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No Greater Love

By David A. DePra

When all of the religious bantering is over, and all of the dust clears, each personís relationship with God comes down to one thing: Love. AGAPE is the Greek for the love of God. Yet it seems as if so few of us even understand the term. What is "agape?"

 

AGAPE is the term used to describe God Himself. John writes, "God IS love." So whatever "agape" means -- that is what God is Ė as to His fundamental nature and character. Thus, we see the importance of knowing what this word means.

 

AGAPE is sometimes translated "charity." It speaks of a self-sacrificial giving of oneís self to another Ė for their betterment. Actually, if we want to know what God means by the word, all we have to do is read I Cor. 13:

 

Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Bears all things, believeth all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Cor. 13:4-7)

 

This is not only a description of AGAPE, but it is a description of the character of God Himself. It describes what is in the heart of God towards us.

 

A Definition of Agape

 

In this day and age of moral compromise, we have redefined almost everything to fit our refusal to be accountable to God, and to each other. Today, love is usually defined as allowing everyone to do as they please, and doing our best to stay out of their way. Those who define love in this way usually do so because THEY want to do as THEY please, and want God to stay out of THEIR way.

 

Godís love is nothing of the sort. Indeed, if God IS love, then whatever AGAPE is must include and maintain everything else God IS: Holy, just, and good. And indeed AGAPE does do that completely.

 

So how might we define AGAPE Ė the love of God? Here is a good suggestion:

 

AGAPE IS BEING UNCONDITIONALLY COMMITTED TO GODíS HIGHEST FOR THE PERSON LOVED, REGARDLESS OF PERSONAL COST TO ME OR TO THEM.

 

If you will notice, this definition puts God, and His will, in the center for each person. Love is not "giving someone their will." Love is "being committed to Godís will" Ė both for myself and for everyone else. In effect, AGAPE stands for God Ė and His plan and purpose -- for each person. And AGAPE is willing to do "whatever it takes" to see Godís will come to pass.

 

Of course, "whatever it takes" will always be within Godís character, plan, and purpose Ė as revealed in scripture. Or to put it more simply, "whatever it takes" will also be within LOVE. Godís highest is never achieved by compromising with the highest. It is achieved by standing for the Truth at all cost.

 

That definition of Godís love is good because it is exactly the way God loves us. God is unconditionally committed to His highest for each of us. He will never compromise with this in any way. He has already paid HIS personal cost to see to it that His highest is possible for us, and will ask us to pay the same price as well.

 

Practically speaking, this means that God will sacrifice whatever is necessary in your life to bring through His purpose. And frankly, we should want Him to. Do we want to forfeit what God has for us, in favor of a temporal satisfaction of some sort?

 

Godís love is so constant and eternal that those who hate Him are going to end up eternally separated from Him. Why? Because God wonít stop loving them, and they wonít stop refusing Him. So in the end, the love of God -- which ought to draw them -- ends up hardening them. It isnít the love thatís the problem. Itís them. If Godís love is unconditionally commitment to Godís highest in a person, then if that person refuses Godís highest, they are refusing Godís love.

 

Love One Another

 

Now, if you will notice, the way God loves us Ė as defined above Ė is the way we are supposed to love each other. In effect, real love will NEVER compromise with the Truth. Real love will NOT say right is wrong, or that wrong is right. Real love will NEVER help you destroy yourself Ė all in the name of being nice, being "tolerant," or under the guise of "religious freedom." Real love will stand for God and His Truth and refuse to be moved. Real love will not take such a stand out of personal pride or agenda. It will take this stand for the sake of Christ in the other person Ė even if that other person hates you for it.

 

When Jesus said, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you," He wasnít kidding. He meant exactly what He said. And since God isnít in the habit of giving commands for the fun of it, we ought to take heed. We need to love in this way.

 

But how? Well, first of all, you and I are wasting our time trying to love each other if we have not seen that God loves US. Consider love to be a river which flows from God, downward to us, and then, out through us to others. This really is how it works. The SOURCE of all love is God. Thus, it is only as I receive Godís love for myself that God can love others through me.

 

So how to you come to possess the love of God? By allowing Love Himself to possess you. As you grow in your surrender to Christ, you grow in your experience of His love for you. And you are then able to love others with that same love.

 

Not Just a Feeling

 

Now, when we talk of love, we are apt to think of it as a "fuzzy feeling." Or make the mistake of thinking that God requires that we LIKE everyone Ė and never have any bad reactions towards the personality of others, or towards what they do. This is NOT what AGAPE is all about Ė although good feeling towards something can be included in real love.

 

Read again the definition of AGAPE. In the final analysis, AGAPE is an UNCONDITIONAL COMMITMENT. It is a RELATIONSHIP word. It is a choice of commitment to God first, and then, because I am committed to God, I am committed to everyone else on the behalf of God. Fuzzy feelings, sentimentality, and emotions, are rather detached from all of this. It is quite possible to love something fully within the love of God, but to be hopping mad at what they are doing Ė because we know that they are hurting themselves or others.

