In the October 1999 General Conference, Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke about lessons we can learn from Laman and Lemuel. "Laman and Lemuel's own lack of character kept them from understanding the perfect character of God! No wonder the Prophet Joseph Smith said, 'If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 343). Laman and Lemuel did not realize that a loving God will inevitably be a tutoring Father, who wants His children to be truly happy and to come home. Not understanding God's 'dealings' sufficiently, Laman and Lemuel missed the most important attribute of God's character--His love!" (Ensign, November 1999, p. 7).
Elder Maxwell continues, "Laman and Lemuel did not partake of the tree of life, which is the love of God (see 1 Ne. 11:25). The love of God for His children is most profoundly expressed in His gift of Jesus as our Redeemer: 'God so loved the world, that the gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16). To partake of the love of God is to partake of Jesus' Atonement and the emancipations and joys which it can bring. . . . Nephi, 'had a great knowledge of the goodness . . . of God,' hence Nephi's firm declaration: 'I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things' (1 Ne. 1:1; 11:17). If we have a love of God and know His goodness, we will trust Him, even when we are puzzled or perplexed" (Ensign, November 1999, p. 8).
John, the brother of James, the Apostle who did not taste death, wrote an epistle teaching how love is an attribute of God. So important is love as an attribute that John declared, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). His discussion begins with the prime example of the love of God, the Savior. John states that "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ" (1 John 2:1), and that he paid for "the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2). John teaches us that because of the Savior's great love for us, His brothers and sisters, He fulfilled the law of God through His wondrous atonement.
John, in the Biblical meaning of the word know, then writes, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. . . . But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked" (1 John 2:3-6). The natural consequence of truly coming to know God is the desire to emulate Him, change our nature to resemble Him, and have a close relationship and fellowship with Him, that will extend into the eternities.
While the love of God is shared by all of humanity, those who follow Christ's example and "walk, even as he walked," will not only feel his love, but have that love perfected in them. John declares with soberness, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). When we willingly give up the pride of the world with its bright lights and "things," our hearts can then be filled with the love of God as expressed in the atonement and lifestyle of Christ, and thus we "abideth for ever" (1 John 2:17).
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). In his epistle, John adds, "Whosoever continueth in sin hath not seen him, neither known him. . . . Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin; for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; and he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:6, 9 JST).
Those who come to Christ, giving up the lifestyle of the world to live the humble life of a Christian, come to know Christ, believe Christ, and become born again into a new and eternal life. We are not in rebellion or desire to transgress the law, but strive to obey the law and do the Father’s will. The righteous desires of our heart keep us on the path of love and service to others. As we renew covenants each week during the sacrament, we are cleansed because our heart is right with the Lord and we are purified and “even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
Through our righteous desires, our efforts to follow the Savior, and the sacrament covenant, we do “not continue in sin,” but move forward in righteousness and confidence. And "when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. . . . but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 2:28, 3:2). What a glorious promise as his coming draws near.
How are we then filled with the love of God, the free gift to all those who desire it? We learn of Christ, truly accept his atonement, and desire to be like him. "And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment" (1 John 3:22-23).
We can tell the degree of the love of God in our own life by the strength of our desires to be like him and to love others. "Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8). "He who loveth God love his brother also" (1 John 4:21).
Love is the supreme characteristic of God. True God-like love manifests itself by deeds of kindness and mercy, exhibiting compassion and fellowship free of hatred, anger, jealousy, and mistrust. By manifesting a sense of love toward others we demonstrate that we have fellowship with God and emulate and mirror his love for us.
The Prophet Joseph taught, "Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race" (History of the Church, 4:227).
Perhaps it is fear that keeps us from reaching out to our fellow citizens of the kingdom of God. It takes courage to introduce yourself to someone you don't know before sacrament meeting. It takes courage to teach a class of fourteen year-olds---or a nursery filled with separation anxiety. It takes time and courage to take a meal to a family with illness, or to just listen as someone pours out their soul to you in confidence and trust. It takes courage to put your arm around someone who has struggled in the past and with knowledge of the atonement say, welcome back. It takes courage to care for a family member who faces a health issue or the challenge of old age. It takes courage to face each new day and "trust Him, even when we are puzzled or perplexed" (Elder Maxwell, Ensign, November 1999, p. 8). But then "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18).
The Prophet Joseph also taught, "It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love--show forth our kindness unto all mankind, and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase" (History of the Church, 5:517).
The first epistle of John is a wonderful discourse on coming to know God and the love of God in our lives. John teaches that we are to become full of love, growing to become like God, so that he may receive us as his own. By using his writings as a foundation, along with other scriptural and modern day teachings on faith, hope, and charity, our understanding increases along with our knowledge of the Savior and what we must do to be like him. Thus, we become filled with his love.
Perhaps this great love, enriched through knowledge, is why God is God and why His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, was a God before His life here on earth. As we strive to grow in the Savior's love and to be like Him and the Father, John's words increase in meaning, for "we love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).
Barton Golding, editor