“God is love” (1 John 4:16) is probably one of the most misquoted verses, used for heretical teaching, in all of Scripture. It’s either that verse or Matthew 7:1 – “judge not, lest you be judged.” The reason both verses are misused is because most self-proclaiming Christians aren’t reading, studying, and obeying Scripture; therefore, they lack wisdom and knowledge of God’s perfect and Holy word.

We cannot take God’s word out of context, and we do not have authority to determine which Scriptures are and are not relevant today (Revelation 22:18). So when we say, “God is love” we must have understanding of all the teaching God has revealed to us by His entire word. 

“God is love” in Greek is, “Theos agape estin”. “Love” in the English language is defined as: “an intense feeling of deep affection.” The English language also only has one word for “love” and it gets significantly overused. For instance, I say things like, “I love the Lord”; “I love my husband and kids”; “I love homeschooling”; “I love my church, and I love my homeschool co-op.” But I also say things like, “I love hot weather”; “I love shopping for shoes”; “I love my German Shepherd.”

While I immensely enjoy 90 degree days and buying new shoes, I certainly don’t put those things in the same category as my Lord and my family. But I use the word “love” to describe them all, as do most English speakers. The Greek and the Hebrew language are not that way. These Ancient languages have different words for “love” depending on the context and the recipient. For example, romantic “love” in Hebrew is “ohev” and in Greek is “eros”. The Hebrew word for “love” used in the Old Testament is “ahava”, and the Greek word for “love” in the New Testament (as in “God is love”) is “agape.” “Ahava” and “agape” have similar definitions – they are not feelings based, but require action. The root word for “ahava” is “hav” which literally means “to give”.

Accordingly, “to love the Lord with all your heart”, actually means “to give to the Lord all your heart.” It requires action regardless of your feelings or circumstances. Similarly, “agape” in Greek is an unconditional love – you demonstrate your love though action, regardless of your feelings or circumstances.

So when the Bible says, “God is love”, it means God has demonstrated His love for humanity, not contingent on our actions, but solely because He is faithful and will do what He says He is going to do. How did He demonstrate His love for humanity? By suffering and dying on the cross. Jesus Christ laid down His life to be the final sacrifice for our sins, and ONLY through faith in Him can we be redeemed and forgiven of our sins (1 John 1:9, Ephesians 1:2, Acts 10:43, Romans 6:23). So “God is love” certainly is not what the world thinks it means, nor is it even what the majority of modern-day churches says it means.

It does not mean “God loves me, and He made me this way”, “God loves me and just wants me to be happy”, “God loves me so I’m free from following the law”, “God loves me, so Jesus will always forgive me”, or any other commonly uttered heresy, used as a justification for one to continue living in one’s sin. Rather, “God is love” means that despite our wretched, wicked, sinful nature, the thrice Holy God chose to offer us salvation through faith in His Holy Son. But we must repent of our sins, put our faith in His Son, and walk according to His ways and His laws. And only then can our salvation be secure in the love of God. 

Tiffany Gustafson 

Share The Gospel - Save The World

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