One of the best-known works of Western art is surely that section of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which depicts God reaching down to touch Adam's fingertip and give him life. So well known is this portion of Michelangelo's monumental work that it appears not merely in art histories and coffee-table display books, but is also used and caricatured in advertising and political car toons. Only the most jaded of tourists can fail to marvel when gazing up at the mural, so laboriously and painstakingly painted, so powerful in its depiction of the life-giving power of God. We stop, study, appraise and admire. What a masterpiece! What an artist!
In this section of the epistle, John writes, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world (v. 9). We might be tempted to exclaim, What a masterpiece! What an artist! But "The Sending of the Son" is not simply the title of a painting that we study, admire and appreciate. Michelangelo's painting has power not just because of its artistic merits, but because we can virtually feel the life that flows from God's hand to Adam. Even so, John writes not just that God showed his love among us but that he did so by sending the Son into the world that we might live through him.
God's life-giving love, then, is the theme of this passage. As John develops this theme, he makes three important points: God is the source of all love (4:7-8); God models what genuine love is (4:9-10); and God commands us to love each other (4:11-12). We move from the assertion that God is love to the command that we are to love each other. Indeed, the whole point of the passage is to trace the relationship between God's love and human love, and to show how human love flows from God's own love.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.