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Love Letter

John’s first epistle is indeed a love letter.

“For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11, NKJV) 

John’s first epistle is indeed a love letter, not only because it communicates the love of God to us but also because love is a dominant theme. He uses the term “love” over 40 times. He comes at the topic from just about every angle imaginable. 

He began the chapter by speaking of the love of God the Father to us. He has just told us that a distinguishing trait of being born of God is a love for the brethren. Now John tells us just how old is this message of love: “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). 

Love is not just a New Testament message. There are those who will try to set the Old Testament against the New by saying the Old had to do with justice, judgment, and wrath, while the New has to do with mercy, grace, and love. They will even go so far as to say that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and the God of the New Testament is a God of love, as though there were two Gods or that God was mutable. 

A true understanding of the Old Testament will grasp God’s entering into relationship with Israel based on love (Deut. 7:6-9). The commandments to love God and neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40) derive from the Old Testament (Deut. 6:4; Lev. 19:18). It is only because of God’s steadfast covenant love that God abides with His people in their rebellion, infidelity, and idolatry. 

When John says the call to love one another is from “the beginning,” what beginning does he have in mind? He uses the word “beginning” to open his epistle (1:1), referring to the onset of creation as we see in Genesis (Gen. 1:1). He also uses the term to suggest that what he is saying is not part of an addendum but was part of the message from the start (2:7, 13, 14, 24). 

But perhaps the best way to understand beginning comes from what John has just said about Satan who has been associated with sin from the beginning, as long as we have known him from the record of God’s Word. That comports with John’s reference to Cain: “not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12). 

As long as we have been acquainted with Satan, we have seen sin and destruction. As long as we have been familiar with God, we have seen love and benevolence. That’s why John will go on later to assert, “God is love” (4:16). There can be no richer way to say that love is from the beginning because there is God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

In what way is the entire Bible steeped in love?

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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