“We love because He first loved us”
“We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Most likely you have seen this verse before; probably on an engagement post or a wedding invitation or something along those lines. We like it because it’s sweet because it reminds us of God’s love and allows us to express our love for others all in one sentence. When I first began to write this article, I struggled to find something to say about this verse. I thought it was self-explanatory: God loves us, therefore, we love others. Simple. But as I sat more with it, I realized that the weight this verse carries is far heavier than one might think after glancing over it for the first time.
If we put it in a different order it becomes: Because He first loved us, therefore we love. St. Paul explains that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:38). The beauty of Christ’s love towards us is not merely that the love exists but that it is targeted at sinners who reject this love every day. Yet “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Not only has He loved us while we remained sinners but He died a cruel and gruesome death for us to demonstrate this love. The magnitude of the statement “because He first loved us” then becomes completely different when you realize how truly unlovable and difficult we can be, how hard it must be to continue to love us through all of our carelessness and neglect towards God. What have we offered Him in return? What have we shown Him as a response to this love? Fr. Tadros Malaty says “there is no merit if we love Him, but we pay Him back by loving our brothers.”
This is where the “cause and effect” comes into play. We love as a result of His love. You know how sometimes you’ll look at a little kid acting a certain way and say to yourself “she gets that from her mama”, it’s the same deal. God is constantly showing us what true love looks like and because we can never repay His infinite love, we reciprocate by showcasing that love to the people around us. When you’re in college, you spend a whole semester learning something and at the end of those 15 weeks, you are asked to apply the knowledge you gained in a final project. That is how I like to think of our relationship with God. We learn how to love because of the way He loves us and we present our learnings in our relationships with people. An issue we constantly have is sometimes feeling like God is intangible like we cannot see Him or hear from Him, or like He is a far away being with which we have no connection. Yet God is so merciful that He manifests Himself in our relationships with others. He speaks our language and translates His love into something tangible we can see and feel daily.
When translating this divine love into our love towards people, it’s imperative that we love in the way He has loved us. A pure, non-judgemental, unconditional, sacrificial love. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). This is exactly what he has done for us: loving us though we have rejected Him. So when we begin to speak that language that He taught us to others, we must do it in the way He taught it, without putting our own conditions on it. Loving God and loving others is a positive feedback loop. The two fuel one another and are affected by one another. If we love God, we will love our brothers, and if we love our brothers then our love for God is strengthened, and so on. St. John asks the question that we are constantly avoiding: if we cannot bring ourselves to love others, whom we see, how can we bring ourselves to love God whom we cannot see?
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7)
It’s important to remember that the only reason we can create and maintain relationships with others is that God taught us how to love. When we say “God is love”, it is more than just a phrase that rolls off the tongue. He is the essence and the definition of love itself; without Him, the concept is foreign to us and essentially has no substance or meaning. So, yes, we love others to “pay forward” the love God has given us and to manifest God into our daily lives, but we must never forget that we would not even know how to love if He had not shown us.
“If we love one another, God abides in us and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:12)