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In exploring the relationship between God's love for us and our love for each other, the Elder makes two statements: love comes from God (v. 7), and God is love (v. 8). The second statement is more far-reaching than the first. To comprehend the sweeping character of the statement God is love, substitute the name of anyone you know—your mother, pastor, friend, a well-known Christian or hero of the faith or even yourself—for "God." Few are the people we would describe simply with the word love. Mom may be the most loving person you have known. She may have shown you what mature, self-giving, genuine love is like. But no matter how full, rich and steadfast her love, the statement "Mom is loving," can never be changed into "Mom is love." For love does not characterize her as it characterizes God.
Because God is love, love comes from God. God is the source of love. Like the electricity running through electrical wires, love comes from God to us, then flows through us to others in the community. When John exhorts his readers, let us love one another, he is encouraging them to allow God's love to flow through them. For because God is love, love must characterize those who claim to be born of God or to know God (v. 7; 3:10, 14; 4:20-21). Those who claim to be doing the will of God and reflecting God's activity in the world will be known by the love they manifest for God and for each other. This was what Jesus told his dis ciples (Jn 13:35).
It is typical of the Elder that, having stated his case in positive terms, he then states it negatively: Whoever does not love, does not know God. Where there is a lack of love for fellow Christians, there is neither love for nor knowledge of God. As John Stott puts it, claiming to know God while failing to love others is like claiming to have intimate knowledge of a foreigner while remaining ignorant of his or her native tongue (1988:114). In their historical context, the statements about those who do not love are probably directed to the secessionists. Although these people undoubtedly claimed to know God, the Elder deems such a claim impossible: for how can one who lacks love for God's children be said to know the God who is love? Their lack of love shows that the dissidents are not in touch with the source of love (4:8, 16), they do not imitate the model of love given to them in the cross (3:16; 4:10) and they have disobeyed the command of Jesus (2:7; 4:21; Jn 13:34-35; 15:12, 17). In short, their claim to know God is hollow.