we not love one another? Love is the hallmark of a relationship with God—not good works, volunteerism, or biblical education. God demonstrated his love in sending Christ, and we are to reflect that love.
This discussion continues with the words, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Let’s begin with the phrase “God is love.” Agape is the Greek word for love used throughout the text. Unlike eros, this is not a love of attraction. Instead, in the Scripture, it is often used to describe God’s love. John, in particular, uses it repeatedly.
Before we move on, take a moment and consider those words—God is love. Love is the defining characteristic of God. In Jesus, he embodied love. It’s no wonder that all of the law and prophets could be summarized in the commands to love God and love our neighbor. Love is the goal because it is the essence of God.
When John writes, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them,” a single word is repeated three times. In English, it is interpreted as “lives,” but the word “abide” paints a fuller picture. Abide denotes staying or remaining. God does not want us to merely live in love, he wants us to remain there. This same passage could be understood to mean, “Whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in them.”
These powerful words make plain a deep spiritual truth; when we live a life of love, God is in us. John directly ties this fact back to our neighbor. If God’s love dwells in us, we must love our brother and sister. They are his children, whom he loves. When we abide in his love, we, too, must love others. As John says in verse 19, “We love because he first loved us.”
How 1 John 4:16 Applies to Your Life
The meaning of 1 John 4:16 is easy to embrace, but complex to live. A thorough reading of 1 John, as well as the other books attributed to the author, will reveal that this command to love does not have a caveat. There is no footnote excusing us from loving the father who abandoned us or the girlfriend who cheated. God’s love is universal, and extended to all. As should our love.
Does this mean we are to suffer at the hands of others, to ignore their hatred? No, lines can be drawn, and distance can be created. God is still a God of justice, after all. Even when we create boundaries, we can still treat our adversaries lovingly. Kindness and respect can taint our interactions, even when they do little to deserve it. We can remember that while they may not deserve our love, God has given them his, and we are to demonstrate that love.
Is there a person who you struggle to love? How can you emulate God’s love for them in future interactions? When we do this, we dwell in God’s love and can invite them to do the same.
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