Another of my favorite verses:
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10, NKJV.
The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind soul, and strength. And yet, not Paul, but John, tells us, that love is not in this. However we make the rest of 1 John work for us, it all has to jive with this verse, does it not?
Here is the message: love begins with God. NOT that I love God. It is NOT that I love God! The pressure is off! That's right, He doesn't expect me to fulfill this greatest of commandments on my own. He loves first. If not this command, which command does He require? Being a Christian is not about entering a universe full of rules and conditions. All other human society is about fulfilling expectations and rules. Even complete hedonists have their own society of rules and conditions to be a part of the party. Becoming a Christian really primarily means, belief that God first loves us, and sends His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Faith in Christ is a condition in the same way that it is 'required' for you to be at the party in order to enjoy the party. Yes, you have to go. Yes, you have to believe, you have to receive the propitiation. However, couched in the frailties of human language and colored by the human condition, in which we are only used to living under laws and expectations and rules since the time we were infants, it is difficult for us to see what this all means.
Now does this mean that we do not love? We just sit around not loving and being loved by God, it is all a one-way street?
Let's say, hypothetically, that it does. Yes, we just sit around not loving, being completely horrible and self-centered, expecting and hoping that God somehow loves us anyway. Isn't that the way it is anyway? If God expected us to change first, to love first, we have a distinct problem don't we? Have you ever made a resolve that you need to love God more? It doesn't really work does it? You can pretend and pose and talk the talk. At the back of it all is a real irritation with all of the interruption and work that it represents. Life becomes all like a trip to your in-laws when you would rather be fishing or something on a beautiful day. I confess: I am all a sham. No, I do not love God very well, I am quite terrible at it.
So, I would say, yes, it does indeed mean that we do not love. Just settle in and admit it, start there. Until you have worked it out that the first thing is that GOD loves YOU, even YOU, whatever you do, you are quite useless, and worse than useless. Your first thing is to stop posing and start being honest. You don't love God, you don't know where He is, you have other interests and problems, His laws and requirements are all an intrusion into your little party. He knows the real you anyway, He is quite OK with it.
This is the thing to get straight, here is what this is saying. He loves you. HE loves you. He LOVES you. He loves YOU. YOU are the one He loves. Do you get it? Forget about sin and performance and serving and the whole world of all of it. It will come later in the right place and time. HE LOVES YOU. The 'kingdom' of God is all about real honest desire and passion, and it starts with Him. You are the pearl He seeks, the sheep He went to rescue, the long-lost son He longs for. HE ACTUALLY LOVES YOU. This is the beginning. Once you stop all your fake posing and stop whitewashing your loveless dead tomb of a heart and let this just soak in, you will see it. And then you will see that this is actually all about love, it is not a demand or a moral requirement.
THEN, you will begin to see that an honest response of love will start to form in you. He loves me, you will say in your heart, He knows everything about me and still He loves. And real affection, real joy, real simple honest delicious love begins to come to you. It is a response to His love, not what he requires but what He longs for!
And this is the context from which to read the rest of 1 John, to understand love in general.