“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This passage speaks of faith, hope and love: God’s love in providing Jesus as a sacrifice for sin; the faith or belief a person needs; and the hope God offers, eternal life to the person with faith.
What is the love of God? How do we understand God’s love?
God provided hope and the forgiveness of sin by providing his own son, a sinless man for a sinful people, as a sacrifice for sin. This is self-less and this is love. In other words, God’s love was “manifested” in the selfless sacrifice of Jesus to take away sin.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12).
God is love and He wants us to be imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1). This requires those who believe in Him to love one another. To love someone in a self-less, self-sacrificing way is an attitude that is demonstrated in action, not just emotion. God’s love was demonstrated in action and Jesus’ love for his Father and his disciples were manifested in his obedience to His Father.
A person, who truly loves, pleases God rather than him or herself. This means that that we are not to give into our natural desires to please ourselves.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Our natural desires are in contrast to the love of God. The apostle Paul describes the qualities of this love in 1 Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Love involves a close relationship with God and His son Jesus. Those who love God are called, “the children of God” and will realize the hope of eternal life when Jesus returns to the earth. Love requires that God’s children change their sinful ways and follow after the righteous ways of God. This is “purifying” oneself.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
God is love and He is the source of love. Since God has always existed, so has love. When God gave His commandments to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, he commanded them to “love” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Likewise, Jesus commanded his disciples to love.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).
As we have seen, faith, hope and love are intimately connected. God has commanded those who believe in him and share in the hope He has offered, to love Him, His son and each other. Truly, the love of God is the greatest quality a person can possess and it is the quality that characterizes those who are given eternal life.
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).