There may be no more important verse in all of the scriptures than this one. It lays the foundation for how everything else lines up. It reminds us that the only way we can truly love God is to be completely captured and transformed by his love first. Our love for God can never precede the reality (and experience) of our being loved by God. For we can only love God—and others, for that matter—in direct proportion to how well we understand and experience the depths of being loved by him. That is how our lives—and our souls—are designed to function. We love because he first loved us; not, God loves us because we first loved him. All too often we get it backwards. Being loved always has to come first, otherwise we have no genuine love to offer others—only our desperate need to be loved.
Which begs the question: Do I love God because I have first been seized by the power of his Great Affection? Do I love him because I am should, or do I love him because I do? Is his love the driving force behind my life? Is is—as J. B. Phillips once beautifully said—the “springboard of all my actions?” Is his love the reason for my obedience? Is his love the motivation for my service? Is it the fuel for my ministry?
We cannot start with loving God; we must start with being loved by God. Until we begin to understand how deeply we are loved, we will never be able to love God in the way—and with the passion—he desires to be loved. And we can never love others in a free, unconditional way.