With these words, John launches an extended teaching on the importance of showing love (1 John 4:7–21). He starts by clarifying that the believer’s ability to love comes from knowing God: “Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God” (1 John 4:8, NLT).
The idea that “love is of God” (NKJV) can also be expressed as “love is from God” (ESV, NASB, CSB) and “love comes from God” (NIV, NLT). John explains that the source of all love is the divine nature of God. Love has its origin in God because God is love by His very essence.
John’s teaching reveals why love is essential in the believer’s life. Love is the litmus test of an authentic relationship with God. If we are indeed children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we share in His nature (2 Peter 1:4). God’s nature is love; therefore, we will exhibit love. Demonstrating Christian love confirms the reality of our spiritual life.
“No one has ever seen God,” states John, “but if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT). One Bible commentator defines the word love in this passage as “a consuming passion for the well-being of others, and this love has its wellspring in God” (F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John, Eerdmans Pub., 1983). If we want to be like God, we will care deeply about the well-being of others because God is love. Love is not only who God is but what He does: “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9, NLT).
Only those born of God’s Spirit can love in the fullness of its expression, which is sacrifice: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16).
By nature, human love is selfish and conditional. We love those who love us. We love people who are kind to us and who offer some benefit to us. But Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. . . . Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that” (Luke 6:27–33).
God’s love is agape—self-sacrificing and unconditional. Agape loves those who don’t deserve our love, those who disappoint us, mistreat us, reject us, and even hate us. And agape is only possible when it is born of God in our hearts. Agape love is of God, initiated by God: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
John wants us to love one another with agape because this is how God loves. Jesus instructed, “Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12–13). God illustrated what real love looks like by giving, serving, loving, and dying for us. He set the bar high for how we are to love others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ.
God chose to reveal His love to the world through the way we love others. “Love each other,” commanded Jesus. “Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34–35, NLT). God’s love is made evident as we love one another. The world sees the love of God expressed through the way we live our lives and love others.
“Love is of God” means that the love we show to others emanates from Him, the source. Believers can love with God’s heart “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). God is the generator, the fountain, and the wellspring of our love for others. The love we show mirrors God’s love for us because it flows from His heart into ours and out to others.