Beckett: God is Love

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us… Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So, we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abide in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

1 John 4:7-12, 15-16

This text from John’s epistle used to perplex me. Just what does he mean by, “God is love”? And how do we love one another? What does it look like? The world certainly doesn’t know since it is filled with so many perverted minds who cannot separate sex from love (and thus, two men cannot love one another as friends without some homoerotic feelings toward one another). Rather than such debased thinking, let’s stick with the plain and obvious meaning of the text. We abide in God in two simultaneous things: loving one another and confessing that Jesus is the Son of God, both of which stem foremost from the love of God that sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. To abide in God, therefore, is to believe in this Son whom He has sent and, furthermore, to abide in Him by loving others is to love others just as He has loved us—the love of sacrifice.

This makes much more sense when placed into each of our vocations. As a husband, how do I love my wife sacrificially? I give her the TV remote, I help her with the house, I take care of her when she is ill, she takes precedence over watching sports, and I will even die for her just as Christ gave Himself up for His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25). Likewise, how do I love others sacrificially as an employee, an employer, church member, friend, classmate, student, colleague, and so on? By giving of ourselves to our neighbour, this is what it means to love others and therefore abide in God, just as Christ gave of Himself on the cross.

In other words, as John says earlier, “Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 3:24). The first table of the Commandments (1-3) tell us how to love God; the second table (4-10) tells us how to love our neighbour. John summarises the Commandments, “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us” (3:23; cf. John 13:34-35). The Law itself does not make us righteously abide in God. Rather, it is faith in God’s only-begotten Son that justifies us—that He considers us as having fulfilled the Commandments when we believe in His Son. Then, from this justification, we get to love our neighbour by keeping the second table according to each of our vocations.

How is keeping the second table of the Commandments the love of self-sacrifice? In short, it is to sacrifice our selfish, sinful desires for more noble, selfless deeds. Instead of disobeying and dishonouring our parents, we “honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” Instead of murdering someone, whether literally (even in the womb) or through hatred (1 John 3:15), we “help and support him in every physical need.” Instead of committing adultery, we remain faithful to our spouse, and whether single or married “we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do.” Instead of stealing, we help our neighbour “improve and protect his possessions and income.” Instead of giving false witness against our neighbour through slander and gossip, we “defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” Instead of coveting our neighbour’s house, we “help and be of service to him in keeping it.” And instead of coveting our neighbour’s wife and animals and servants or anything else that belongs to our neighbour, we “urge them to stay and do their duty” (Small Catechism, The Ten Commandments).


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