God is Love
According to the Christian faith “the greatest virtue is love” (1 Cor 13.13). Love is the “fulfilling of the law” of God (Rom 13.10). For God Himself is Love.
Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.
He who does not love does not know God; for 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 loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His own Spirit.
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the World. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.
We love, because He first loved us (1 Jn 4.7–19).
In these inspired words of the beloved Apostle John, one sees that man’s communion with God, his entire spiritual life, is expressed in love. Where there is no love, God is absent and there is no spiritual life. Where love is, God is, and all righteousness.
Man’s love has its origin in God. God’s love always comes first. Men are to love God and one another because God Himself has loved first.
God’s love is shown in the creation and salvation of the world in Christ and the Holy Spirit. All things were made by, in and for Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the “Son of His love” (Col 1.13–17; Jn 1.1–3; Heb 1.2).
When the world became sinful and dead, “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son . . . not to condemn the world, but to save the world” (Jn 3.16, 12.47).
But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5.8). But when the goodness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that we might be made righteous by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life (Titus 3.4–7).
God’s love for man and His world in Christ is given in the Holy Spirit. This love is the first and greatest “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5.22), “for God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5.5).
In the spiritual tradition of the Church, the aim of life as the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit” is expressed most perfectly in love (cf. Saint Macarius of Egypt, 4th c., Spiritual Homilies; Saint Seraphim of Sarov, 19th c., Conversation with N. Molovilov). Indeed, the Holy Spirit Himself is identified with God’s love by the saints, as witnessed in the writings of St Simeon the New Theologian.
O Holy Love [i.e., the Holy Spirit of God], he who knows you not has never tasted the sweetness of your mercies which only living experience can give us. But he who has known you, or who has been known by you, can never have even the smallest doubt. For you are the fulfillment of the law, you who fills, burns, inflames, embraces my heart with a measureless love. You are the teacher of the prophets, the offspring of the apostles, the strength of the martyrs, the inspiration of the fathers and masters, the perfecting of all the saints. Only you, O Love, prepare even me for the true service of God (Saint Simeon the New Theologian, 11th c, Homily 53).
Thus God who is Love enters into union with man through the Son of His love by the Spirit of love. To live in this divine love is the spiritual life.
The first definition of love as agape is love as the action of perfect goodness for the sake of the other. This is the most basic meaning of love: to do everything possible for the well-being of others. God Himself has this love as the very content of His being and life, for “God is agape.” It is with this love that spiritual persons must love first of all.
The second definition of love as eros is love for the sake of union with the other. Erotic love is no sin when it is free from sinful passions. It can be the utterly pure desire for communion with the other, including God. All spiritual writers have insisted that such love should exist between God and man as the pattern for all erotic love in the world between husband and wife (See Sexuality, Marriage, and Family). Thus the mystical writers and spiritual fathers have used the Old Testament’s Song of Songs as the poetic image of God’s love for man and man’s love for God (Philo the Jew, Gregory of Nyssa, Bernard of Clairvaux, John of the Cross, Richard Rolle in England, et al.). Indeed the prophets have used the image of erotic love in explaining the Lord’s relation with Israel (Is 54; Jer 2–3,31; Ezek 16; Hos). And Saint Paul uses this image for Christ’s love of the Church (Eph 6). In the scriptures, the union of man with the Lord in the Kingdom of God is primarily revealed in the image of eros (Mt 22, Rev 19–22).
. . . for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Rev 19.7–8).
“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21.9).
The third type of love is friendship—phila. This also should exist between man and God. Man has no greater friend than God, and God Himself wants to be man’s friend. According to the scriptures, the very purpose of the coming of Christ was to dispel all enmity between God and man, and to establish the co-working of Creator and creature in the fellowship of friendship.
Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex 33.11).
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants [or slaves], for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you (Jn 15: 13–15).
So it is that love as goodness, love as union, love as friendship are all to be found in God and man, between God and man, and between human beings. There is no form of true love which lays outside the realm of the spiritual life.