What Does “God Is Love” Mean in 1 John 4:8?
What Does “God Is Love” Mean in 1 John 4:8?
Meg Bucher Writer and Author
God is relational, constantly drawing His people back to Himself. Life within the love of Christ slowly sanctifies (changes) us from the inside out. We become more like Christ Jesus. More like love.
God is love. There are many names and attributes in Scripture which help us to better understand the character of our great God. The joy of meeting Him prayerfully in His Word daily peels back the precious and powerful ways He comes so incredibly close to us. Our Father in heaven knows the number of hairs on our heads. He goes before, behind, and remains with us constantly.
He hears, sees, heals and provides for us. Yahweh disciplines and allows us to choose wrongly yet find our way back to Him as our good Father. The heart of God is an incredible phenomenon to ponder. The Bible assures us, when we seek Him with all of our hearts, we will find Him; and if we are looking for wisdom, to ask God, who gives generously. When we wonder about love, or any other characteristics of God, we can ask. God isn’t bothered by our questions about who He is. He is faithful to answer, in love.
What Does it Mean that “God is Love” in 1 John 4:8?
“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 NIV)
John, in this letter to believers, challenged them (and us) to test what we see and hear through the filter of Jesus Christ. God’s love is our life-line, and guide. We rely on the love God has for us. The world has a very different definition of love: we “love” our favorite french fries, or favorite cozy sweater. Our conversations drift in and out of the seasons, hobbies and sports teams we love. The love of God is loyal, faithful, unwavering, unconditional and unending. The Voice paraphrase of 1 John 4:16 reads,
“We have experienced and we have entrusted our lives to the love of God in us. God is love. Anyone who lives faithfully in love also lives faithfully in God, and God lives in him.”
This love, which we experience and entrust our lives to, is a powerful and dependable love which speaks to each of us personally. God is relational, constantly drawing His people back to Himself. The way He made for us to come to Him, through Christ, allows a personal relationship and constant companionship.
“This verse does not define God as love; it describes God’s love as permeating His essence in all He is and all He does,” Cortney Whiting explains, “Everything He has ever done has been out of love.” We, as human beings living in a world cursed with sin, default to selfishness. Through Christ, we become recipients and conduits of His great love.
Life within the love of Christ slowly sanctifies (changes) us from the inside out. We become more like Christ Jesus. More like love.
“Only those who are to some degree like him truly know him,” the NIV Study Bible explains, “In his essential nature and in all his actions, God is loving.”
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/kieferpix
How Does the Meaning of “God Is Love” Impact Our View of Him?
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
The unconditional nature of God’s love teaches us a lot about who He is. His plans will not be thwarted and His will is good. The plans He has for us are beyond what we can ask for, or imagine, as Paul wrote. This impacts our view of God, and challenges us to seek His purpose for our lives on earth.
“Genuine love cannot be exhibited in any community unless it reflects God’s love, unless it is empowered by an experience of being loved,” Theology of Work Bible Commentary explains, “Christians who live out such love … are also giving evidence that they have been born from God and know him.”
God’s love motivates us to be selfless, in a very self-centered world. Instead of self-care, we are fueled by sitting in God’s presence, in prayer and in His Word, and by serving others on His accord.
Our direction comes from submitting our plans in exchange for His will. The Message paraphrase of 1 John 4:8 reads, “The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love- so you can’t know him if you don’t love.”
Our view of God grows as we surrender more and more to Him, in exchange for His will in our lives. We obediently choose forgiveness over bitterness, trusting God’s love to work out in us what we cannot on our own accord.
“What attribute of the divine Majesty so clearly shines in all the world as his communicative goodness, which is love,” Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary, “The wisdom, the greatness, the harmony, and usefulness of the vast creation, which so fully demonstrate his being, do at the same time show and prove his love…”
Our view of God is impacted by His powerful love. We begin to reciprocate forgiveness because we have been forgiven, love others because we are loved by God. Our trust in Him increases as our faith and knowledge of Him increases. The more we experience God’s love, the more we experience the peace that Paul wrote surpasses all understanding.
What Does the Rest of the Bible Say about Who God Is?
