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Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian perspective.

This page is one of a series examining the definition, function and role of the persons of God within Family theology.


God is Love: Love is God?

It is a reasonably common Family teaching that “Love is God,” which of course is a derivative of the famous verse “God is love”.

1 John 4:8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. NKJV

But is it actually true that “Love is God?” Does it make any difference which way around you put it? What does 1 John say, and how does it apply to us today?

About 1 John

The book of 1 John is an epistle, written by the apostle John, although his name does not appear in the text. It is written to a church that John had direct oversight of. His terms are caring and affectionate. It was most likely written to or from the church in Ephesus.

The church John addressed had had some false teachers, who had recently departed, who appear to have upheld some form of Gnosticism. John wrote to correct several false teachings, which apparently had left some of his congregation confused. These false teachings are each discussed several times throughout the epistle. John does not present a linear argument, as Paul sometimes does, with each point progressing logically to the next point, but 1 John is more of a spiral as he returns again and again to reinforce what he considers most important and to show how each of his points are interconnected.

He addresses  three main topics, presumably to counter the content of the false teaching:

    1. The incarnation; that the man Jesus was the Son of God.
    2. Love for the brethren; that true believers love each other as Christ loved them.
    3. The relationship between sin and being God’s children; true Christians do not habitually sin, but neither are they sinlessly perfect.

Christian Love

The verse, “God is love” is contained within the theme of love for the brethren, which is introduced in 1 John 2:9-11:

9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. NASU

Here, love for one’s brother or sister is a sign that one is “in the Light,” meaning the light of God:

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. NASU

John does not say that love is light or that light is love but that if someone is truly in fellowship with God, then this will inevitably manifest itself in love for his brother. John contrasts this love with ‘hate,’ and indeed in 1 John there are several such extreme contrasts: love and hate, light and darkness, truth and lies, righteousness and sin, children of God the Father and antichrists.

The theme of Christian love continues in chapter three:

1 John 3:11-24

11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.

13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. 19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.


John reminds his readers that he was not telling them anything new; he’d been teaching them this same message since he first met them. He again cites love of the brethren as an inevitable consequences of true faith, it’s how we know that we really are Christians.

John then digs into his topic in a little more detail explaining that he is talking about a giving, self-sacrificing love as exemplified by Christ Himself on the cross:

1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. NIV

The primary example of love is Jesus’ death for us on the cross. John applies that love to the giving of “material possessions” (NIV) to those in need. Now, be careful here. John does not say that loving our brothers is the only requirement for being a Christian, nor does he say that love itself is the substance of Christianity. He says that love will inevitably follow when someone becomes a Christian, and if there is no love, it’s probably because that person is not really a Christian at all. He also makes it clear that we must obey God’s commands, the most important of which is to believe that Jesus Christ is His Son.

John returns to this theme in the next chapter:

1 John 4:7-21

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be  the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.


John reiterates what he said before, that love of the brethren will naturally follow when someone is a true believer, and then extends this, saying that the reason is because “God is love.” He explains again and again that the most perfect manifestation of love was in Christ’s death on the cross: “he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… the Father has sent his Son… he first loved us” (NIV) and urges his readers to have that kind of love: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (NIV).

From the Dictionary:

love (God is love)

agape (noun) (NT:26 )

a purely Biblical and ecclesiastical word [not used by] secular authors

1. affection, good-will, love, benevolence: John 15:13; Rom 13:10; 1 John 4:18.

a. Used of the love of men to men; especially of that love of Christians toward Christians which is enjoined and prompted by their religion, whether the love be viewed as in the soul or as expressed:

b.         Used of the love of men toward God:

c.         Used of the love of God toward men:

d.         Used of the love of God toward Christ:

e.         Used of the love of Christ toward men:

God is wholly love, his nature is summed up in love, 1 John 4:8,16;

(Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)


In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant “love” and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential “love” in them towards the Giver, and a practical “love” towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver.

(Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words)


agapao (verb) NT:25

a. to love, to be full of good-will and exhibit the same: Luke 7:47; 1 John 4:7 f;

b. with the accusative of the person, to have a preference for, wish well to, regard the welfare of:

c. used often in the First Epistle of John of the love of Christians toward one another;

(Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)


To love (in a social or moral sense):



We should note that there are other words often translated ‘love’: phileo, meaning tender affection, and eros, which has to do with sex, and from which we get the English adjective ‘erotic’. Neither of these words are used in this passage.


is (God is love)

esti (verb) NT:2076

third person singular present indicative of NT:1510 (to exist or to be); he (she or it) is; also (with neuter plural) they are:



Derivative of NT:1510

(as a copula) connects the subject with the predicate, where the sentence shows who or what a person or thing is as respects character, nature, disposition, race, power, dignity, greatness, age, etc.

(Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)


These definitions of the word ‘is’ are actually very important. Here is a grammatical discussion of the phrase ‘God is love’ from the author Dr. James White:

Actually, the answer to the whole question seems fairly obvious, even to a first-year Greek student. The third clause of [John] 1.1 is a copulative sentence - that is, it follows the form “The (noun) is (predicate nominative)”. In Greek, one distinguishes the subject of a copulative sentence by which noun has an article in front of it. For example, in 1 John 4:8 we have the last clause reading “God is love.” Now, in Greek this is ho theos agape estin. There are two nominative nouns in this sentence - God (theos) and love (agape). However, the first noun, God, has the article ho before it. This indicates that “God” is the subject of the sentence, and love is the predicate nominative. It would be wrong, then, to translate 1 John 4:8 as “Love is God.” The only way to make the two nouns interchangeable is to either put the article with both nouns, or to not put the article there at all. As long as one has the article and the other does not, one is definitely the subject and the other the predicate. Hence, 1 John 4:8 does not teach that all love is God, nor that God and love are interchangeable things. Rather, the term “love” tells us something about God - it functions almost as an adjective, describing the noun (God) that it modifies.



