By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXIV) 08/02/22

4:19 We learned to love because God loved us first.

Some commentators point out that “him” is an insertion and is not to be included. So, the rendering of verse nineteen reads: “We love because He first loved us [or “loved us first”]. [1] To take the Greek hēmeis agapaō, “we love,” as subjunctive, “let us love” is less forcible. John states as a fact what ought to be. We Christians do not fear; we love. Yet this is no credit to us. On the contrary, after God’s love in giving His Son for us, it would be monstrous not to love.

So let us review what has been said. First, God’s initiative in loving us infused His agápē in our spirits. Our ability to love with divine love comes from God, not us. We love because God taught us how to love. The source of the believer’s love is prior love.  We do not compare agápē with our lackluster love. That’s why the word “him” does not occur in the oldest Greek manuscripts, so the emphasis is on generic love. Thus, this speaks of loving any object, whether God or human beings.

Secondly, the word “first” bears the emphasis of the Greek adjective protos, allowing us to see the connection to verse eighteen. Faintheartedness finds no place in the Christian who matures in God’s love. Fear of God is incompatible with understanding God as the source and initiator of love. Our exercise of love is a product of God’s agápē. John emphasizes the continued pattern of love rather than isolated acts.  Since God loved us once [aorist tense] at the cross, we can go on loving Christians (present tense). Therefore, no exercise of love on our part is possible without God loving us first.

So, how do we apply this to everyday life? Our love for God and others originates in His agápē for us.  God’s agápē is the incentive for our passion. God loved us at the high cost of sacrificing His Son for us. God loved us first; we loved Him second. He took the initiative. His initiative enabled us to love because He put His agápē within us. He provided the loving apparatus. So don’t think you can love as God loved without God’s agápē in you.[2]

The omission of love on the human level indicates the absence of agápē on the divine level. God’s agápē makes Godly love on the mortal plane possible. All true love is a response to God’s initiative. Our love is not self-originated, for it has a heavenly origin. God gives us the desire to love others. God calls out our love in response to what God has given. Our capacity to love spiritually rests on something more significant than our power to love. It is the response to God’s agápē. That is why this kind of love always finds an object. 

Thus, our love for fellow Christians validates our love for God. Response to God’s agápē produces love for others. Think of how irritable and stubborn some Christians are. They will do almost anything to upset us. Yet God loves them as much as He loves us. When our hearts are occupied with His wonderful agápē, we do not become agitated with obnoxious Christians. God loved us when we were unlovable, so we should love the unlovely. 


Augustine of Hippo (354-430) discusses why we love God. It’s by God’s grace we love Him who first loved us to believe in Him, and by loving Him, we perform good works for others but have we done the good ones to glorify Him?[3]

And Andreas (circa 600-700) is sure that God understands us as we are. In fact, God loves us so much that He knows the number of hairs on our heads, as it says in the Gospels.[4] So it is not that God goes around numbering hairs but that He has a detailed understanding and complete foreknowledge of everything about us.[5] [6]

Christian scholar Bede the Venerable (672-735) asks, “From where would we get the power to love God if He had not loved us first?” Jesus says in the Gospel: “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.”[7] Therefore, we will be perfect in love if, following His example, we love Him for no other reason than He first loved us and sacrificed His life for us.[8]  In other words, if God never did another thing for us for the rest of our lives, we still have enough to love for the rest of our lives because of what He has already done.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) explores why we should love God and with what measure of love. He asks, do you want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much? I answer that the reason for loving God is God, and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable. Is this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful person, but a debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient, but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore, I set myself joyfully to explain in detail what is meant above. We are to love God because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable.

