“We love Him because He first loved us.”
We love Him
God’s initiative in love for us stamped love in our spirits. Our ability to love with divine love comes from God, not us. We love because God taught us how to love with divine love. The source of the believer’s love is prior love. We do not love with our anemic love.
The word “Him” does not occur in the oldest manuscripts, so the emphasis is on love generically, “We love because He first loved us.” Thus, this speaks of loving any object, whether God or human beings.
because He first loved us
The word “first” bears the emphasis of this phrase. This word allows us to see the connection to the preceding verses. Fear finds no place in the Christian who matures in God’s love (4:18). Fear of God is incompatible with an understanding of God as the source and initiator of love. Our exercise of love is a product of God’s love.
John emphasizes the continued pattern of love rather than isolated acts of love. Since God loved us once [aorist tense] at the cross, we can go on loving Christians (present tense).
No exercise of love on our part is possible without God having loved us first.
Our love for God and others originates in His love for us. God’s love is the incentive for our love. God loved us at the great cost of sacrificing His Son for us. God loved us first; we loved Him second. He took the initiative. His initiative enabled us to love because He put His love within us. He provided the loving apparatus.
2 Th. 3:5, “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
The omission of love on the human level indicates the absence of love on the divine level. God’s love makes divine love on the human plane possible. All true love is a response to God’s initiative. Our love is not self-originated, for it has a divine origin. God, Himself, gives us the desire to love others. God calls out our love in response to what God has given. Our capacity to love spiritually rests on something greater than our personal power to love. It is the response to God’s perfect love. That is why this kind of love always finds an object.
Our love for fellow Christians validates our love for God. Response to God’s love produces love for others. Think of how cantankerous and cross-grained some Christians are. They will do almost anything to upset us. Yet God loves them as much as He loves us. When we occupy our hearts with His wonderful love toward us, we do not get hung up with obnoxious Christians. God loved us when we were unlovely; we love the unlovely as well.