What the Bible says about Knowing God: Source of Love
(From Forerunner Commentary)
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
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?