Love is a noun

Today’s guest poster is my darling husband, Kevin. I’m so thrilled to be able to share with you all the blessing I get every day with his insights into the Word. You can find Kevin blogging at: Musing Out Loud and his philosophy blog (mostly for his students but open to everyone): Musing Out Loud-Philosophy.

I’ve been mulling over 1 John 4:7-21 for several weeks now, and I’ve had a few questions.

  • Why does it say that unbelievers cannot love?
  • The passage cites Jesus as the ultimate example of God’s love, but never focuses on what Christ gave up for us. Instead it keeps focusing on what we have because of Christ. Why is that?
  • The passage exhorts us to love one another, but doesn’t stay focused on the exhortation. Instead, it keeps detouring to talk about God’s love. Why?
  • When it talks about how we should love, it always focuses on our love for one another as Christians, instead of on our love for unbelievers. Why does it do that?

Original Scorpion Hollering Band Reunion

A high school reunion

Last week I went to a high school choir reunion and reunion concert. We wanted to honor our choir director (“JP”), a man who made a big difference to a lot of our lives during high school. For example, my brother Andrew is now a professional choir conductor in part because of JP’s influence.

It was a ton of fun, but the remarkable thing was the love-fest that the reunion turned into. It started because everyone there was rhapsodizing about the difference JP had made to them. As the weekend progressed though, everyone kept talking about the sense of family we felt and how much we loved and accepted everyone else in the room. My impression of ordinary high school reunions is that they are uncomfortable and tense. Everyone is insecure. People spend their time evaluating everyone else and trying to impress them. This was completely different. It was extraordinarily affirming – even for me, and I tend to dismiss everything sentimental.

Most of the people at the reunion are regular people. If you met us in our mundane lives, it’s possible we’d be annoying and self-centered. During that weekend, everyone was lifted out of themselves by the common purpose of honoring someone else. The love we shared was something bigger than any of us. It wasn’t something we were doing, so much as something that we were experiencing.

Love is a noun

There’s a saying, a song, and, I think, a book that says “Love is a verb”. The point is that love is something we choose. Love is only complete when we act on it. I think that’s a good perspective. But in 1 John 4, love is a noun. Love isn’t something we do. It’s something out there, objectively real apart from us, available for us to live in. True, it’s not complete in our lives until we choose to love each other, but even when we do so we haven’t created love, we’ve simply allowed it to work through us.

The love of 1 John 4 is capital-L Love. That’s why it says “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” and “the one who does not love does not know God because God is love”. Someone who doesn’t know God can take loving actions on behalf others, but it will only be love, it won’t be Love. If someone doesn’t know God, who is Love, then the love they show is only human. It isn’t yet the fully supernatural Love that is God and that is bigger than their own choices.

That’s why 1 John 4 focuses not on Jesus’ act of love toward us – how much he suffered on our behalf – but on the result in our lives. “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten son into the world so that we might live through Him.” It’s isn’t just that God cared as much as he did for us, it’s that in doing so he calls us to live in the same love on a daily basis. The love of God in Christ isn’t merely a past action, it’s a present reality in the Holy Spirit.

love is a noun
Love is not just something we do, it’s something we abide in. “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him. By this love is perfected with us …”. That explains why 1 John keeps detouring from exhorting us to love others to talk instead about the great love of God.

Finally, why does 1 John focus on our love for one another instead of our love for a lost world? Because the love of 1 John is manifested in community. It exists most fully when we love one another. “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”

For several weeks, I’ve been reading this as though it said “If I love someone, then God abides in me and His love is perfected in me.” But that’s not what it says. It isn’t enough for me to love someone else. That’s good, but love isn’t complete yet. Love is not complete until they love me back too, until the love between us becomes a reflection of the love of God himself. Love is bigger than what I do or choose. It’s bigger than what you do or choose. Love in the 1 John sense is the supernatural thing that happens to a community when they begin to live together in the life of God among them.

So what?

What difference does all this make? Well, the love-is-a-verb teaching is still important. We should love the people around us, unconditionally, by sharing Christ with them and by making sacrifices that will benefit their lives. However, the love-is-a-noun perspective casts a vision for me. Love is God present supernaturally in the community of those who love one another. Therefore it is bigger than me. Therefore it is something God gives me, not something I give him. Therefore I can see God in it. It reminds me of the importance of community, it keeps me humble, it keeps me grateful, and it lets me see God at work where I didn’t see him before.

(Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/

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