7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 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. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
Any parent—or at least those recognized as good parents—knows that to love their children does not mean we give them whatever they want. Sometimes we give them things they don’t want, like the nutritious food instead of the snack. Or, worse yet, medicine. We don’t do whatever they want, but we do what’s best for them in a given situation, because we love them.
The same is true of God’s love for us. And it should be true of our love for others.
First of all, in this passage John shows us that the standard of love is God’s love: “not that we loved God, but that He loved us, (v. 10).” And God’s example is that genuine love initiates. It does not wait for the object to ask to be loved or, in our case, to become worthy of love. God first loved us. He started it, not us.
Secondly, true love intensifies when the beloved is in danger. God loved us enough to send “His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (v. 10),” to turn aside God’s wrath for sin and restore our relationship with Him. We did not fully know the scope of our problem, and even if we had, we would have rejected His solution. But that did not stop Him from loving us, from dying for us, to save us.
Having told us what love is, John tells us three times in this short passage to love one another (v. 7, 11, 12). Love to what extent? John says the reason Jesus came into the world to give us life (v. 9), and salvation (v. 14). Our love for our neighbors ought to be sacrificial, too, and with the hope of bringing them to new life in Christ. We don’t always give people what they want, but what they need. We love them enough to share the hope of Christ. And they might reject us or our message (3:13). But we don’t do it for acceptance. We do it because we love them. We know that we should also look after material needs (3:16-17), but that is in addition to supplying people’s most profound need, the saving love of God in Christ.