I mentioned before that love is one of the most frequently used content words in the New Testament and that agape love appears over 100 times throughout it. Although 1 Corinthians 13 offers one of the most well-known descriptions of what it means to demonstrate love, there are many other scriptures worth considering in order to fully understand both how God feels and acts towards us and how we should act towards others as bearers of His image.
Matthew 22:36-38 | And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in 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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
One of the earlier references to agape love in the New Testament, at least 3 things can be learned about agape love from this conversation.
1 | Jesus himself asserts its preeminence among the laws, stating that without agape love, the rest of the Law falls flat and ineffective.
2 | Jesus provides for us a hierarchy of love, stating that agape love of God is first and foremost. It can be inferred that without love of God, love of others and adherence to the rest of the Law is an impossibility.
3 | Agape love goes beyond mere feelings; rather, it is includes involvement of the heart, the soul, and the mind. The greek word kardia (heart) reflects the center of our being, where desires, morals, and intention resides. The greek word psyche (soul) reflects each of our unique identities or that which makes us ourselves. The greek word dianoia reflects our understanding, intellect, and thought. Taken together, we see that agape love toward the Father involves our desires, our choices, our personalities, and our intellect. In turn, agape love toward others should involve each of these faculties.
Philippians 2:1-8 | So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my job by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
We see now that we are called, by Jesus himself, to love others the way that God loves. We also understand that this love must be born of our intentions, our personalities, and our thoughts. What then does this look like?
In Philippians, we read more about what agape love looks like in action, using Christ as our example. Key words here are humility and service. These attitudes and actions are vitally important, especially given the climate of today when it comes to embracing our personalities, cherishing knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and living intentionally. Agape love is not only about living within our true selves – it is about living selflessly for others. While we are called to love from our soul, which reflects our individuality and personality, we are also called to live in unity with others. Three times we are called to this: “same mind,” “one accord,” “one mind.” Know yourself, yes; but live for others. Christ is our example here, as the ultimate demonstration of agape love finds itself in his death on a cross. In fact, one could argue that this show of love is even greater given what we know of his heart, soul, and mind. He did not want to die a horrific death (heart), he knew himself and his own power to stop it from happening (soul), and his knowledge exceeded that of each person who wanted him dead (mind); however, with all of this being true, he still chose to humble himself, give himself in service to the world, and die so that we may live. Thus, we see what it means to demonstrate agape love.
John 10:17-18 | For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
John 13:34-35 | A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples.
John 14:221-24 | Whoever has my commandements and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him, and will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. and the word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.
John 15:13 | Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Romans 8:37-39 | No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 5:14 | For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Ephesians 5:1-2 | Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:25 | Husbands, love your lives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (also Col. 3:19)
1 John 3:16-18 | By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 | In Matthew 22:36-38, where God proclaims love as the greatest and precursor to all commandments. Think about some of the most common commandments and laws expressed throughout the Old Testament. How does viewing them through the lens of agape love support this statement?
2 | In Philippians 2:1-8, we read that humility and service are trademarks are living a life of agape love. However, we can also see from Matthew 22 that living this lifestyle could come into conflict with our natural predispositions. Think of a time that living in accordance with your own desires, personality, and mind could have prevented you from displaying agape love to someone.
3 | There are nearly endless needs in the world and countless in your direct community. It would be impossible to give yourself in service to each need. How do you live within the tension that is forfeiting yourself to humbly serve others and considering needs and your ability to aid practically while continuing to maintain a lifestyle that is spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy?
4 | With your answer to the last question in mind, where do you see excuses being made? In contrast, where do you see a need for you to step back and nurture yourself? Do you think both things can be true while still living a life filled with agape love? Use examples from Jesus’s own life on earth as a guide.