The central message of 1 John with respect to love is that brotherly love ("loving the brethren") is the same as loving Yahweh. Or to put it another way, if a man claims to love Yahweh yet hates his brother he is, in fact, a liar. The implication of this is that the quality of force of love is the same on earth as it is in heaven and that our attitude one to another will accurately reflect our relationship with Yahweh. How can this be explained? John tells us that Yahweh is love and that if we really desire to know Yahweh we must first learn to love His creation, the crown of which is man.
Man, of course, cannot love perfectly, but Yahweh can. How does He demonstrate this love? The Epistle tells us that the greatest revelation of Yahweh's love was His sending His only Son Yah'shua (Jesus) to earth in the flesh to die, thus enabling man to live spiritually and physically forever. Without the Son in the flesh, man would forever be consigned to a state of misery in She'ol (Heb.) or Hades (Gk.) without hope of a resurrection to life eternal. In breaking the bands of death (She'ol, Hades) Yahweh's Son enables us to partake of new life in the resurrection and to live such a life as to be prepared for the final Judgement Day. Love, accordingly, to 1 John, is to have confidence in the day of Judgement, and loving one another ensures that we belong to Christ in this life and hence the next. An indication of this love is inner peace. Fear reveals that man lacks this confidence and therefore has not loved as Yahweh would have him love. To be in spiritual torment is to lack love. And yet even when we do love, we only are able to do so because Yahweh loved us first. If Yahweh had not loved us we would not have been able to love either; but Yahweh has loved us, and if we don't love it is because we do not know Yahweh, and vice versa. Believers are therefore given a reliable guideline on how to spot the godly and to know whether they love or not. Many of the heretics, we assume, did not demonstrate this love and therefore were not the children of Elohim (God). A good example of this would be Diotrephes in the Third Epistle of John.
How does 1 John explain how it is that a believer should love his brother? This is not discussed in depth presumably because it was assumed that the believers knew what to love meant. It is here that John's Gospel is more helpful.
The Gospel tells us that to love the brethren is to imitate Christ's life (Jn.14). But he gives further qualifications: loving the brethren is to love Christ (and thus Yahweh-Elohim, the Father). To love Christ is to keep His commandments, and for this purpose the Paraclete (Comforter, Counsellor, Ruach haQodesh/Holy Spirit) is given. The commandments are summarised into two: (1) Love Yahweh-Elohim (God the Father), (2) love your neighbour, which summarise, respectively, the first 4, and last 6, parts of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). To be truly loving, then, is to worship Yahweh in spirit and truth, to avoid any kind of idolatry, to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy, to honour Yahweh's Name, to honour your parents in Him, to flee from murder and adultery, to be honest and chaste, to tell the truth, and to avoid covetousness. And these commandments are themselves amplified in the rest of the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah, of which the Decalogue is itself a summary.
But believers were expected to observe more than the letter of the Law (Torah) as had become the practice amongst the Jews - they were to show genuine affection and love (Heb. chesed, Gk. agapé). This was the mark (love) that would distinguish them from the rest of the world. The word 'love' also implies "caring" (Jn.20:2) and this further implies loving on an on-going basis, not on mere impulse or as an occasional outburst of goodwill. Hate was to be a word that would vanish - the only thing the Christians were to hate was sin itself, but never the sinner. Enemies were to be loved and prayed for (Mt.5:33; Lk.6:27,35).
Thus loving the brethren meant caring for them in spiritual and physical affliction, overlooking their weaknesses by being tolerant. Yet at the same time believers were to be zealous and uncompromising in teaching correct doctrine, opposing false doctrine forcefully yet praying for, and loving, the heretics in the hope that they would return to the truth faith. The Gospel sets forth the principles; the First Epistle shows us the principles in action as the Messianic Community (Church) comes under attack from dissident elements. The Gospel's 'bad guys' were the Jews (Judeans)* - now, in the First Epistle, they are heretics, but the treatment both get is the same. The Messianic Community (Church) thrives on love and in so doing guarantees its unity.
We thus see that the Gospel lays the groundwork for the experience of the Messianic Community (Church) following Christ's death. The idea of love was never intended to be a purely intra-cultural phenomenon - it transcended culture and the First Epistle sees those instructions in daily, dynamic practice.
*The word 'Jew' is a modern word and it is unfortunate that it appears in our English Bible translations. Strictly speaking, a 'Jew' is someone who adheres to the Talmudic Jewish faith who may, or may not, be descended from the original patriarch Judah, son of Jacob. The vast majority of modern Jews are not, but are descended from Ashkenaz, son of Japheth, a non-semitic people, and specifically the mediaeval pagan Khazar nation which was located in the Russian steppes in mediaeval times and which converted to Talmudic (Rabbinical) Judaism. The majority Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews are mostly of this descent whereas the minority Sephardic (Western European) Jews have much closer ties to Judah and Abraham. Of modern Jewry, perhaps no more than 8-10% have any blood connection to Israel but are gentile proselytes to a religion that was rejected by Yahweh after the Cross. A true descendant of Judah (Yehudah) is more properly called a Judahite (as as descendant of Israel is an Israelite, as opposed to a modern 'Israeli'). A better and more accurate term for the 'Jews' in John's Gospel, and the rest of the New Testament, would be a Judean, that is, an inhabitant of the southern Roman province of Judea, which would have included both Judahites, converts to Talmudic Judaism from the gentiles (including forced Greek converts of from the violent Hasmonean period), Idumeans (like Herod), and others. The New Testament contrasts 'Jews' (Judeans) with 'Galilieans' (from the northern province) and Samaria (which lay between the two), both of whom they looked down upon irrespective of their religious professions. Hereafter we shall, as context dictates, refer to the 'Jews' of the Johannine writings as 'Judeans'. It was the Judeans who, for the most part, called for the crucifixion of Yah'shua (Jesus). We therefore make a clear distinction between modern Jewry and the Judeans ('Jews') of the New Testament period. For a fuller discussion of this issue, see NCCG's Messianic Israelite webpage. [8 February 2004]