Love: A Theme in the Books of John

Home Theology Love: A Theme in the Books of John

Throughout the writings of John, we see a consistent theme of love. It is the central figure of Christ who sets the example for us throughout the Johannine writings. Love can be physical, brotherly or from God. The latter two will be discussed here. Our love for one another should consume our lives, and this is demonstrated to us over and over by Jesus Christ. The respect we have for our spouses, authority and the stranger on the street should always reflect an outpouring of love. We are commanded to love according to the scriptures, and when we receive Christ we will want to love. The feeling will also compel us to want to serve others as we have been served, and we will want to love others, as we have been loved. The writings of John are consistent on the theme of love, and this paper will reflect the traditional view that John, the son of Zebedee, is the author of both the Gospel of John and the three epistles of John (Scott, 176), and that His writings are the infallible word of God.


There are basically three kinds of love, physical love, brotherly love and love from God. The greatest of these is from God. John 3:16 says that God loved us so much that he sent His one and only son so that we might have eternal life. God wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, and He wants us to love Him as He loves us. In verses 14:21-24 of John, Jesus expresses this thought and states that if you love Him, He will show himself to you. The word love is repeated here, and it also says that the Father and Son will make their home in us. God’s love will manifest itself deeper and deeper if we love Him (Wiersbe, 353). This is echoed in 1 John 4:4, that the One who is in us is greater than the one that is in the world.

Love is in obedience to God and synonymous with the faith. 1 John 4:8 says that whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is the definition of God. John’s writings are infallible on this point and speak to our hearts that we must have this love in us to have God in us, and us in Him.

Brotherly love is not necessarily something with which we are born. This kind of love is defined as compassionate, respectful, honoring, merciful and caring. Jesus gives us several examples of how to share this love as well as the love of Christ. The Gospel of John has numerous stories of Jesus teaching His disciples by loving others. Verse 6 of 2 John says to walk in love in obedience to His commands. This means that if we walk in brotherly love, His love will be revealed, and it is plain that love is expressed through obedience (Stott, 210).


Love for one another is often mistaken as love for only those who are close to you.

Although we may rightly give more love and attention to our family and friends, all people in the world need our love just as much. 3 John 5 expresses John’s praise to Gaius for his faithfulness in what he was doing for his brothers in Christ, even though they were strangers. Christians must always stand together and trust each other. We cannot go out as isolated individuals and take on the devil’s kingdom without brotherly love to protect us (Prince, 92).

John first mentions love in verse 5:42 of his gospel. He is quoting Jesus’ rebuke of the Jewish leaders who claimed to love God but did not have true love in their hearts. Their attitude toward Jesus proved that their love was counterfeit (Wiersbe, 308). Their actions were the very reason that God sent Jesus for us. The world was lacking love, compassion and kindness. There were certainly many good people who truly loved God, but the world so desperately needed someone to show us true love and mercy. The One who showed us how to love was sent by the One who loved us more than we could ever love back.

John is repetitive on the aspect of loving one another for a very good reason. The entire Bible is repetitive on this subject. He cites the story of Cain and Abel in John 3:11-15 to make the point that without the love of Christ, you cannot have the love for your brother that supersedes all love. Love is like a litmus test for a true Christian life. Love changes a person and makes us have a concern for the welfare of others (Mears, 614). One could say that Christian love comes in three distinct stages, a gift, a desire, and ultimately, an act of love.


The ultimate symbol of love for all mankind is the person of Jesus Christ sent to us by a loving Father. The four Gospels are filled with different aspects of the love that Jesus bestowed on the people who walked among them. The perpetuation of His love is evident in the millions of followers who still share His love two thousand years later. Six characteristics of Jesus’ love in the Gospel of John are: a love not quenched by evil, a love tendered by Jesus in the full consciousness of His own exalted powers, a love that transcended the barriers of social classes, an active love, a cleansing love and a constant love (Tenney, 198-200).

In Chapter 15 of John, Jesus offers the vine and branches parable. This is a teaching moment for the disciples where Jesus is sharing His love, just as the Father loved Him. It is important to understand this analogy to understand the power of love in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are part of Him and He is part of us, just as branches relate to the trunk of a plant. Our union with Christ is a living union, so that we may bear fruit; a loving union, so that we may enjoy Him; and a lasting union, so that we need not be afraid (Wiersbe, 355).

