The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©

Study 13: GOD IS LOVE

'Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for 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 loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us' (4:7-12).

The story is told of the apostle John in his extreme old age, carried in where the Christians were met together and simply saying to them, 'Little children, love one another'. They asked him why he had only and always this to say, and his answer was that it was the Lord's command and if this alone is done, it is enough. Much has been said about love in this letter. The same emphasis continues here, 'Let us love one another', and again it is repeated that love is the mark of the true Christian. 'Love is of God and he who loves is born of God and knows God' (verse 7). In 2:7-11 John has said that love is light. To love others is to live in the light, to hate is to stumble in the dark. In 3:11-18 he has said that love is life. To hate is death; to love is to pass out of death into life. Now he says an even greater thing - about God Himself. 'God is love'. We need to think deeply about that and about the things that follow from it.

a. The fact that God is love.

God is not only loving, He is love. This means that all that He does is done in love. But this also means that it is totally wrong to say that we know God and have fellowship with Him if there is no love in our lives. An iron put in a blazing fire cannot remain cold - it must become hot. A human life linked to the Source of all love must come to possess some of that love. In other words, the person who knows God and lives in fellowship with Him must become loving. It cannot be otherwise. If we are not becoming loving, we are not living in a true relationship with Him. 'He who does not love does not know God; for God is love' (verse 8).

b. God has shown His love.

How do we know that God is love? We can know it from His creation in all its glory and beauty, for His care over our lives, from His many gifts so abundantly given to us. Most of all we can know it because 'God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him' (verse 9). We can only think of this in human ways, comparing a human father or mother and their gift of a son or daughter for some great purpose. The Son of God shared life in heaven with the Father. Then He came, sent by the Father, to be limited to the size and weakness of a human body, born in a stable in Bethlehem without even the protection of a human home. For thirty years He lived in a poor and humble family, in the time of His ministry he often had 'nowhere to lay his head' (Luke 9:58). Then rejected by men, forsaken by His disciples and condemned for no wrong He had done, He was nailed to a cross to die.

Here we see that God is love. He 'did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all' (Romans 8:32). For us all, `so that we might live through Him', as verse 9 says. Jesus Himself said, 'I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly' (John 10:10). In one way we can say that from our birth we have life. Our bodies have life. But what a life, when it is apart from God and rebelling against Him! 'The wages of sin is death' and we are sinners. In love He came `to be the expiation for our sins' (verse 10). We have studied the meaning of these important words in considering chapter 2, verses 1and 2. Because God is holy and good, sin must be treated as sin. Sin must be borne and the price of sin paid. Jesus came to bear our sin and to pay its price that we might have forgiveness and so have life, true life, God's life, eternal life. This is love. No wonder it must be said that love cannot begin with us. We only showed hostility to God, self-centredness, neglect of our fellows. 'In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us' (verse 10). Love begins with Him and we find love as we open our lives to the Lord of Love, to His forgiveness and for Him to be present with us. Then great things happen.

c. Love shows God to the world.

In Jesus we see the love of God. When we see how He came to us, how He lived, how He died, we see the love of God. When we through Him come to God we come into touch with love. Love comes into us. We are able in very truth to live. That true life means love. God is love; and love is the greatest thing of the Christian life. We should love God who has so loved us. But He takes the debt of love that we owe to Him and asks us to pay it to our fellow men and women. 'If God so loved us, we ought to love one another' (verse 11). The apostle Paul put it, 'Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you' (Romans 15:7). When we do that, when we truly love others in our actions and not just in our words (remember 3:18) we then show God to the world. 'No man has ever seen God' verse 12 reminds us. 'If we love one another' by that love we know the presence of God and also that 'God abides in us'. By that love the world will see the reality of God. So we come back to the words of Jesus that we need to have written in our hearts and lived out in our lives: 'By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (John 13:35).


Lord God, Source of love's fire, may Your great love shown in the giving of Your Son Jesus Christ come into my life. Burn up all my love of self and all that hinders my loving others. So may the warmth and light of love be seen and felt through my words and actions that people around me may see that You alone are the true God and the Giver of life to all who turn to You. AMEN.

For further thought and study.

1. Children born of human parents show a likeness to their parents. Consider the ways in which the likeness of God is intended to be shown in those who can truly profess to be children of God. Think of verse 7 here and also 2:29, 3:9 and 5: 1.

2. In 2:5 we considered what it meant to speak of God's love being 'perfected' in a person. This is said again in this section we have read (in verse 12). Think of its meaning in the light of these verses and in the light of all that we have thought about love. Phillips translates the words here, 'His love grows in us towards perfection'. See also Matthew 5:43-48.


The world uses the word 'love' a great deal, but in the world's use of the word it may not be at all true to say, 'he who loves is born of God and knows God.' There are different kinds of love. C. S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves.

1. There is a love between man and woman, husband and wife, sexual love, a gift of God's creation, beautiful when it is directed and expressed in the right way.

2.There is the love of parents for children, children for parents, the strength of true home and family life.

3. There is the love that links friends together and friendship also is one of God's great gifts to us.

But all of these can be selfish. We can love with these loves for what we can get rather than to give to others.

4. God's love is totally unselfish and self-giving. We only truly know that love when our lives are related to God and we His love and let it flow through us.