A Biblical Look At Love (Agape)

By the time that you get this Valentine’s Day is long since gone.  The special flowers, balloons, and cards for the holiday are largely off store shelves.  (*The Valentine’s candy is still there though, and marked down 50%!…Or At Least, So I Hear!…You’re Welcome!*)  However, while the world writes much, sings much, and talks much about love; they largely don’t know what love is, and certainly not what it is in its purest form and highest expression.  The Greek language employs three words to mark differences between the physical love between a husband and wife (eros), the brotherly love we have for family and friends (phileo), and the “God-kind” of love that is sacrificial, unselfish, and extended unconditionally (agape).  There’s no way that I could write all that Scripture says about agape in one newsletter or preach all that the Bible teaches about agape in a single sermon (note: the sermon that goes along with the content of this article was preached on 2-19-20 and is available online at gcmfm.com), but in this month’s newsletter, a time when people perhaps think more about love than normal, we’ll take a biblical look at the subject. (*one more note: the Greek word “agape” is the word translated as “love” in all the passages that follow*)  The first five points speak primarily of God as the One Who loves and Who is love, and the last 3, which we will mention briefly, speak on how love “operates” in the lives of believers.

Point One : True Love Has Its Origins In God –Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 (NASB)… I love (not agape) the Blooming Onion from Outback.  Now we only eat it once, at most twice, per year because the restaurant is a little pricey (and frugality is a Christian virtue!).  I’ve been to other places and they have their version of the appetizer, but none of them quite match up.  There is one original, and all the others are copies of varying lesser degrees…When I tell people that true love, love in its highest form, has its origins in God and cannot fully be known or appreciated apart from a relationship with Christ, I sometimes get skeptical looks.  After all, aren’t there unbelievers who love their spouses, love their kids, love their country, and love their fellow man?  And, of course, aren’t there some non-Christians who in many respects are more loving than some Christians?  Scripture teaches us that man was made in the image and likeness of God.  This image and likeness was shattered by the Fall in the Garden of Eden.  However, by the mercy, providence, and common grace of the Lord, remnants of that image and likeness are still with mankind, even with the unbelieving.  So the godly attributes of justice, righteousness, sin, punishment, and yes love, still linger, to varying degrees, in the thoughts of humanity.  But make no mistake, mankind didn’t invent love, didn’t originate love, and isn’t the source of love.  Any human love, as great as it may seem, is only an imitation of a Blooming Onion (figuratively speaking)!  Any traces of genuine love found among or between or for anyone, even among unbelievers who don’t acknowledge it, is a good gift that comes from God’s almighty hand (James 1:17).

Point Two : True Love Is Sacrificial—“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  John 15:13…How many people have fallen into various temptations and done foolish and ungodly things because someone manipulated them into a behavior with the phrase, “you’ll do it if you love me”?  What the world calls love often involves getting someone to do something for you or scratching their back with the anticipation that they’ll scratch your back sometime in the future.  What the world calls love is often selfish, not sacrificial.  Not so with the love of our Lord.  Jesus, in the midst of being betrayed and knowing that the cross was at hand, followed through with sacrificial love by literally being the sacrifice for sin, not for His sin but for the sins of all of those who would avail themselves of His great offer of forgiveness!

Point Three : True Love Involves Discipline—You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” Hebrews 12:4-6As most of you know, Pastor Shon and I teach math to middle schoolers.  A couple of weeks ago our two families went to Defy, a fun center for kids with trampolines and other amusements.  Our three boys had a grand time along with many other young folks who had come to have some good fun.  While there, Pastor Shon and I happened to see some of our school students among the crowd, some good students and some not-so-good-ones as well.  I won’t mention their names so as to protect the not so innocent.  I looked around trying to see if there were parents or guardians of any kind with these young men.  There weren’t.  Later, I found out (through intel Pastor Shon received) that this group had already been kicked out of a store just down the way for causing trouble and having no attendant adult.  Now, I don’t know what the exact scenarios of these individual kids may be, so in what I’m about to say I don’t mean to be too harsh; but I must confess I turned to my brother and said, “if these were my kids, they’d be getting bread and water underneath their bedroom door, not getting to have a fun evening out!”  You may think that’s terrible to say or think, and maybe it is partially because I’m by no means perfected yet.  However, if you’re a parent and you really love your child, you discipline them.  There are times when it would be easier to let the child do whatever they wish because at least they’d be out of your hair for a while and they wouldn’t “hate” you for at least a minute.  But if you love them, you discipline them.  If you love your friend, your brothers and sisters in Christ, while you don’t seek to nitpick anyone, there are times when you must speak the truth in love if you really love them, even at risk of being misunderstood and rejected.  Our Heavenly Father loves us, and because He loves us in the purest and highest manner, He disciplines us!

Point Four : True Love Must Be Demonstrated—But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8I went to college in Oklahoma.  One of the phrases I learned while in that part of the country was “all hat and no cattle.”  If you’ve never heard that sentiment before, it basically refers to someone who talks a lot, bragging about himself, but he doesn’t do much.  It describes someone who is long on conversation, but short in action.  How many people have told others they love them over and over and over and over again, but in the end it was a waste of otherwise good oxygen?!  True love, the highest love, must be demonstrated.  Jesus not only says He loves us, but He showed us by dying for us, and even dying for us while we were yet sinners.

Point Five : True Love Is The Fulfillment Of The Law—And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’  “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:37-40…I have many times heard people cite Matthew 22:37-40 as an excuse to disregard all kinds of moral dictates and simply say “let’s just all love one another.”  However, these words of our Lord (which He quotes from the Old Testament) actually raise the bar on what most perceive as the law.  There are many people I haven’t stolen from, lied to, or killed, but that doesn’t mean that I love them.  I’ve been attending church services all of my life, I’ve sang countless songs of worship, and probably preached somewhere around 2,000 sermons, but that doesn’t mean I’ve loved God with ALL of my heart, soul, and mind for even a milli-moment.  You see, the law of God isn’t just concerned with external behaviors and words, but with internal affections and motivations.  Only Jesus could fulfill this law.  And He did!  Out of love!  Love for the Father and love for you and me.  He fulfilled the law of love that those who receive His love might be forgiven and free!

Point Six : We Can Only Truly Love Because God Has Truly Loved Us—We love, because He first loved us.  1 John 4:19…God is the One who initiates true love.  We individually, or humanity collectively, can only love the Lord as a response to His love.  We can only truly love others fully because God’s love is in our hearts.  Even unbelievers love to the degree that they do because there’s a residual of God’s love that affects them, even though they may deny His hand in it.

Point Seven : True Love Is A Fruit Of The Spirit—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23…Unfortunately I know more about candy (did I mention Valentine’s candy is on sale for 50% off!) than about fruit.  That being said, I do know some basics about botany.  Why does an orange tree produce an orange?  Because it’s an orange tree.  Why does an apple tree produce an apple?  Because its’s an apple tree.  Why (and how) does a Christian love?  Because genuine believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of the Spirit is love!

Point Eight : A Test Of True Love—Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7…I encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 13, but especially verses 4-7.  Put your name in the place of the word “love” in the verses above and see how you measure up.  I hesitate to put this point out there because there are those who will take this “test” and rate themselves as better than they should, or at least as better than others, and somehow think they can just check these descriptions off of a list.  If that’s what you think then you missed the point.  The idea about this “test” is to see if the fruit of love is in our lives; to know that Jesus is the only Name we could put in those places who would pass; and to encourage us to turn unto the Lord of love and be continually filled with the Spirit whose fruit is love, that we might walk in love more and more as we press towards the mark of the high calling of God that is in Christ Jesus!