John is concerned about the unity, the recovery from schism, and the ongoing progress of the churches to which he is writing. In the previous section, he stated the importance of every church, both corporately and its individual members, testing the various messages they heard from the range of teachers that came their way. While such testing should not be merely cerebral, there was always that danger, which is one reason why John moves on to consider the importance of loving one another.
In verses 7 and 8 John states the importance and necessity of love and why it will always be the defining element of authentic Christianity. He reminds his readers of the origin or source of love – God. Therefore, love in the hearts of believers is the consequence of the reaching out of God’s love to them. His love is an initiating love – we love him because he first loved us. This love is more than initiating, however – it is also infinite because God is limitless in all his attributes and capabilities, including his love.
Further, this love of God is an internal love from within his own being. God is three persons, a mystery to be adored and admired. They have existed in a loving relationship from all eternity. This love had no beginning and cannot improve because it is always perfect. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit love one another. Of course, once we realise who they are, we are not surprised that they love one another. Each of them is beyond total description by us in beauty and loveliness.
Yet there is another dimension to the love of God, which is that it also went out from the three persons to their creatures. This aspect of their love also is eternal. Nevertheless, it is a surprising love because the objects of it were unworthy, ugly because of their sin. We shall consider in later readings how God revealed his love for sinners, but meanwhile we should pause and marvel at this great fact that before stars shone in the night sky God loved sinners.
Thirdly, in addition to being initiatory and internal, God’s love is also intimate. Those who experience it come to know him. His love is not a distant kind, merely contemplating the objects of it. Rather his love is involved with the objects of it, and he reveals his love to them by unfolding in their minds and hearts the wonders of his grace. Through the immediate work of the Holy Spirit, the various means by which the triune God loves sinners are conveyed to them by the Bible and appropriate use of it (such as preaching, meditation, and singing). The inevitable outcome is that those whose hearts he touches love him and imitate him by loving those he loves.
This means that God’s love is indicative of those who are true Christians. Sometimes the question is asked, how can we tell true Christians from those who are false? Here we have a clear method of doing so. Love towards God and his people and to our fellowmen is an authentic evidence of new life. Without love, there is no evidence of conversion. This is what Paul reminds us off in 1 Corinthians 13.