Love is an attribute of God

From the above we can see that grammatically we just cannot transform the phrase “God is love” into “love is God.” “God is love” means that ‘love’ is one of the attributes of God, it is one of His characteristics. There is no suggestion that ‘love’ is God’s only characteristic, or that ‘love’ and ‘God’ are identical. “God is love” explains what God is like; the noun ‘love’ functions as an adjective, like this: God is a loving God.

John also says that “God is light” (1 John 1:5), but there is no suggestion that ‘God’ and ‘light’ are identical or interchangeable. In fact, to change ‘God is light’ into ‘Light is God’ transforms Christianity into a paganistic worship of the material world similar to the ancient Egyptians, who worshipped the sun and the moon, and so on. “God is light” means ‘God is full of light.’

The Bible also says that God has other attributes or characteristics, in addition to the attribute of love. God is also truth, righteousness, mercy, wisdom, justice, judgement, and more. Yet, and this is an important point, it is wrong to worship any of those attributes in place of worshipping God Himself. We must not, for example, worship “wisdom” because that inevitably leads into the heretical doctrine that all wisdom is divine, and that wisdom should be the goal of everything we do. ‘Wisdom’ in itself is not God, but rather as we draw closer to God the Father, we will find that His wisdom is demonstrated through us. Likewise, truth itself is not the God we should worship, but rather as we learn of God, we will inevitably learn of truth, for He is the source of all truth.

God is love and mercy, but at the same time He is also justice and judgement. His qualities of love and mercy do not mean that evil people may act without fear of judgement, for the Bible warns of the terrors of coming face to face with Almighty God on ‘Judgment Day.’ Christians also will stand before God to account for their actions, words and sins. The point here is that God’s love cannot negate His justice. His mercy cannot negate His righteousness.

Saying that ‘Love is God’ personifies ‘love’ and creates of it a separate entity, whether spiritual as in the ancient pagan gods and goddesses of love, sex and war, or conceptual, meaning that it becomes difficult to reconcile the concept of a God who is love and love alone, with the God of justice, judgement and absolute truth that we also read of in the Bible.


“Love is God”

So, on a practical level, what’s wrong with equating “God is love” with “Love is God,” as is reasonably common in various official Family writings?

If ‘Love is God,’ then all that is done in ‘love’ may be taken to be divinely inspired, or at least divinely condoned. It is a common enough Family expression, that ‘whatever is done in love is right.’

The first problem is that this kind of reasoning means that right and wrong are now justified by personal motives, not by biblical standards. If I have the right motive, then I am right. If I am selfish, I am wrong. This rapidly becomes extremely subjective, as personal motives may or may not be obvious to onlookers. Such subjective reasoning is open to gross misuse, where practically any action may be justified or excused provided one finds a good motive somewhere. I can break any command I want, as long as I do it in love!

Obviously, the Bible does not support this kind of reasoning. The Bible says that God is righteous, that He lays down the rules, and that we sin when we disobey those rules. Therefore, theft is a sin, regardless of what ‘loving’ motives one could find to justify it.

The second problem is that the English word ‘love’ is a very broad term, with a far greater scope than the Greek word has. Someone may ‘love’ his pet, his country, chocolate, his older brother, his parents, his girlfriend and God, without worrying too much that there is one term for these seven different kinds of ‘love’. The Greek word ‘agape’ has a much narrower meaning, as the dictionary excerpts above show.

Third, in the Family, the word ‘love’ has been frequently misapplied to include sex. There are absolutely no sexual connotations in the word John used or elsewhere in 1 John. The Bible does not say that love is manifest in sexual activity; it says that love is manifest in Christ’s atonement on the cross. It is God’s love we are to emulate, not romantic or sexual love.



It is important to note that John also emphasises personal righteousness. He does not indicate that ‘love’ is now the only criterion to bear in mind.

1 John 2:29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness  is born of Him.

1 John 3:7,10

7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;

10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.


In 1 John 3:10 above, there is a distinction made between those who do not practise righteousness and those who do not love their brothers. In other words, if someone loves his brother but does not practise righteousness, he cannot call himself a child of God. The opposite of practicing righteousness is practising lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Righteousness is not defined by personal motives or by what we feel is right, but by what the Bible says is right.

We should also remember that Paul cautioned the believers in Galatia about the dangers of misusing the command to love:

Gal 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. NIV



God is a loving God, of that there is no question. We may be assured of His love, and have experienced the ultimate love possible when He sacrificed His own Son on the cross that we may be saved from our lives of sin. That is how we know that God is love.

However there is no possibility of reversing the sentence to read “Love is God” as this is not possible in the original Greek. The theme of 1 John has nothing to do with such glorification of love itself which borders on paganistic spiritualism or even hedonistic philosophy.

Adhering to the unbiblical doctrine that ‘love is God’ has brought a subjective nature to the principles of right and wrong in the Family. This doctrine is open for misuse and abuse, with very little in the way of boundaries or limits.

God is love, but love is not God.




Strong: Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, 2003, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Seattle, WA.

Thayer: Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, 2003, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Seattle, WA.

Vine: Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, 1985, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN.

Other references:

Fee: How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Gordon D Fee & Douglas Stuart, 2002, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI.

ISBE: ‘I-III John’, International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, WE Raffety,  http://cf.blueletterbible.org/isbe/isbe.cfm?id=5101.

James White: Alpha and Omega Ministries, http://aomin.org/




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