The Bible does not offer long winded definitions about what love means. The reason is due in part to the more precise language used in both the Old and New Testaments (Hebrew and Greek). In English however, our word ‘love’ is defined by its context. For example, I love ice-cream, I love my dog and I love my wife. You would not for one moment think I loved each exactly in the same way or to the same degree.
The Bible prefers to give illustrations of what God’s love looks like in action. For example, there is the parable of the farmer searching for his lost sheep (Matt 18:12-14); the husband who is willing to take back his adulterous wife (Hosea ch. 1), the father who waits at the farm gate daily, looking down the road into the distance waiting for his wayward son to return (Luke 15:11-32). In our reading of 1 John 4:1-21 today, John does not give a definition of God’s love; he also prefers to tell us how this love is demonstrated. Actions, as the saying goes, speak louder than words.
God, John tells us, showed his love by sending his Son into our world, a world which is rejecting him and disinterested in him, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9). Love is demonstrated by God making the first move; he sought us out before we were interested in him, and he gave his only Son to atone for our sins (4:10). The sacrifice we see in Christ’s death is the hallmark of genuine love. For this reason, John calls us to express our love for each other as God has for them (4:11). In contrast, those who have split from John’s churches, do not. Love is the mark of a genuine disciple of Christ (John 13:34-35).