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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – God Is the Source of Love (4:19-20)
God Is the Source of Love (4:19-20)

The Elder has not yet fin ished with his reflections on love. The statement We love because he first loved us summarizes the relationship of human and divine love, and especially the previous verses (vv. 7-18). Quite simply, the Elder states that God's love for us has empowered us to love both other human beings and God. Yet God does not give us some power or ability apart from his own presence that motivates us to love. God loves us, and it is the very love of God that empowers us to love. The gift cannot be separated from the Giver. For love is enabling power, and those who have known themselves loved by God are empowered to love. Love is a life-giving force, an invigorating gift that flows from God into human beings with vitality and energy. Love—being loved and knowing that one is loved—empowers us to love.

And so if God's love empowers us to love, no one can claim to love God while hating a fellow Christian (4:20). Often the words anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen are taken to mean that it is much harder to love an invisible God than it is to love a brother or sister whom one can see. But John does not say that love for God is more difficult than love for others. Rather, love for God without love for others is simply impossible to imagine, since God is love. As Stott comments, "This `cannot' expresses not so much the person's incapacity to love God, as the proof that he does not" (1988:173; compare Dodd 1946:123-24; Marshall 1978:225-26; Smalley 1984:264).

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