If we are going to be like Him, these verses are important to us because they tell us much about Him and our responsibilities. First, love is of God—He is its Source. This love the apostles write about comes from God and is not normally a part of man's nature. It is agape love. Human love apart from God is at its best a mere pale and vague reflection of what God is eternally.
Next, John says "God is love." Sublime as this is, some have misunderstood it because it can be misleading. God is not just an abstraction like love. He is a living, dynamic, and powerful Being whose personality has multiple facets. He cannot be boxed, wrapped, and presented as merely being one attribute.
John's statement literally reads, "The God is love." The Greeks used an emphatic form of writing, and here the emphasis is on the word "God." The syntax means the two words "God" and "love" are not interchangeable. "Love" describes God's nature. A good paraphrase would read, "God, as to His nature, is love." God is a loving God!
This does not mean that loving is one of God's activities, but that every activity of God is loving. If He creates, He creates in love. If He rules, He rules in love. If He judges, He judges in love. Everything He does expresses His nature. God and His nature are manifested by what He does. By love God is revealed and known.
The very existence of life in others besides Himself is an act of love. His love is revealed in His providence and care of His creation. Since we are not robots, free-moral agency is an act of His love. God, by a deliberate act of self-limitation, endowed us to respond with mind and emotion. We are not animals. God's love is the explanation for redemption and our hope of eternal life. Out of love, God has given us something to live for. Life is not just a matter of going through the paces. We do not live our lives in vain.
God made humanity in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). But the Bible says, "God is Spirit," and "God is love." Man, though, is flesh, and the Bible describes us as carnal, self-centered, and deceitful. In practical fact, this means that man cannot be what he is meant to be until he loves as God loves. Only then will he truly be in the image of God because he will have the same nature as God. So, to achieve his potential, a person must love, but he must love with the love of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Only by knowing God we can have this love—and it is only by loving that we can know God. If that sounds like a riddle, it is not intended to be. Nor is it intended to sound like a vicious circle.
It is, though, somewhat like "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" We know that God is Creator—that the chicken came first—but science disputes this. There must be a beginning of the cycle because one is dependent on the other. In terms of knowing and loving God, knowing Him is dependent on loving Him, and loving Him is dependent On knowing Him. The two cannot be separated.
Only by learning to love God do we learn what His nature is like, that is, what He is like. Yet, we cannot have that love until we first come to know Him. It is though fellowship with Him that we come to know Him and receive the love. In using that love, we come to be like God, and only then do we really know Him.
John is saying that it is only in experiencing God's love ourselves that we come to really know Him. This kind of love is something that we have to practice. All is this is possible because God—here comes the beginning of the cycle—by His love initiates the relationship with us. At that point, by His love, He is the primary sustainer of the relationship. If He were not the primary One sustaining it, we would not have enough love to continue the relationship. So Paul writes in Romans 5:10 that we are saved by His life. He takes the burden of our salvation primarily on His shoulders. And that is very comforting indeed.
So, God calls us and grants us repentance, each being an act of love. He then forgives us because we repent. That, too, is an act of love. He then gives us His Spirit, by which we can fellowship with Him and live in His presence. This is also an act of love on His part.
By His giving us His Spirit, we begin to have elements of His love in us, so now we can begin to love Him. We are in fellowship with Him and can begin to give that love back to Him. We begin to experience it, and in experiencing it, we begin to know what He is like. The cycle is working! And as we give love back to Him, He gives more to us because we are growing. God's love in us begins to be perfected.
Thus, God in His love begins the cycle, and He in His love keeps the cycle going. However, it does require a response on our part: We must return to Him the love He sheds abroad in our hearts, as well as give it out to others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Importance and Source
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 John 4:7:
1 Corinthians 8:9-13