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
These verses furnish Christians with critical marching orders and guidance while providing crucial insight into our Creator's nature—all centered around the word “love.” Twice in these three verses, John declares that “God is love.” He also implores us to “love one another” and to know God, and then he identifies God as the source of love. Furthermore, our Savior commanded His disciples, earlier in John 13:34-35 (see also John 15:12, 17), to love one another “as I have loved you.”
Consider that God has created humanity physically in His image (Genesis 1:26), and further, is re-creating those whom He has called into His spiritual image (II Corinthians 3:18). To that, we must add our standing orders to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5), to seek Him (Matthew 6:33), and to establish an intimate relationship with Him that we might become more familiar with the image that Christ came to reveal and that we are to become (John 1:18).
Consider also the following quote from John Ritenbaugh's 1992 sermon, “Do You See God?”:
We are beginning to see an application to you and me. Will God be working in our lives if we don't see Him? If we don't recognize Him? If we don't understand His purpose, what He is working out in you and me? I don't think so!
In like manner, in his 2006 sermon, “God, the Church's Greatest Problem,” he opined:
Since eternal life lies in the relationship with God, it is extremely important how frequent and accurate our thoughts about Him are. We can conclude that what one knows about the true God Himself and how one uses that knowledge are the two most important issues in life.
A strong relationship with God is critical to attaining eternal life, and the strength of that relationship depends upon an accurate understanding of who He is—His nature. To that end, we have the written Word of God to guide us as it reveals the true nature of God. Moreover, since the Bible teaches us that God is love and that our ability to know God will be determined by our willingness and capacity to love, it is vital that we understand the true meaning of love, particularly as intended by the apostle John's inspired writings. In fact, without this understanding, how can we possibly proceed with our marching orders to seek God—to know Him—and to reflect His will in our interactions with all mankind?
But, everyone is familiar with the concept of love, right? After all, virtually all of civilization is absorbed—even obsessed—with the idea of love. Throughout man's history, countless writers, performers, pundits, and deep thinkers have devoted much—if not most—of their respective careers trying to define and even display love. So, determining the meaning of this simple, four-letter word should not be too great a challenge, right?
Perhaps it is not as easy as one might think. In fact, if we study the world's most common usages and descriptions of love, we find that they have little or nothing in common with the divine nature of our Creator. Stated another way, we discover that John's use of the word “love,” as translated from the Greek word agape, has little to do with our modern, worldly concept of love.
Joseph B. Baity
The Nature of God— What's Love Got To Do With It?
Every thought, every word, every act of God is an expression of love. God is sovereign, and He has the right to do whatever He wants. This would be tyranny except for one simple fact: Everything God does, whether seemingly arbitrary or not, is motivated by love. Even our trials are supreme acts of love as Hebrews 12:5-11 and Job's experience show.
Herbert W. Armstrong once said about Job: "Job was one of the hardest men for God to ever bring down to repentance that has ever lived on the face of this earth." As terrible as the trial was, Job needed it for salvation. Psalm 84:11 says that God will withhold no good thing from us. To withhold that trial from Job would have been withholding a good thing, making God guilty of hating Job (Proverbs 13:24).
Only God is wise enough to allow us to go through a desperately needed trial while simultaneously using it to accomplish His other purposes as well. In the worsening times ahead, God will not use some of us as cannon fodder for His purposes, though He has the right to do it—He made us. Because of His love for us, He will allow us to face trials because we need them to perfect us. After all, "all things work together for good" to those called (Romans 8:28).
How will we survive spiritually if we are among those God chooses to be persecuted, possibly tortured, and killed? Only because we believe that God loves no one more than us, and for this reason, we will know that what we are enduring is for our good and will bring about His purpose.
As children, we were disciplined by our parents. As it happened, how often did we thank them for the love they were showing us? As parents, we have disciplined our children. How many times have they ever said, "Thank you"? Most likely, the answer to both is, "Never!"
Do we discipline our children out of love or hate? Love, of course. Then why do they not say, "Thank you"? At the moment it is happening, they cannot see—they do not believe—how much we love them. It is a hallmark of youth or immaturity to be blind to the big picture, to see only what is directly in front of them. Hopefully, in times of trial, we are not children in a spiritual sense.
Faith to Face Our Trials
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 depends 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 through 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 know Him. This kind of love is something that we have to practice. All of this is possible because God—at 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, we are saved by His life. He takes the burden of our salvation primarily on His shoulders. And that is very comforting indeed.
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 divine love.
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 give that love back to Him. We 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 starts to be perfected.
Thus, God in His love begins the cycle, and He in His love keeps the cycle going. However, it requires a response on our part: We must return to Him the love He sheds abroad in our hearts and give it out to others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Importance and Source
The words "God is love" mean that love is an essential attribute of God. Love is something true of God, but it is not all of God. He has many other attributes. He is self-existent, eternal, holy, merciful, full of grace, immutable, just, omnipotent, omniscient, and many more things besides. Because God is immutable, He always acts as God, and because He is a whole and perfect personality, He never suspends one of His attributes to exercise another.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wholeness of God
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 1 John 4:8:
1 Corinthians 8:9-13