Unfortunately, the word “love” has gotten so beaten up that is has been cheapened in today’s society. Jerry Tapp, in his book, “God’s Daily Classroom”, says we trivialize the powerful word “love”. He goes on to say that the use of the word “love” has been diluted. We profess our love for inanimate objects, TV shows, movies, and food groups. We love pizza, music, and Milky Way Dark Chocolate candy bars. It’s sad to see how we say “love”, isn’t it?
The apostle Paul is possibly the most influential writer who has ever lived. The 13th chapter of 1st Corinthians is considered by many the greatest chapter that he ever penned. It arguably contains the most quoted verses in the Bible read at most wedding ceremonies. The reason is obvious. In it, Paul addresses the attitude necessary for effective marriage and ministry within the church. The focus: love.
In chapter 12 of 1st Corinthians, Paul spoke of the kinds of spiritual gifts (I will talk about these gifts at a later date) bestowed upon believers in the church. In chapter 14, he talked about the practical function of these gifts. What had happened, (and happens today) is that gossip, arguments, and spiritual pride were defeating the purpose of the local church. There was a remedy, and it was love. Chapter 13 was a strong exhortation for believers to pursue the most tremendous thing of all—love for each other. But what “kind” of love was Paul talking about here, and why is that important for Christians today?
The Greek word “agape” was not commonly used before Christians like Paul chose it to express this particular Christian virtue. Prior to this form of love, “philia” was regularly used to mean the love between friends and family. “Eros” was used to describe the passion between lovers. “Storge” was used to express the affection between children and their parents.
Agape love is different. It represents a love in which the mind analyzes and the will chooses the object to be loved. Unlike “eros” love which is dependent often on emotion, agape love involves the whole person, intellect, emotions, and the will. It is more of an intentionalized act that is the decision of the subject. “Agape” was the word used by Greek-speaking Jews to express the love between God and His people.
The Characteristics of Agape love as written by Paul: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 1) vs. 4 It is patient 2) vs. 4 It is kind 3) vs. 4 It is not envious 4) vs. 4 It does not boast 5) vs. 4 It is not proud 6) vs. 5 It is not rude 7) vs. 5 It is not self-seeking 8) vs. 5 It is not easily angered 9) vs. 5 It keeps no record of wrongs 10) vs. 6 Love does not delight in evil 11) vs. 6 Love rejoices in the truth 12) vs. 7 Love always protects 13) vs.7 Love always trusts 14) vs. 7 Love always hopes 15) vs. 7 Love always perseveres 16) vs. 8 Love never fails. Agape love is “choosing to love”, no matter what. It is not conditional.
The greatest expression ever of God’s agape love was in giving us His Son for us and Jesus denying His divine privileges and giving us eternal life by sacrificing His life for us at Calvary.
If we as believers can chose to love another person who because of circumstances may be difficult to love because “there is no payback” , and be committed to that love, even though the world we live in can’t believe it, that’s a deep expression of what agape love is. “Loving the hard person to love” as they say. Jesus even told us to love our enemies and to pray for them. Wow.
There is a book which I encourage all of you to read. It had a big impact on my life while in medical school and working in northern India. The book is by Malcolm Muggeridge and its title is “Something Beautiful For God”. Malcolm was converted to Christianity because of his exposure to Mother Theresa, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner back around 1980. It talks about Mother Theresa’s mission in India and her work in the slums which exuded Christ’s love. Her main emphasis was that she and her fellow workers strived to treat every human being, even the “poorest of the poor”, like Jesus Christ, and that is something for all of us to try to attain.
Here is one of Mother Theresa’s prayers on Love: “Let there be no pride or vanity in the work. The work is Gods’ work, the poor are Gods’ poor. Put yourself completely under the influences of Jesus , so that He may think His thoughts in your mind, and do His work through your hands, for you will be all-powerful with Him who strengthens you. Let no one ever come to you without going away better and more joyful. Be the living expression of God’s kindness. Give to children, to the poor , to all who suffer and who are lonely, not only your care, but also your heart.”
Another example of agape love is that of my sister, Lin. She will never know the powerful impact that she and her late husband Cliff have had on the hundreds of lives around them. Early to midway through their marriage, after having four children, Cliff suffered a massive stroke from a brainstem hemorrhage in his early forties, leaving him initially clinging for live on a mechanical ventilator.
He lived the next eighteen years of his life in at least five different nursing homes as a prisoner in his own body. Completely paralyzed from the neck down, he could communicate only by moving his eyes up or down. Wheelchair bound and completely disabled, he had to be fed manually for any nutrition. Lin faithfully stood by Cliff all of those eighteen years, making the best out of a very stressful life. There was a cost taking care of Cliff, physically and mentally. Many people would have given up, but not Lin. She raised her four children the best she that she could, and put Cliff’s needs ahead of her own, which heeded an incredible sacrifice day by day. May God bless Cliff today in heaven for his impact for Christ in the world he touched. Lin is an incredible testimony to what agape love IS.
The Bible encourages us to love the people around us with an agape kind of love. Putting the needs of others ahead of our own desires. Loving to love, not expecting a reward for that love. This love comes from God Almighty. It starts with loving God above all else.
What else does the Bible say about agape love?
Loving God– “really loving Him–means living out His commands no matter what the cost.”– from Charles Colson‘s book, Loving God. 1 John 5:3-4 “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” Our we choosing to love God by putting His values ahead of our own? Is He on the throne in your life?
The prime theme of the book of Hosea is on love– this Old Testament book is a love story- real, tragic, and true. Transcending the tale of a young man and his prostitute wife, it tells of God’s love for his people and the response of his bride, Israel. Written by Hosea in 715 BC., he served as a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. Hosea means “salvation”. Just as Hosea’s wife Gomer was unfaithful to him, Israel had been unfaithful to God. In spite of this, God was still willing to forgive, love and restore Israel, just like Hosea. God does the same for us. He “saves us” from ourselves! Thank you, Lord.
Love others, including enemies and neighbors– Matthew 5:44 Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you Matthew 10:42 How much we love God can be measured by how well we treat others. Jesus’ example of giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty child is a good model for unselfish service. Matthew 22:39 Jesus commanded to love your neighbors as you love yourself. (Paul reminds the Galatians of this in Galatians 5:14) Two MUSTS for loving your neighbor. Transformation– be more like Jesus. Compassion. Am I passionate about seeing unsaved friends know Christ? John 13:1-20 Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. By doing this, He shows them the full extent of His love for them, by serving them. He did it to set an example for them (vs. 14). John 13:34-35 Jesus said, “A new command I give you; Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 14:21 Jesus taught His disciples, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” God loves it when we are obedient to His word!
You’ll have joy if you love others– John 15:11 “This is my commandment that you love one another, and your joy will be made full.” I think this verse is inspiring. God rewards us for agaping others by giving us abundant joy. Nice benefit!
God’s agape love is much stronger than your sin– Romans 5:8 While we were still sinners- God sent Jesus Christ to die for us, not because we were good enough, but because He loved us. Whenever you feel uncertain about God’s love for you, remember that He loved you even before you turned to Him. If God loved you when you were in rebellion, He can surely strengthen you, now that you love Him in return. Can anything separate us from the agape love of Christ? Romans 8:35-39 “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Paul was convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to love others the agape way.
Next week: The Irony of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh
Reference: Life Application Bible, NIV version