The Importance of Love:
John returns to his theme of “love” (cf. 2:7-11; 3:10-18). Love is truly a prime identifying trait of the child of God—though a loving disposition may not be isolated from other objective qualifications for membership in the sacred family (Jn. 3:3-5). God is the supreme “lover,” and genuine love issues from him. To understand the ultimate meaning of “love” and to implement such in action is truly a mark of a genuine relationship with God and a more advanced knowledge of the heavenly Father (v. 7). Those whose attitudes and actions generally reflect no love (as is evidenced in the writings of atheists) demonstrate they have no knowledge of God, for he is the very essence of love (v. 8; cf. Rom. 3:10-18), himself not being motivated by an extraneous source of love.
The greatest and most unique example of genuine agape love (cf. 1 Cor. 13) is revealed in the gift that God made of his one-of-a-kind Son on behalf of humankind. Otherwise, there was no hope of eternal life (v. 9). It was not that God was moved by our love, hence gave his Son; no, he loved us when we were unworthy of such. He unselfishly sent his Son to function as the “propitiation” for our sins (v. 10). Should not this unbelievably generous gift of love stimulate us to love each other in the Lord (v. 11)? The heretical teachers provided no evidence of true love.
No one has seen the spirit essence of God at any time (v. 12; cf. Jn. 1:18); he may be seen only indirectly—in this instance, by his influence as reflected in the lives of his people who demonstrate love for one another. This reciprocal love appears to be evidence of the abiding presence of the Creator. The talk throughout the Roman Empire in the first century was how “those Christians” loved one another! As the Christian is motivated by the love of God to share his love with his spiritual family, his love is brought to a state of maturity (though it always has room to grow). Our relationship with God is demonstrated by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and reflected in qualities of godliness we manifest toward him and all those made in his image (cf. Gal. 5:2-23).
Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary
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