Love! What a word! It is used in so many ways in our society, it is difficult to immediately grasp the meaning as love (agape) used in the New Testament (NT). First John is the one short epistle all Christians should use to seriously examine their own lives to know if they are truly following Jesus. Compared to the other NT epistles, John uses "to know" or "knowing" from two to six times as often, and the word love (agape) from six to 26 times as often, thus making it an ideal epistle for one to examine himself so one can know whether he/she truly loves.
The apostle whom Jesus loved wrote, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 Jn 4:8). That God is love begs us to look at the character of God to understand what is meant by love - agape - that Greek word used about 250 times in the NT. Agape is almost unique to the NT compared to other Greek writings of that period in history. Agape was rarely used, but only as a lofty ideal because the ancients thought no one could really practice it. Perhaps the Greeks unwittingly recognized the flawed human character.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul devoted an entire chapter to the multifaceted character of agape. In admonishing the Corinthian Christians regarding their dispute over the spiritual gifts, he concluded this love chapter stating, "... now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13). That chapter (reveals agape's 17 traits) about which J.W. McGarvey, the 19th century Bible scholar wrote, "has been admired by all ages, but unfortunately practiced by none." Whoa! Yet John wrote, "He who does not love does not know God..." So, can we know God so as to truly love? Again, one must look at God Himself to grasp the depth of this character trait one must strive to develop in order to glorify Jesus in one's own life.
God's gospel in a nutshell gives us a birds-eye view of God as love - "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God's loved prompted Him to give Jesus so people could live eternally with Him. As we consider this agape of God, let's begin with what is God's love, thus what is this giving which is involved in this love?