The world did not love Jesus or His disciples. Jesus told the disciples in John 15:19 that, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” Jesus taught them that they would face persecution, but they must not succumb to this hatred or worldliness. If they continue to show love to one another and even to those who hate them, the light of Jesus will shine through. In the midst of hatred and anger, Jesus continually taught love and forgiveness.

Of course, the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ is the greatest demonstration of love mankind has ever seen. In John 15:13, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This was told to the disciples at a time when they did not realize Jesus’ words were about to become true. We feel how powerful this statement is knowing that Jesus did in fact give His life for us, but imagine how the disciples felt when they actually witnessed it happening. There was also a dividing line between belief and unbelief at the crucifixion (Tenney, 269). God loved us so much that he died so the unbelievers might believe and have life.


Jesus gave us a command in John 15:12 to “love each other as I have loved you.” That is a pretty tall order knowing the life Jesus lived, the sacrifices He made, the acts of service He performed, and ultimately, His death on the cross. The world is very suspicious of love, looking for an ulterior motive when they see a general act of love and kindness. When a person accepts Christ, they feel so much love that the desire to spread that love is overwhelming. God has shown us love and mercy in so many ways, especially to those who are in misery or distress, irrespective of their deserts (Enns, 195). 1 John 3:11 is a reminder from John to us that this command to love one another is not a new one but an old command that is consistent throughout the bible.

Gaius, the recipient of John’s third epistle, is offered praise for his devotion and servanthood. He is an excellent example of one who obeyed God’s command to love one another, and this is shown because of the testimonies of the brothers he helped. God’s love is a contagious love and Gaius spread this love in such a way that he made an impact on those he helped.


John 13:1-17 tells one of the most amazing stories in the bible, Jesus kneeling down and washing the feet of His disciples. After all, this was a job for the lowest in the social pecking order. Peter, who was completely shocked by Jesus’ action, questioned Him and received a strong lesson on being a humble servant. Peter’s questions were understandable since the disciples were really nobodies from a social class point of view. But we must understand that Jesus picked men like these to love and make special. Jesus’ love is offered to everyone no matter what their background. We are called to love and serve all men and be faithful to our brother. Although this act of Jesus is more a lesson on humility, it is love for your Christian brother that is expressed in this act of service.

1 John 3:16-20 offers us a definition of God’s love. Particularly, verse 17 speaks to us about serving our brother in a time of need. God has all the material possessions one could possibly have, and He is willing to sacrifice everything because he loves us.

God only asks us to give a tenth of our money, a few hours of our time, or more importantly to serve our brother in a time of need. The essence of love is self-sacrifice, which has been perfectly manifested in Christ and should characterize the lives of his followers ( Stott, 146). How many people have come to know Christ because another Christian loved them so much that they were willing to serve them in a time of need? It can be stated as absolute truth that serving with the love of Christ will save lives and win hearts for eternity.

God does not ask us to die for anyone; He sent His own son for that. He commands us to love others and serve them just as we have been served. He wants us to be light in someone else’s darkness. Light is a popular term in Johannine writings. Jesus is the light of the world and gives both spiritual light and physical light (Enns, 137). We should wake up every morning and think of a way in which we can be a blessing to someone. We all have someone in our family, at work or maybe even at church who is in darkness, for which we can offer light through Jesus Christ. This is a servant’s heart and one of the main messages that John consistently shares in his writings.


John was trained to believe that no sin was as heinous as blasphemy, but he could not help seeing Jesus’ attributes and desired to be in fellowship with Him because he felt His love (Dods, 419). Jesus’ love is enduring and contagious, and this is evident in the writings of John. Four aspects of Jesus’ command to love one another are sacrifice, intimacy, initiative and productiveness (Tenney, 229-230). Jesus’ love is meant to be contagious and meaningful. Jesus’ love may mean letting go of something, giving something or sharing something. Jesus’ love enables us to do great things that would ordinarily be impossible. 1 John 2:5 says that if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in Him, and this is how we know we are in Him. We are not complete without His love.


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  2. Mears, Henrietta C. What the Bible is all About. Gospel Light Publications, 1983.
  3. Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1. Chariot Victor Publishing, 1989.
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  7. Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Moody Press, 1989.
  8. Scott, C.E., and others. John Apostle, Evangelist and Prophet. James Nesbit & Co., Limited, 1909.
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