Love has to be the identifying mark of every Christian, because love is the identifying mark of God (1 John 4:8, John 13:35, 1 Cor 13:1-8). John reminds us that love is the thing that marks God’s people out as children of God and children of obedience. He says, ‘We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.’ (1 John 3:14) He tells us that love is involved in practical action, helping those in need (1 John 3:16-18). Love is action, not just feelings!

God’s love is focussed on others – therefore ours should be too. Paul tells us how Christ demonstrated His love: ‘just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ (Eph 5:2) God’s love is so much more than a feeling; it compelled Christ to leave His heavenly home and take on human flesh. There was a practical and outward focus to God’s love. Instead of being content with the love between the persons of the Godhead, God’s love looked at humanity and wanted to bring reconciliation. ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.’ (2 Cor 5:19) He was doing something practical about the problem and now He has entrusted that message of reconciliation to us. Paul says, ‘Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor 5:14-15)

God’s love is not cautious and careful, but extravagant and lavish. It is a holy love, not ignoring sin, but it is also a positive force which is manifested in action. The message of the Gospel is one of God’s reckless love for His people. We have to understand His fierce, jealous, all-consuming love, the love that made Hosea persevere with Gomer, even after she left him and was unfaithful to him, the love that bought her back after adultery and nurtured her. (Hosea 1-3) We have to dip into the passion of the Song of Songs and not flinch from its endearments and fervour. We have to put aside our reticence and our cynicism and our disillusionment and disappointments and come back to the start of it all, back to our first love, back to that place where the love of God melted us. Only then can we hope to follow God’s example of love and live a life of love which people will recognise as not natural but supernatural.