In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us.
We love, because He first loved us.
(1 John 4:10, 19)
My wife is lovely. She has a smile that could light the city of Chicago. I still vividly remember the day, almost 31 years ago, when I held the door open for her into what was then called the CI at Duke University, now called the Alpine something-or-other. I got lost in her beautiful eyes. It seemed to last forever. I can still reconstruct in my imagination the unusual mixture of colors that make up her hazel eyes. I saw every color on that day. (She doesn’t even remember that event.) We have now been married for slightly more than 29 years, and I am constantly impressed by her loveliness, especially her beauty in “the hidden person of the heart.” (1 Peter 3:4) My love for her is a response. I respond to all that is lovely in her. Her beauty, her character, draw out my love for her.
God’s love is not like that. He does not respond to our loveliness. We know that because He’s told us what would constitute loveliness in us. It is not appearance. God is not captivated by a smile or beautiful eyes as I am, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) Instead, to God loveliness is whole-hearted love: love to God with all our heart, strength and mind, and love for our neighbors as ourselves. But God’s love precedes this love. We love, Him and our neighbors, because He first loved us.
God’s love is creative. It creates loveliness in us. Because, “we have come to know and have believed [by the testimony of the Spirit (v. 13) the love God has for us” (v. 16) we abide in love. We genuinely do love God and our neighbors, though imperfectly. If we do not love, we have not come to know God.
So, God’s love always precedes and always creates. It is never a response. It is not a love because; it is a love in spite.
God’s love, though, is similar to mine for my wife in one sense. It is a distinguishing love. I do not love all women the same. I love my wife uniquely. God, too, has set his love uniquely on a people. Why? Because He has set His love on them. No reason other than His own will. It truly is a preceding, creating love. Nevertheless, it is passionate, never-ending, delighting.