There is a continual theme that pulsates through our culture. The theme is "God is love." The thing that always intrigues me about this idea that God is love is that love gets defined in a way that reflects whatever a person wants. So if I want my god to be loving so that he would never demand anything of me, then that is love. If I want my god to be the kind of god who would never separate someone from him for all eternity, then that is love. If I want the kind of god who just is a feel good, kind, and grandfatherly kind of god, then that is love.
I was reflecting on this while reading the epistle of 1 John a bit ago. This, of course, is the epistle that declares "God is love." I've read the epistle and those words many times before, but for some reason for the first time I stopped and realized that John doesn't just tell us that God is love, but also defines that love. Here's the text:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4
Rather than leaving the definition of what it means to love God up to us, John spells out that God's love reveals itself in sending his Son into the world as a propitiation (see definition below) for our sins. God's love is connected to the sending of his Son into the world. It is a love that compels us to love others, especially those who are fellow believers as John points out.
Love, as it turns out, is not defined however we desire. Love is always connected to Christ. If someone tries to give definition to "God is Love" without this connection they are not being true to the text. Not only so, but God's love far from freeing us to do whatever we wish actually obligates us to follow God's love by loving others. To divorce "God is love" from this obligation to love also brings a failure to the true definition of God is love.
Maybe the next time someone says, "God is love" it might be an interesting conversation to graciously inquire of them where they get their definition. Such an inquiry might open up a wonderful conversation.
This means the turning away of wrath by an offering. It is similar to expiation but expiation does not carry the nuances involving wrath. For the Christian the propitiation was the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. It turned away the wrath of God so that He could pass "over the sins previously committed" (Rom. 3:25). It was the Father who sent the Son to be the propitiation (1 John 4:10) for all (1 John 2:2).