I've met so many people today who believe that loving others is a good thing within itself. They think that simply loving is a godly attribute, and really the only attribute one should strive for. Hence, they can gauge whether or not they are a good person, or are acceptable to God, based upon that. Now, this is understandable since the Bible tells us to love all over the place; but the problem is that it tells us to love in a certain direction. The phrase in 1 John that tells us that "God is love" does not say, "Love is God," i.e., to love is to be like God or to experience God. The definite article on theos means that God is the subject and agapē is the predicate. Hence, love characterizes God, but love isn't necessarily divine. It's like saying, "All Roses are flowers." But the reverse isn't true, "All flowers are roses." Hence, God is love, but love is not necessarily God.
A failure to understand this is a failure to understand what the Bible is telling us concerning love and its witness to our relationship with God. In the very book that tells us to love as God is love, it also tells us to "not love." In 1 John 2:15-17, John tells us:
Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
In other words, the one who loves his life here, and loves it for the reasons that he loves this self-directed, self-pleasing, existence that is not overshadowed by love for God and the kingdom to come, the love of the Father is not in him. He loves, but not the right things.
What and who we love for what reasons we love them tells us whether we are in communion with God, and therefore, saved by Him, or whether we are damned. Yes, you can be the most loving person on the planet and be damned, having no fellowship with God at all. Let me explain.
Everyone loves. Everyone. Wicked people love themselves. They love their possessions. They love their lives that are in rebellion against God. They love others for their rebellion against God. Hitler loved Eva Braun. I'm sure he loved his parents. I'm sure they saw him as loving. Millions of Nazis certainly did, and they loved him. Nazis loved.
So we see that it is not merely loving possessions that is the problem. It's loving self and it's loving others for the wrong reasons. The question isn't, "Do you love others?" The question is, "Why do you love them?" The question is also, "Who do you love more than others?" The reason why this last question is important is because you love those the most who you gravitate toward. You may convince yourself that you love God's people, but maybe you hang out with and feel your deepest friendships with people who are in rebellion against God. That would not be a good sign, as it is not the love we are told witnesses of our relationship with God.
Notice, we are told that people will know us as Christ's disciples "if we love one another." Who is the "one another"? In the context, it's fellow disciples of Christ, i.e., Christians who are truly Christians. John's point in his epistle as well is that we know we have passed from death into life because we "love the brethren" (3:14), and we know that we love the brethren when "we love God and keep His commandments" (5:2). Hence, loving God and loving fellow Christians who reflect God is what tells us that we have loved in the way the Bible has directed us, and have in fact passed out of death into life.
Now, John isn't telling us something new, as he says himself. He's relating to us what Christ told us, and Christ is relating to us what God said in the Old Testament as well. We are to "love our neighbor as ourselves." Now, unfortunately the term "neighbor" has been misunderstood as everyone in the world, or everyone in your community, etc. But the term really refers to those who are in fellowship with God within the community. In other words, it refers to other believers.
This is further muddied in our world by the command to love our enemies. Christ is referring to fellow members of the community with whom we are at odds, not people who love evil. But even if we apply it this way, it is clear that the love spoken of here is a love that merely tries to do good to even those who are evil, not an actual affection for them because they are evil.
So we see then that loving others doesn't actually tell you that you are doing what is pleasing to God. In fact, if you love others for the wrong reasons, and you love others who are not of God more than those who are, then you are evidencing a hatred toward God and His people, and hence, showing your wickedness, not your goodness.
In fact, let me press you a little further on this. You may love others who do good to you for their good, but not like them for what they believe or say, and that too evidences that you are not of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells His children to do good so that others will see and glorify our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16). If we do this, the reaction then is respect and perhaps love from even those who do not love God.
I've seen this numerous times even in my own life. People love the stuffin's out of you when you do good to them. It's when you open your mouth and convict them with God's message that's the problem. Hence, in the very same pericope, the Lord says,
"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. "Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now, you may think, what's the deal? Will people love me or not? But the point here is that they will not love you for the message you bring. They should love and respect you for the good that you do, but that will end when you open your mouth. Think of Stephen, who all saw as an angel of God, having the wisdom of God with him, and respected as a godly man . . . that is, until he said something that offended them. Then, they wanted to kill him . . . and they did.
Hence, people may love even Christians, but for the wrong reasons. It is not a wrong reason to love someone for the good that they do, but good and truth go together, and divorcing them, and loving one but disliking the other is an evil sort of love. It takes God, who is truth Himself, out of love, and makes love (any kind of love for any kind of person) into God.
So who are your friends? Who do you love the most? Yes, you probably love your family and friends. Who doesn't? Even the wicked do this, as Christ says in His sermon. Love doesn't tell us that your life is a product of God. Only who and what you love tells us that.
So he who loves Christians the most for both their good and truth, loves God; and he who would love others must therefore love God in order to love others. He who loves those who are not of God because he feels most comfortable around those who are like him, has no love for God, as the Scripture tells us. He who loves others apart from the truth, does not love others at all in the way the Scripture directs us, as "love rejoices in the truth" (1 Cor 13:6).
The men who stoned Stephen and the people who killed God's prophets all believed themselves to be loving people of God. They loved their families, their communities, and their religion. They just didn't love God in truth, and so they didn't love His people who spoke it either.
You may not kill a Christian, but do you want to remove them from your life? Shunning is the way societies that do not execute their criminals deal with them instead. It is a replacement for execution. That is why the church shuns so-called believers who persist in rebellion rather than executes them (stand up and take notice, Inquisition). So you may not stone a Christian, but your hatred will be seen in what relationships you choose to have with them and for what reasons. There are more ways to remove a man from your life than the throwing of a rock.
Loving God means loving His people in the truth, and it's that simple. But all love isn't God, and that's why all love isn't necessarily good.