Many people claim to understand love. Some view it as something you fall into, like it’s a great big, surprising pit you tumble into with a pillow-top mattress and a hot chick waiting for you at the bottom. Others see it as something that is in the air – a feeling you catch, almost like a cold that you don’t get over for a really long time. Still others think of it as something you make; so they cook up a string of romantic flings to try and satisfy their sexual appetite.
The error in all of these perspectives – which are the unfortunate but unvoiced opinion of most average people in the world — is that love starts and ends with them. It can be created by them for their own good. It’s all about their needs and desires. Consequently, love is, to them, a three-letter word: “Get.” Thus, their relationships are, for all practical purposes, fundamentally flawed.
But truly, God understands love best, because, as the Bible points out, he is love (I John 4:8). So to really know love, we need to know God. In fact, this is exactly the point John is making in these verses in 1 John 4 – that loving others correctly starts with knowing God properly.
This matters greatly because when we start with God as the source of love – which he is – we end up in a radically different place than if we start with ourselves. Starting with God means that love is not a three-letter word, but a four-letter word: “Give.” Why? Because giving is exactly what God did to prove his love. This same writer, John, confirmed this when he wrote in another of his letters (John 3:16), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes should never perish but have eternal life.”
You see, God didn’t need anything. He wasn’t lonely or on the rebound. Yet, he gave of himself so that we – sinners who were separated from him – might be saved. In this way God defined love as no one ever has: the sacrifice of who we are and what we have for someone else’s benefit.
That’s the heart of the Gospel. God, in his great love, has redeemed us through Jesus, for no reason other than it was his good pleasure to. He didn’t have to; we didn’t deserve it. But he loved us, and gave himself in the form of the God-Man Jesus to be the sacrificial substitute for our sin. As Paul declared it in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
As a result, all who know God can love like God. Sacrificially. Permanently. Selflessly. Radically. And that’s exactly the kind of love it takes in a marriage. Truth is, without God, marriage is nothing more than two people using each other to get their physical, sexual, and emotional needs met. But with God as the centerpiece, marriage is the avenue by which a man gives of himself to satisfy his woman in every human way. And a woman gives of herself to satisfy her man in every human way. It is the spiritual and physical union of two people committed to giving, not getting.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (I John 4:7).