When someone asks, why should I love God? they may mean, what is lovely in God? or what is there to gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists as God and His agápē to us. Could any title be more significant than this: He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks God’s claim upon our love, here is number one – because He first loved us.[9]

John Calvin (1509-1564) shares that the Greek verb agapaō may be either in the indicative[10] or imperative[11] mood, but the indicative is most suitable here. The Apostle John, as I think, says Calvin, repeats the preceding sentence, that as God has anticipated us by His free love, we ought to return to render love to Him as He expects. John then infers that God ought to be loved because our love for Him should be directed toward those around us. If the imperative mood is preferred, the meaning would be nearly the same: God has freely loved us, so we should also freely love Him.[12]

John Trapp (1601-1669) explains why He loved us first. He says some writer in his day said, “Mary did not answer Rabboni[13] until the Anointed One first said to her, Mary. Our love is but the reflex of His. And as the reflected beams of the sun are weaker than the direct, so are our affections weaker than God’s.” That is a memorable saying of a modern writer, As an excellent brightness of the air at midnight reflects the shining of the moon, and that presumes its illumination by the sun because these depend on one another; so the diffusing of our kindness on our neighbors prove our love to God; and our affection for God presumes His agápē for us first, for the inseparable dependence they have on each other.[14] Trapp then gives us something to think about. Some Christians are a ray of sunshine to those around them, while others are a mere reflection of a believer who did something good for them. While the sun is always shining, look for someone to inspire you to love others even though acts of kindness may be sporadic or hard to find.

John Flavel tells us that this gift of the Anointed One was the highest and fullest manifestation of God’s agápē that ever the world saw: and this is evidenced when you consider how near and dear Jesus was to His Father; To what He gave His Son, be made a curse for us, even to death on the cross; To enhance God’s agápē in providing the Anointed One, and by giving Him He gave the wealthiest jewel in His jewelry box. Next, let us consider whom the Lord granted His Son: upon angels? No! Upon humans. On humans, who were His friends? No! Upon His enemies. And finally, let us also contemplate how freely this gift came from Him. Was it wrestled out of His hand? No! A gift is always free. We didn’t earn it, didn’t purchase it, didn’t merit it, didn’t barter for it, and didn’t steal it. Instead, Jesus bought it for His Father to give to us as a gift of grace and mercy.[15]

Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) comments that whoever loves God because He first loved them, and demonstrates it by loving their fellow believer, can brag of nothing since that love came from God. That’s because God’s sheltering love to the believer gave rise to all the love they owe to God or their fellow Christian for His sake. Suppose, therefore, any person feels held back by this agápē to doing things that offer evidence of their affection to God or to imitate His agápē by avid love for the brethren. In that case, Divine charity excited this affection in them. Or, if we do it out of submission, this is what it means: let the great God’s agápē mentioned in verses nine and ten provoke us to return love to Him and our brethren for His sake. However, don’t dishonestly pretend to love Him, do it with energy towards His children and our brethren.[16]

William Burkitt (1650-1703) tells us there is a double reading of these words according to the original Greek. First, it may read, “let us love Him because He first loved us,” by way of motive, signifying that believers have great reason to love God with their choicest and highest affections, forasmuch as He loved them, and first to love them.  They are often read by way of causality, “we do love Him because He first loved us,” implying that God’s agápē to us is the root and spring of our love for Him and one another. All our devotion to fellow saints is but a reflection of those beams of love that God first showed down upon us. If God’s agápē to us were a mere consequence of our love for Him, how uncertain would we be of its continuance? But His agápē to us was the original cause of our love for Him; we, therefore, love Him because He started the whole love affair with us.[17]

[1] From the New International Version

[2] 2 Thessalonians 3:5

[3] Augustine: (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit., Letters 186

[4] Luke 12:7

[5] Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5; cf. Isaiah 44:24; Galatians 1:15

[6] Andreas: (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc., cit.

[7] John 15:16

[8] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John

[9] Bernard of Clairvaux: On Loving God, op. cit., Ch. 1, pp. 11-12

[10] Indicative mood is a verb form that makes a statement

[11] Imperative mood is a grammatical mood that forms a command

[12] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc., cit.

[13] Rabboni means master, teacher —a Jewish title of respect applied especially to spiritual instructors and learned persons

[14] Trapp, John: Commentary upon all books of the New Testament (1647), op. cit., p. 478

[15] Flavel, John: The Fountain of Life, op. cit., pp.56-57

[16] Whitby, Daniel: op. cit., p. 468

[17] Burkitt, William: Notes on the N.T., op. cit., p. 733

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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