1 John 4:19-20
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
After John has spent 4 chapters warning the church about false teaching, he teaches them another lesson about something just as dangerous. While the first warning was about what we believe, or what we call "orthodoxy", today he emphasizes right behavior, or "orthopraxy". Let's be clear we don't earn God's love, we can only receive it. And God thanks the first step. John states, "We love because He first loved us". We cannot give true love, until we have experienced it. It is though God's love for us that we learn to love others.
We often love when it is safe, comfortable or mutually rewarding, but God's love reaches out to us even when we were unloveable. We have all seen terrible and hateful people, who have had a complete transformation after experiencing God's love through Christ. We see Jesus does this when he met some of the outcasts from the society. The leper, the prostitute, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector and the rich young ruler were some of types of people Jesus loved. Jesus showed them what God's love looked like, and it was a radical experience for them that changed them forever.
It usually doesn't take long to figure out why some people are so hard to love or so bitter. Sometimes is that they were never given love and so they don't know how to give it. While none of our families are perfect or completely functioning, the degree to which we experienced love in our family will have a bearing on our view of love in this life. Our parent's love for us is meant to be reflective of God's love for us. That is why in stories like the Prodigal Son, the earthly father represents the way God loves us. Though we may stray far from Him, He welcomes us home when we return to him.
Even Jesus says, "If your earthly father knows how to give good gifts to His children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matthew 7, Luke 11) Simply put John says, no one can say I love God, and then hate their brother or sister. This is not possible. We can say we know God, but if it doesn't translate into love for others it is not very convincing, especially to a skeptical world. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 gives us the clearest definition of what God's love is like. In part of that passage he says, "if I have faith that can move mountains but not have love, I am nothing."
Take a minute and think about how you love those around you. Is that reflective of how God loves you? What could change? Take a minute to think about God's love for you. Think about how Jesus suffered on the cross because of how much he loved you as a demonstration of that love. As we truly understand God's unconditional love for us, we can truly love others they way they are supposed to be loved. And we can do what we were made to do.