Agape Love – What is it?

Agape Love – What is it?

Agape Love – What is it?

“In Christ Jesus, the most important aspect is faith expressing itself in love… In Christ Jesus, the only thing that really counts is faithful trust as brought to perfection through agape love.’ (Galatians 5:6).

In other words, the most important thing to remember as we follow Jesus is that our trust in Him is activated by our unconditional love; our faithfulness to Christ is made effective by the divine love we show others; our belief in the truth of Christ is energized by our demonstration of God’s love; the divine love that we show others reveals our faith to have a strong pulse of life ; our trust in Jesus gets its exercise through a lifestyle of agape love.

Faith – (Greek, pistis); reliance upon Christ; loyal faithfulness to God; confident belief in the truths of Jesus; earnest trust in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; being firmly persuaded that the Christian way of life is true; the trust in God that finds its complete fulfillment in demonstrating agape love; that kind of belief that is spelled out in its first language of divine love.

Agape Love – Agape love is the supreme of all the loves, and desires the highest good of someone else. Agape is “the highest level of love known to humanity,” (C. S. Lewis), and thus can only come from above with God as its source. Agape love is the ultimate expression of God’s nature, the essence of His character (see Exodus 34). Agape love is not Eros, which is romantic love. It is not Phileo, which is brotherly love. It is not Storge, which is family love. Agape love is the divine love that can only come to us from the heart of God. Agape love is the love shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is truly the source of all these other loves, but it is only agape love that is poured into our hearts from the Holy Spirit, to those who believe in Christ. Agape love is an eternal virtue outlasting all the other virtues (1 Corinthians 13:8). Agape love is the primary fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) Agape love, the sacred love of God, is universal, it is a gift, it is highly active, it is sacrificial, and it is unconditional. Agape was translated into Latin as Caritas, and thus agape has long been translated as Charity.

UNIVERSAL: “For God so agape-loved the world that He gave His only and unique Son, so that everyone who faithfully trusts into Him may have eternal life instead of being utterly destroyed.” (John 3:16). This seems too good to be true. But actually, because of God’s love, it is so good it has to be true. Creator God has an eternal love for all people. He didn’t send his Son for the sake of the privileged or elite. He doesn’t love just those who are religious or pious. God truly loves everyone in His creation, past, present and future; the righteous and the unrighteous; the worthy and the unworthy; the broken and the whole; those who have a lot to offer and those who don’t. He sent His Son for those who would love Him, and those who would hate Him; those who might accept Christ and those who might reject Him; those who would worship Jesus and those who would shout “Crucify Him!”  Not one person in the history of the world has had to qualify for God’s love, to somehow earn God’s love, to be considered worthy of His love. “For God so loved the world…” God took the initiative, God started the whole process of agape love. That kind of universal love is agape love, and is intended to spill out into the world through believers in Him.

A GIFT: For we know how dearly God agape-loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with agape love; God has poured out His agape love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us; We can now experience the endless agape love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!” (Romans 5:5) The most virtuous person on the planet cannot manufacture agape love as if it’s merely a highly esteemed trait. We don’t have it in us. We aren’t born with the ability to show agape love. It is impossible for us to demonstrate agape love on our own, because it can only derive from God, and not from human nature. Agape love is an undeserved gift. Faith in God comes first, even a microscopic faith. And then agape is poured into our hearts as believers, and it then spreads to the world. This divine love being poured into our hearts is meant to be demonstrated to others through acts of mercy, kindness and compassion. This love, this affectionate yearning that others are blessed, spills over from our hearts only after being poured into our hearts through a faithful submission to the Lord. Through the Holy Spirit, agape love can realistically become second nature to us and in us, displacing the old lesser loves in a Christian’s life. Agape love is the means by which God’s divine love may reach the world. Agape love is an eternal virtue, and it lasts forever (1 Cor. 13:8). Agape love is the primary fruit of the Spirit, the divine love offered to us to spread God’s love to others. Love poured into us, love splashed out to others… God’s gift to us that we would offer that gift to others.

