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Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews write,
1 John 4:19 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
19 We love because he first loved us.
We love because he first loved us. Our devotion to God is inspired by love. (1 John 4:10, 19) The Bible urges us: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) We show that we love God by what we say and also by what we do. This is similar to the husband and wife who truly love each other, so our love for God drives us to dedicate ourselves to him. How is it that God “first loved us”? The apostle Paul said: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) By making that extraordinary sacrifice, offering His Son as the ransom for those who believe in Him, God has displayed the true essence of love. It is conveyed by giving, by His selflessness. God’s greathearted act made it possible for his people to come to him to gain hope in a hopeless world from his love, and, in return, they show their love for him.—1 John 4:10.
This passage is susceptible of two explanations; either (1) that the fact that he first loved us is the ground or reason why we love him, or (2) that as a matter of fact we have been brought to love him in consequence of the love which he has manifested towards us, though the real ground of our love may be the excellency of his own character. If the former be the meaning, and if that were the only ground of love, then it would be mere selfishness (comp. Matt. 5:46-47), and it cannot be believed that John meant to teach that that is the only reason for our love to God. It is true, indeed, that that is a proper ground of love, or that we are bound to love God in proportion to the benefits which we have received from his hand; but still, genuine love to God is something which cannot be explained by the mere fact that we have received favors from him. The true, the original ground of love to God is the excellence of his own character, apart from the question of whether we are to be benefited or not. There is that in the Divine nature which a holy being will love, apart from the benefits which he is to receive, and from any thought even of his own destiny. It seems to me, therefore, that John must have meant here, in accordance with the second interpretation suggested above, that the fact that we love God is to be traced to the means which he has used to bring us to himself, but without saying that this is the sole or even the main reason why we love him. It was his love manifested to us by sending his Son to redeem us which will explain the fact that we now love him, but still, the real ground or reason why we love him is the infinite excellence of his own character. It should be added here that many suppose that the Greek words rendered ‘we love’ (ἡμεῖς ἀγαπῶμεν) are not in the indicative, but in the subjunctive; and that this is an exhortation—‘let us love him because he first loved us.’ So the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate read it, which Benson, Grotius, and Bloomfield understood. The main idea would not be essentially different, and it is a proper ground of exhortation to love God because he has loved us, though the highest ground is because his character is infinitely worthy of love.
Daniel L. Akin,
4:19 The sentence once more begins with an emphatic “we” (hēmeis). The comparison is being made between our love for God and God’s love for us. His love is prior. Plummer gives three reasons why this fact is significant:
- Our love owes its origin to God’s love.
- Love is characterized by fear when there is a doubt it will be returned. We have no fear of this since God’s love was prior to ours.
3. Affection can easily flow from a heart filled with gratitude for God’s initiation of love toward us. Yes, we love but only because he loved us first. Remember: he sent his Son to die for you.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 334–335.
 Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 186–187.