“His radiance is like the sunlight; He has rays flashing from His hand, And there is the hiding of His power.” (Habakkuk 3:4)
There are many names of God in the Bible, each revealing a particular piece of His character. “He is not only love, of course;” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament explains, “one listing arrives at 152 different ‘designations, descriptions, and figures of speech for God’ in the Bible!”
To name just a handful: Elohim means Creator God, El Shaddai, the Lord God Almighty; Yahweh Shalom, The Lord is Peace; and El Roi, The God who sees me. As with all of Scripture, reading God’s Word helps us understand more about who He is.
“God reveals Himself through His name,” Bible Study Tools explains, “Each of those names of God represents a different aspect of God’s many-faceted character.”
The Bible is rich with attributes of God’s character, helping us to comprehend His greatness. God is infinite, self-sufficient, all-powerful, unchanging, all-knowing, wise, everywhere, faithful, good, just, merciful (compassionate and kind), gracious, loving, holy and glorious.
His plan to redeem us through Jesus is a direct reflection of His love for us. In all the ways He saves us, restores us, heals us, and answers us daily, God’s love is active in our lives.
“God motivates us to feel and to do what we should by calling to our minds his past performances of love and his future promises of love,” Pastor John Piper wrote. God’s love draws us closer to Him. And His love, through our lives, brings glory and honor to Him.
Photo Credit: © Unsplash
How Does This Truth Affect Or Daily Lives as Christ Followers?
“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (1 John 3:23 NIV)
Jesus said the greatest command is to love God, and to love each other. The greatest expression of love, of all time, was God sending His One and Only Son Jesus Christ to earth to live and die for us. His once for all sacrifice was an obedient expression of love for His Father, and for us.
It is the love of God which compels us to seek and follow Christ. And it is the love of God in us, through Christ, which flows through us allowing us to experience love, and to love others.
This godly love is supernatural, appearing nonsensical to a legalistic society. Paul wrote,
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Anytime Scripture says “always” or “never” it’s a cue to something we can only accomplish through the power and strength of the Holy Spirit in us. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises,” Peter wrote, “so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
God, because He is love, sees us through that filter: the people He created us to be and whom He loves — not the sin entangling us on earth. Paul wrote,
“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:13-14)
In our everyday lives as Christ followers, God is love permeates all we do and who we are. Godly love is evident in our lives by our obedience to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s leading. The apostle John wrote,
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13 NIV)
If we want to understand more about the characteristics of God, including love, we can seek Him, and find Him, in His Word. “People become children of God through faith in God’s unique Son,” (John 1:12-13) NIV Study Bible explains, “and being led by God’s Spirit is the hallmark of this relationship.”
A Prayer to be Guided by God’s Love
Abba, Yahweh; Jesus, Messiah; Holy Spirit, Counselor. One True God! Glory to You in the highest. You know us so personally, God. Here and now, You see and hear us. You are not far off but dwelling in us by the power of the Holy Spirit in each Christ follower.
For those of us today who have yet to submit our lives fully to Christ, we pray today is their first in the journey to find and follow You. God, You fill us with the strength we need to navigate this life on earth. You teach us how to see things differently, how to know people through the filter of Your love.
We get to be part of Your plan, God, not because You need our help, but because You love us, and love to bless and thrill us beyond our wildest dreams and ambitions. Help us to do the hard work to live a faithful life which brings glory and honor to You, God. Help us to seek You and find You in all we do. Help us to be motivated to love others by Your unconditional love for us. Give us wisdom, God, and guide our daily lives according to Your will for them.
In Jesus’ Name we pray,
God is love. We can rest peacefully, knowing we can trust in who God is, and His love for us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4-5 NIV). Knowing us fully, He continually chooses to love us, completely.
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament. Copyright © 2002.
NIV Study Bible. Zondervan Publishing House. Copyright 1995.
Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Bart LaRue
Meg, freelance writer and blogger at Sunny&80, is the author of “Friends with Everyone, Friendship within the Love of Christ,” and “Surface, Unlocking the Gift of Sensitivity,” She writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. Meg earned a Marketing/PR degree from Ashland University but stepped out of the business world to stay at home and raise her two daughters, which led her to pursue her passion to write. She has led a Bible Study for Women and serves as a Youth Ministry leader in her community. Meg, a Cleveland native and lifelong Browns fan, lives by the shore of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and golden doodle.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.