Have you ever had a teacher who liked to emphasize a lesson by repeating it over and over? After a while, you feel like shouting, “All right! We get the point!” By now in 1 John, we might be tempted to shout the same thing— but the repetition of these themes in today’s verses proves just how important this lesson is.
First, we learn that our love is grounded in God’s primary love for us: “We love because he first loved us” (4:19). This is the foundation of all of Scripture’s teaching on love. We do not love in our own strength, nor do we love in order to gain God’s love. The sequence is important: God loved us first; as a result, we respond with love in return.
Second, love for God cannot be expressed in the abstract. Claims to love God must be accompanied by actions of love toward other Christians. Although we cannot see God, our love for Him must be expressed by loving our brothers and sisters whom we can see. This is why Scripture proclaims: “Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (4:20).
Finally, love for God requires obedience to His commands. Mere lip service is not enough because, as Scripture says, “this is love for God: to keep his commands” (5:3). Earlier, we are told exactly what that means: “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister” (4:21). If we are serious about loving God, we will embody that love among our family in Christ. His commands, we are told, are “not burdensome” (5:3); that is, the Christian life is not a long list of onerous regulations. It really boils down to one thing: loving God by loving others.