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Because He First Loved Us?

A Short Commentary On 1 John 4:19

by Dr. Eitan Bar
3 minutes read

According to 1 John 4:19, “We love because God first loved us.” So, if you wait for your enemy to love on you first before you are willing to love on them, and the same goes for them, when will you ever meet?

The Gentiles were well aware of the God of Israel; He was the Lord of Hosts, the one who devastated the mighty Egyptian empire in one week. This was a God to be revered for His power, not trifled with. To the Gentiles, the God of Israel seemed like a formidable adversary, a great enemy. So, how could this God show the Gentiles that He did not hate them or view them as enemies (unless they threatened His Chosen People)? Paul provides a clear answer: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Our capacity to understand Love, know It, and emulate It directly results from God’s prior and initiating love for us.

The analogy of an infant learning behavior from its parents helps illustrate this: just as children observe and mimic their parents, humans, too, learn to love by experiencing and learning God’s love. This divine love is not passive; it is demonstrated through God’s active engagement with humanity. Throughout the

Especially through Jesus, but also through the entire Bible narrative, God’s interactions with His people—ranging from acts of mercy and deliverance to the provision of laws and teachings—display His loving character, which serves as a model for human conduct.

The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly serves as a powerful metaphor for being born again, shedding the primal instincts of self-centeredness and survival that characterize our initial, earthly existence. Like the caterpillar, which is solely focused on consumption and growth, a person driven by primal instincts lives a life centered on self-preservation and immediate needs. However, the process of being born again is akin to the caterpillar’s metamorphosis, emerging from the cocoon as a butterfly, symbolizing a new creation that has matured to understand the deeper essence of life—love. This transformation reflects a shift from a life dominated by self-interest to one enriched by the understanding and practice of sacrificial love, mirroring spiritual rebirth and growth into a Christ-like nature.

Once it’s born, the butterfly’s emergence from the chrysalis, shedding its former life as a caterpillar, parallels the biblical teaching that believers become new creations in Christ. The old life, marked by primal instincts and sin, is left behind, and a new life, centered on love and spiritual growth, begins (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Therefore, learning to love is a sobering process involving a gradual shift from self-centeredness to a more altruistic way of being (Romans 12:2). It’s a new way of viewing life. This transformation is rooted in the diminishing of ego and an increased focus on the well-being of others. It is a spiritual evolution facilitated by the Holy Spirit, where love becomes less about self-satisfaction and more about the genuine desire to benefit and uplift others.

The manifestation of such divine love reached its zenith in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus embodied perfect love in His teachings, standing for truth, and especially in His actions in loving others—most notably, through His sacrificial death on the cross. This act of love was not due to any deficit within Himself but was entirely for the sake of humanity’s redemption. Jesus’s life thus serves as the ultimate model for Christian love, demonstrating that true love is sacrificial and oriented towards the good of others.

In practical terms, this teaching has profound implications for our lives today. The knowledge that God loves us unconditionally provides us with a secure foundation that enables us to venture into our own expressions of love without fear. Fear often restricts our ability to love fully because it ties our actions to anxiety about outcomes or reciprocation. However, when our confidence is rooted in the steadfast love of God—who loves us irrespective of our flaws—we are freed to love others without reservations.

This assurance invites us to love not just in safe and comfortable ways but radically and sacrificially, just as Jesus did. It challenges us to look beyond our immediate desires and to consider how we might serve those around us—even when it costs us something. In a world rife with conditional and transactional relationships, living out this kind of selfless love is truly countercultural, offering a powerful witness to the transformative love of God.

Telling disabled people, addicts, single mothers, orphans, and the poor about “God’s transforming love,” and then only offering them the chance to sit twice a week for an hour in a nice building listening to nice music and nice concepts and ideas—much like the ancient Greeks—may lead them to feel deceived. However, if we integrate them into our families and support their material and physical needs, we can truly demonstrate God’s love in action. In fact, if we don’t, then it’s something other than the Gospel we are living—religion.

Thus, secure in God’s love, we are empowered to build communities where love is the defining characteristic—communities that reflect Christ’s unconditional and sacrificial love. This is the Christian call to love—a call to transform the world one act of genuine, fearless love at a time.

This article is from my book, “The Theology of Love: Christianity’s Most Underrated Doctrine.

The Theology of Love

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Dr. Eitan Bar
Author, Theologian, Activist