Love has always existed, not because love itself is eternal, but rather because God is eternal. “God is love.” (1 John 4:8). Because God exists, therefore love exists.
Love is divine in nature, because it comes from God. Therefore, all things that have love must be connected in some manner to God. And anything connected to God must be loving. “Love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8).
Mankind was created by God, in his image, and participated in the divine love through an intimate relationship with God. Yet, this relationship did not last.
Mankind rebelled against their creator and disobeyed his command. This sin resulted in the separation of the Holy God and sinful humanity. This separation produced the loss of life through physical and eternal death. It also produced the loss of divine love. If God is love and love only comes from knowing God by having an intimate relationship with him, then the loss of that relationship with God is the loss of love itself.
Because of sin, mankind could not restore their relationship with God, In fact, their lack of love meant they did not want to restore their relationship with God. Sin had made them loveless. Nevertheless, God had a plan to restore the relationship with humanity. God would provide what was necessary to make mankind love again. God made a promise to save mankind, and all who turned from their sins and believed the promise would be welcome back into relationship with him. Then God put his life and love into people and they turned and believed. This is called regeneration because it gave spiritual life to God’s people. This life also brought love back too, for this spiritual life brings us back into relationship with God. People who were spiritually lifeless and loveless, became filled with life and love and they believed God’s promise that was fulfilled in God the Father sending his Son Jesus to live the perfect life, die the substitutionary death, and rise again in victorious life.
The divine love encompasses both the eternal and temporal. In fact, love is only and truly love when it encompasses both the eternal and temporal.
Love is made up of an eternal aspect. The eternal aspect is primary, dominant, and gives significance to the temporal. Only Christians, united to God through Christ by the Holy Spirit are able to express this divine love. The eternal aspect of love means that we can love beyond that which affects the temporal realm. Eternal love has God as the end and a heaven with him forever as our hope. Eternal love places the eternal realm above the temporal realm. While never denying the importance of temporal realities, it affirms the greater eternal reality. Love that is complete, pursues the eternal over the temporal and sacrifices the temporal for the eternal. Relationship with God is preeminent. A person who loves always pursues relationship with God in everything and puts other people’s relationship with God over every other expression of love. The separation from God by mankind’s sin brought about spiritual and eternal death that made mankind incapable of expressing the eternal aspect of love without God’s intervention.
Love is also made up of a temporal aspect. The temporal aspect is secondary, subservient and gives practical and supportive expressions to eternal love. God shows his love in temporal deeds. Yet all of God’s temporal expressions of love have eternal significance, like the sending of Jesus and his laying down of his life for us. Even temporal expressions like the rain that falls on the just and the unjust are meant to communicate God to mankind, giving it an eternal significance. A temporal love without direct eternal significance is the only aspect of love that a non-Christian can show. Some of these expressions of temporal love can be very amazing, powerful, and sacrificial. The first responder who gives his life for someone. The person who lives their life caring for the sick and poor. The parent who works three jobs to give their children a better life. These should not be minimized. They are inspiringly sacrificial. Yet, the are also simply temporal. As inspiring as they are, human love apart from God only affects the temporal. It leaves the eternal, the infinitely more significant part, untouched. One might rightly call this “love”, because it is an aspect of love. Nevertheless, one might rightly call it “not love”, because it is incomplete, lacking the eternal aspect. In this last sense, the non-Christian cannot love, because he cannot love completely.
The non-Christian, without a relationship with God, cannot express the divine, eternal love. Although they “knew God” they denied God. Non-Christians can however express temporal love. This “love” is not considered love by the Apostle John because it lacks the eternal side which gives it meaning and significance. While temporal love can be sacrificial and selfless in relation to other human beings, it is not this way in relation to God. In God’s eyes, any expression of “love” that is not sourced in him, and therefore complete, is still an expression of rebellious hatred toward him. It is mankind, choosing his own way, even a sacrificial way, apart from God’s glory. It’s mankind living selfishly towards God, their Creator and Sustainer, even while living selflessly toward their fellowman. In this we can see the depths and deceptiveness of mankind’s sinfulness: living selflessly selfish and lovingly loveless.