Our love for God must be a love that grows. Because without true love, there is no true knowledge of God. As J.I. Packer wrote, there is all the difference in the world between knowing about God and knowing God. The presence or absence of love makes the difference. An atheist professor of theology might know far more about God than many Christians do, but because he doesn’t love God, he doesn’t know God at all.
When the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13, he wasn’t composing a sonnet or a ballad on the theme of “love” for the Corinthians to admire. He was doing quite the opposite: reproaching the Corinthians severely for the evident lack of love that they were displaying. Yet the result is one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible, one that is frequently read at weddings and funerals and on other occasions. It is no wonder that Jonathan Edwards (1703–58), in his sublime treatment of this chapter in sixteen sermons, Charity and Its Fruits, expounded on love in his final sermon, “Heaven, a World of Love.”
What is love? The clear answer from the Bible is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). There is no true love in the universe except the love that has its source in God. Our love for God, our love for other people, whether in family, church, among friends or elsewhere, has its origin in the God who is love.
If God had never created anything, He alone would exist. But in fact, God does create, and into this vast space God creates or enables the creation of all kinds of objects—jewels, crystals, kaleidoscopes, lenses, prisms, mirrors, stained glass windows—that reflect and spread and scatter the light that comes from Him who is light with all the colors of the rainbow. Now we have a universe that is ablaze with light, but the source of that light is God alone.
Now substitute “love” for “light.” God is love, God is the only source of true love, but that love is emitted and radiated to all His creatures, who should reflect that love back to Him and to one another. This true love has certain hallmarks and characteristics that mark it out as genuine. We’ll look at three of them.
“Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:8). Love must be eternal because God Himself is eternal. God cannot fade, wither, perish, or die; therefore, neither can true love.
Here is a reality that we must all recognize: the need and longing for eternal love is found in every human heart. We all long to love and to be loved, with a love that will never end. Not only has God put eternity into every human heart, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3:11; more poignantly, He has put the yearning for eternal love into every human heart.
What would eternity be without love? It would be eternal misery. And is love truly love if it is anything less than eternal? Try this: make a list of books, films, poems—but perhaps especially songs, of all genres—that have the word “love” combined with words such as “eternal,” “everlasting,” and “undying.” I can guarantee you that it won’t be a short list.
This points to the certain reality that we have all been created for relationship, created to love and to be loved. The God who is Himself an eternal loving Trinitarian fellowship of persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—created a man and immediately said about him, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). So God created a companion for the man, a fellow being, so that each could love and be loved. This need finds expression in marriage, but community is not restricted to marriage. We are all created to relate to others, and to relate to God, in love.