The Apostle John’s Definition of Love

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By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Second John 1.4-6

Note to the Reader
Generally at the beginning of each month we examine one book from the Bible. We started this month finishing our examination of First John. As of this week, we will begin looking at Second John, as such I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of Second John in conjunction with this article.

The Apostle John’s Definition of Love

Last week we began a new epistle and this week we continue our study of Second John. As mentioned in that article Second John is very brief, having only thirteen verses. In this article we will be looking at two verses and those two verses will reveal John’s emphasis of love.

What Is Love?
If there is a central idea, a key component, to being a disciple of Jesus – it is love. Paul helps define love in First Corinthians Thirteen, and it is probably the most well known description ever offered for love. Paul reveals that no matter the ability that a Christian has, if that ability is carried out without love then the action is empty and unprofitable.1 And Paul makes a Holy Spirit inspired crowning-point statement about love by saying, “Love Never Fails.”2

God has not failed in his love toward humanity, even when humanity pushes against him. God in his loving kindness toward his rebellious children still gave the most precious gift. The most precious gift that any child could receive (especially the rebellious child) is for the father to be willing to forgive his rebellious children through a sacrifice that costs the father everything. The rebel (from the most vile to the most seemingly innocent, every human has rebelled against God in some way) does not deserve the gift; that is why it is a gift. The father so unconditionally loved his rebellious child to still do the very best for them. If that is not a demonstration of love, then what is love? God demonstrates the power of love because love never fails to sacrifice.

Love never fails. Love never fails to give. Love never fails to sacrifice. But there is an additional component to love that seems unique to John. It is this component that we will discuss.

John Defines Love
Before we begin examining the applications of John’s definition of love, let us look at the passage:

     I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
     And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
     And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.3

From these verses of Second John we learn several things. We see that John is imploring, begging, the elect lady (the lady to which John is referring seems to be a symbolic term for a literal church) to love one another. While it is physcologically true that a lady may not truly love her family, it seems inappropriate to draw the conclusion that John is begging a female to love her family, in part because in verse thirteen John states that “the children of your elect sister greet you”. This is why it seems highly probable that John is begging the elect lady to love the other members of the church family. Almost all Christians agree on the concept that we are “to love one another.” But the reality is that love being doled out with partiality still exists today, just as it did in Acts where one group had their widows receive special treatment.4

The one with godly love seems to radiate love – accepting and including others, no matter the other person’s behavior, character, or social class. John’s imploring seems aimed at those of us who do not radiate this kind of love. By John’s statement in verse six, John seems to insinuate that love is more than saying “Hello.” and asking, “How’s it going?” Love is a willing, genuine and actual involvement in the lives of others to the fulfilling of their needs. This is why John says that love is walking after the commandments.

In verse six the word his could seem ambiguous. Does John mean Jesus? Or does John mean God? To answer that question we need refer to verse four where John uses the word Father. So the word his in verse six seems to be specifically referring to God and not to Jesus; therefore John is referring to the Commandments of God. Interestingly, the commandments were upheld and taught by Jesus5 and serve as a mechanism to teach God’s people how to love.6

It would seem that love, as God defines and specifies, is almost contrary to our natural behavior – consider Paul’s statement to Titus that older women are to teach younger women to love.7 Since the situation existed then, then it can exist now meaning – it is possible that one does not know exactly in what ways to love another person. While one can turn to the teachings of Jesus, he is one of many prophets (but certainly the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ) and upheld the instructions found in God’s Word on how to love each other as referenced above.

Second John verse six is just one of many statements from John imploring people to learn and to walk with love.8 It is also interesting to read some of John’s thoughts about God’s commandments in his letter about the Apocolypse.9 Using God’s commandments to learn how to love is not at odds with Jesus10 nor is John and Jesus at odds with Paul, because Paul himself taught that law (God’s commandments) is profitable11 and that love is the fulfillment of God’s Commandments.12

When we realize that Second John is only thirteen verses and three of those thirteen verses13 are referring to God’s commandments (almost 25% of his letter), then John is really emphasizing something of major importance. Knowing that the commandments reveal to us how to walk in and with love, the commandments do not become a burden. It is the instrument by which we learn how to love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbors. Jesus provides soundness, clarity, and beauty to the instrument in a way that no other could ever do, yet the instrument remains a thing written aforetime that was written for our learning.14 May the LORD bless us as we grow in our love for him and one another.

1. “Without love things are vain.” First Corinthians 13.1-3, NASB.
2. “Love Never Fails.” First Corinthians 13.8a, NASB.
3. Second John 1.4-6, NASB.
4. “Widows and special treatment.” Acts 6.1-7, NASB.
5. “God’s commandments upheld and taught by Jesus.” Matthew 19.16-19, NASB.
6. “God’s commandments serve as a mechanism to teach how to love.” Matthew 7.12, NASB.
7. “Older women teaching younger women.” Titus 2.3-5, NASB.
8. “Statements imploring the learning of love.” First John 2.3-5, 3.22-24, 5.1-3, NASB.
9. “John’s thoughts about God’s Commandments.” Revelation 12.17, 14.12, NASB.
10. “Not at odds with Jesus.” John 14.15, 14.21, 15.9-10, NASB.
11. “God commandments are profitable.” First Timothy 1.7-11, Second Timothy 3.15-17, NASB.
12. “Love is fulfillment of God’s commandments.” Romans 13.8, 10; Galatians 5.14, NASB.
13. “Three of John’s thirteen verses.” Second John 1.4-6, NASB.
14. “Thing aforetime for our learning.” Romans 15.4, NASB.