To know God results in us knowing and experiencing love. To be identified as one who actually knows God, not just knows about God, we look for the evidence of God's love in the individual's life. What we sometimes get a little mixed up is how this love comes about in our lives. To us, we think we "fall into love" or "cultivate" this love. In actuality, God's love is a gift, pure and simple. One which is undeserved, unsolicited, and undeniably all his doing. We learn to love because of the example set for us in his actions toward us - such as his action of providing Christ as a sacrifice for our sins. As with most other learning in life, we learn to love because of what we see "modeled" toward us in terms of God loving us. For us to actually become "like" what we see modeled around us, we have to be in the presence of the one doing the "modeling" of the behavior for a while. We don't just model behavior we see once or twice in passing - it becomes behavior we latch onto because we are exposed to in on repeated occasions. This is why it is important to spend time with our Lord - so we will take on the characteristics he models for us.
My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life. Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we must love each other. (I John 4:7-11 CEV)
You and I receive love in the person of Christ - it is a gift available to us right from the start of this relationship we enter into with him. Yet, it takes time for us to actually "assimilate" this love into our daily practice, doesn't it? The more closely we observe his actions on our behalf, the more we become affected by those actions. The deeper their impact in our lives, the stronger our love will be for him and in turn, for others around us. This is the reality of something theologians refer to as the process of "sanctification". We get transformed into new creatures at the point of saying "yes" to Jesus, but the actual impact on all of our emotions, our behaviors, and our thought patterns comes over time. As we spend time observing God's love toward us, we are impacted by this love. In turn, we will realize a change in thought pattern, or a new behavior emerging. It is the process of "modeled behavior" - we see and experience it, then we begin to replicate what it is we have experienced.
Let me give you an example. When I first entered into church choir some years back, I did so because I love to praise Jesus. I loved the songs which moved me into times of worship and praise, so I wanted to be part of the group which sang these songs. I didn't read music, had no idea what it meant to "find the harmony", and couldn't tell you what an upbeat was for the life of me. The more I hung around with other choir members who had mastered some of these skills, the more I learned about how to find the harmony in the song, where I supposed to come in, and the like. In time, I developed the skills I needed to be a pretty good member of the choir. I couldn't sing solos, but I did okay in a quartet!
What does this have to do with our passage? The first time we come into Christ's love (at the point of saying "yes" to Jesus) we know very little about what his love is really like. It just draws us in - captivating us much like the songs of the choir captivated me. Then it begins to take root - changing our appreciation for his gift a little bit each time we think about it. In much the same way as I was developing an appreciation for hearing the harmonies in the music, God's love is captivating our hearts and beginning to strike chords of well-blended "music" within. In short order, we find ourselves hearing things differently - responding to things in a new way - and bringing forth newly appreciated truth in our lives by the example of our transformed actions.
Love impacts us - then it impacts another. This is simple truth, but worthwhile for us to learn over and over again. I think we have a tendency to expect others to change in the circumstance, when God points us clearly to the actions WE exhibit, the response WE give, and the love WE reveal. This is how God's love works - it changes US, then it touches others. We have to learn the "melody" before we can sing the "harmony". This was something I recognized when I first went into the choir - the importance of the melody. Once I realized what the melody was like, it was easier to identify the harmony. In life's tough moments, the melody is often hard to hear. It is only when we silence ourselves long enough to "pick up on the notes" God is clearly placing in our hearts that we can begin to exemplify his love to those around us. Just sayin!