“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
God is perfect, God is everything, and God is love. We are only able to express love because God did it first—he loved us; with all our imperfections and all our sins, he first loved us. God’s love for us can be summarized very succinctly by one Greek word: agape (agápē). Agape is expressed as sacrificial love that is exercised strictly by choice, the exact nature of the love that God has for us. “God’s love is seen in the gift of his Son, 1 John 4:9…It was an exercise of the divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God himself, Cf. Deut. 7:7, 8.”¹ (Vine, Unger, & White, Jr., 1996). Agape appears numerous times within the New Testament, most notably in the Book of 1 John.
As pictured in Trusha Barner’s article, the bright blue shirts with 1 John 4:19 printed on the back were initially created and used by First Church members working alongside Samaritan’s Purse in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. The team wanted a way to easily identify themselves when assisting with hurricane relief efforts 19 years ago. This year, those same First Church shirts carried the message of 1 John 4:19 to Uganda. As a church, we continue to uphold the message of loving others because God loved us first. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NKJV).
This verse in the same chapter of 1 John demonstrates that love and hate cannot simultaneously exist in the life of a faithful Christian. “And you have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matthew 5:43, NKJV). When Jesus sat with his disciples and delivered the Sermon on the Mount, while he acknowledged the commonly accepted idea of hating our enemies first, Jesus expressed that it would not be so with his followers, whom he invited to love and pray for their enemies instead (Matthew 5:44, NKJV).
I often reflect on C.S. Lewis’s words from his book Mere Christianity, “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did… When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”² Although he doesn’t use the word “enemies” here, I apply Lewis’s same guiding principle to them. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us and spitefully persecute us (Matthew 5:44, NKJV).
How can we make the conscious choice to really love our enemies? Through prayer. Jesus demonstrates his love for his enemies by praying for their forgiveness as he sacrificed himself on the cross for their sins (Luke 23:34, NKJV). There is a powerful prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) called the “Sick Man’s Prayer.” The heart behind it is to pray for someone who hurt you, possibly your enemy, understanding and accepting that they may have done so because they are spiritually sick.
I invite you to recite this whenever you experience the various bedevils Jesus noted in Matthew 5:44 (NKJV). Here is an adaptation from page 67 of Alcoholics Anonymous: God, when a person offends me, help me to remember this is a sick person.
Help me show the same tolerance, pity, and patience that (I) would cheerfully grant a sick friend.
Show me how I can help them.
Save me from being angry.
Thy will be done.³
Now, the question begs to be asked: How can we really love our enemies? Selflessly and by choice, the same way God loves us. Agape. God demonstrates agape, the love he has for us, in John 3:16 (NKJV): “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He did not hesitate to make the ultimate sacrifice solely to allow us the opportunity to be with him in eternity and relinquish our original sin. And thank God his love for us is not performance-based (Romans 5:8, NKJV) because there is nothing we could have done to deserve such a thing.
Make no mistake, this type of love is a choice. God said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NKJV). In The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond brilliantly states that love is Christ’s one secret of the Christian life, “the fulfilling of the law,” and argues that if we love, we are keeping all of God’s commandments.4 So, I urge you to love your enemies the way Jesus did, love because God first loved us, and finally, love because he has commanded us to do so because love conquers all, even hatred.
by Elizabeth Maldonado, Associate Director of Communications
1 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & Whilliam White. (1996). In Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary: Old and New Testament Words
with Topical Index. LOVE (Noun and Verbs) chapter, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
2 Lewis, C.S. (2023). Mere Christianity (revised). HarperCollins US.
3 Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). pg. 67. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.
4 Drummond, H. (2018). The Greatest Thing in the World. Introduction, Forgotten Books.