UNCONDITIONAL: God’s agape has always been offered to the world unconditionally, so that same divine love is offered to others in the same way. Our love for others is fleshed out by desiring the highest good for someone else. Our love doesn’t expect anything in return, it is a love that gives but doesn’t take. Our love does not seek out those who would somehow be worthy of love, or could earn God’s love. Agape love is that love which is offered to hateful enemies (Matthew 5:43-46), to those who love nothing better than to hurt you and disrespect you. Agape love even desires what’s best for those who hate God. Agape is offered freely, no strings attached, to all made in the image of God. When we love an image-bearer, we are honoring our Creator. Agape love tends to involve, sooner or later, forgiveness.

SACRIFICIAL: Agape love is the ultimate demonstration of unselfishness, of self-denial for the benefit of others. Agape develops the habit of forgetting yourself on purpose. It is the willingness to remain a daily martyr of goodwill, picking up one’s cross so others are blessed. Agape love sometimes is demonstrated at great personal cost. It could even mean giving up something that is rightfully ours so that someone else can receive something he probably hasn’t earned. The clearest and most profound example of sacrificial agape love was the death of the Innocent One, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. He gave up His life for those who didn’t deserve it, which includes all of humanity. “No one has greater agape love than a person who is willing to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).

ACTIVE: Agape love is not theoretical, it is not abstract. It is not just a great idea ripe for discussion. Agape love actually does things, it acts out and demonstrates love. Agape doesn’t merely think about loving others with God’s love, agape fleshes out the love and makes it visible. Agape is filled with genuine empathy and not mere sentimentality. Feelings and emotions have nothing to do with agape love. Agape is an act of the will, a deliberate decision to demonstrate God’s love to others whether they deserve it or not, whether we “feel like it” or not. Agape loves what is best for someone else, which could mean accountability and a proper justice. So sometimes the best thing to do for someone else’s benefit is to stand in their way, and offer a hard word to hear, “speaking the truth in agape love (Ephesians 4:15).”  It could mean mercy, too. That’s why agape love depends on the wisdom of God to discern what is best for someone else. Sometimes agape love is inactive, in the sense of not intervening, and stepping back if it is appropriate. Agape love is literally practical that way, and wants to put into play an imitation of Jesus as He knew when and what to say, what to do. Sometimes agape love appears to be rather inconsistent. We know that the Son of God was completely filled with agape love, and that He went around doing good, touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable, embracing the unclean, accepting those who were rejected, serving those who were unlovely and broken. If one wonders what agape love looks like in action, read the gospels and imitate Jesus. When we need to be reminded of what marks the life a true believer, we fix our eyes on Jesus and witness agape love in the flesh.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Agape-Love each other. Just as I have agape-loved you, you should agape-love each other.” (John 13:34-35).

Full Disclosure: There are many New Testament scholars who believe that, like the original Greek term, agape love and phileos love can overlap in meaning and are relatively synonymous, especially in the Gospel of John. Phileos, brotherly love, is sometimes called agape’s “fraternal twin.” This makes sense to a certain degree, since there could be a fine line between a deep, affectionate brotherly/sisterly love and a sacrificial, unconditional love. At least we can easily say that we can have both kinds of love for the same person. It’s not a stretch to say that the agape and phileos loves are bosom buddies, since Jesus said the Father loves us with a phileos love (John 16:7). Jesus also said that the Father loves Him with a phileos love (John 5:20), and that He loved his best friend Lazarus with a phileos love (John 11:3), not an agape love.  But for the most part, agape seems clearly to be distinctive from the other kinds of love in Scripture. Agape remains divine love that is unconditional, sacrificial, active, universal and a total gift from the heart of God. The fact remains, agape love is the highest form of love that God gives to us and that is intended for others through us. Sometimes the Greek language is not as perfectly clear as we would like it to be, not as precise. The original Greek term of agape was much messier, and included all the kinds of love combined in the term. Sometimes that imprecise history to Greek terms is carried forward, and we’ll just have to continue to trust that we are receiving what God wants for us from the inspired Scripture.