“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
– 1 John 4:16
All things begin in love, flow from love, are perfected in love, and return to love. Any tendency we might have had to conceive of love as an object or tool (even a good one) is thrown right out the window. It might not occur to us to conceive of love as that which surrounds us at all times, as that which brought us into existence and sustains our existence. It might not occur to us that love is the very DNA placed into us by our creator. We might rather hear John say that God is security or prosperity or law and order. With as much chaos and immorality as we see in our world, who could blame us? But alas, God is not security or immorality or law and order – God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
So love one another, John says, with the love of God, with the love that is God himself. And when we do so, that love does not originate within us. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) The love that moves from me to you and back has originated with God and returns to him. Insofar as we are capable of loving, it originates with God who is taking form within us.
And just as this love is no object or tool, it is neither an abstract idea. “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (4:9) Love does not exist as an abstract concept, something that exists only in the mind, something we merely think toward one another. No, love has a story. Love has a beginning, middle, and end. Love takes the form of the story of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Love looks like Jesus. Love looks like the cross. Love is only real where it is visibly and actively laying itself down for others.
John has called this unconditional, unlimited love of God the first love, and the love we give to each other the second love. The second love – the care, support and affirmation we receive from friends, family and spouses – is a reflection of the first love. And because it is only a reflection, it comes with the possibility of rejection, withdrawal and punishment. But because of what it is reflecting, it is changing us and being perfected in us (4:12). The love of God that abides in us is growing into its perfected form in us. Love cannot abide in us without transforming us completely.
So we trust this love, says John (4:16). It would be easier to trust money or strength, that which makes us secure and prosperous, but no; our life will be entrusted to nothing but the love of God, the love that is God himself. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.