 

God loves in that way. Read the Bible. On the one hand, God says He loves us all. On the other, we have Him being angry, and pouring out His wrath. How can both be true? The same way both can be true for any concerned parent. You love your children, but punish and chastise them Ė because you love them.

 

Love is unconditional commitment for Godís highest for the one loved. Not MY highest. Not THEIR highest. Not anyone elseís highest. But GODíS highest. Of course. Love believes all things, bears all things, hopes all things, and endures all things Ė unto Godís highest for the one loved. What greater commitment could there be?

 

So when you think of love, donít think of personality. Some folks have a more loving personality than others. Some folks come across as loving, and others as a bit formal. But none of this has anything to do with their commitment Ė or lack thereof Ė of love. Is a person absolutely devoted to Jesus Christ Ė in a way that translates into commitment to those around them on HIS behalf? That is love. Not merely the human, emotional stuff we call "love."

 

This IS Love

 

John the apostle, who talks the most about AGAPE, puts love in practical terms. He says,

 

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (I John 5:2-3)

 

Note what John is really saying. He is saying that if I love someone, I am going to want to keep Godís commandments towards them Ė but not out of mere duty. It wonít be a grievous burden for me to do so. I will want to do so because I love them!

 

Anyone of us is capable of keeping rules for the wrong reasons. Lots of Christians keep commands and rules because they think they are going to earn a bigger reward if they do. Others keep rules because they are afraid of what will happen if they donít. Others keep rules and commandments because it pays them to in the way of admiration, pride, furthering an agenda, and making friends. But AGAPE keeps the commandments because a person is absolutely devoted to Jesus Christ Ė and is committed to His highest in everyone else.

 

Obedience is always the outcome of being rightly related to God Ė which speaks of love. But if I am rightly related to God, it is going to result in becoming ever increasingly rightly related to others. You will notice that the first four commandments rightly relate us to God. The last six rightly relate us to each other. In effect, LOVE is not practiced in a vacuum. It is about RELATIONSHIPS.

 

How do I become rightly related to God? I come to Him through Jesus Christ. And if I do, and it is real, I will grow to experience Godís love for me. I can then grow to love others because of Him.

 

How Does God Love?

 

If we want to know how to love, we need only find out how God loves, for He IS love. He is our example. We are, in fact, told that we need to love the way in which God loves. Jesus said:

 

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

 

The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. (Matt. 10:24-25)

 

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. (I Peter 2:21)

 

This tells us that if God does not love all people, then we donít need to love all people. If Christ did not die for all, but for only a select few, then we would likewise be free to refuse to forgive those that God will not forgive. Is a disciple above his master? Will we forgive those whom Christ refused to die for?

 

Five point Calvinism teaches that Jesus did not die for all. God never intended Him to die for all. God never intended to forgive those who are not elected. But if that is true, then I am not required to forgive them either. Nope. Am I to forgive those who God choose not to forgive? Jesus says I am to love as He loves. Cased closed.

 

Of course you see what Iím getting at. Jesus DID die for all. He had to die for all if He died for one. Thatís because God IS love, and by definition, He cannot be a respecter of persons if He is love.

 

Someone who believed in five point Calvinism once suggested that God is under no obligation to save anyone, and so He is free to simply save a few. Thatís fine if we are talking only about legal justice. But we are not. We are talking about LOVE. The Bible says that what God did in the Redemption is THE fundamental expression of His love. Not just one of them. But THE one. When we understand that God is motivated by love, obligation has NOTHING to do with it any longer.

 

Love is not motivated merely by obligation. It is not limited by it. In fact, do you know what the Bible says about love and obligation? It says that love unconditionally obligates us!

 

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another hath fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

 

If I love someone, I voluntarily obligate, or indebt ,myself to them Ė unto Godís highest. I do this voluntarily. This is not merely a facet of love. It IS love. I commit myself to them for Godís highest -- not because I must Ė but because I want to.

 

Because God is love, He has voluntarily given Himself to us through Jesus Christ. And because God IS love, there is no way for Him to give Himself only to some. By definition, this would mean that God loves some, but not others. Impossible. God may not have been under legal obligation to give Himself to anyone, but He has given Himself to all. He has voluntarily put Himself under the obligation or debt. Love can do nothing less.

 

If you discovered that I had two boys who were sick, and I gave medicine to one, but refused to give it to the other, you would be outraged. And you ought to be. Why? Because you would recognize the moral sin I was committing in first, not helping when it was within my power to do so, but secondly, in helping one, but not the other child.

 

What if my answer to this was that I was under no obligation to help either child, so the one I did help was really a matter of me going beyond my obligation Ė of going the extra mile? You would know I was wrong in this. There is something about being able to help, but refusing to help, that is WRONG. It is a moral wrong for human beings. How much more for God.

 

The Love

 

God is for us. Totally FOR us. But once we understand what this means, we see that God cannot and will not help us destroy ourselves. Agape is being committed to GODíS highest for the person loved Ė regardless of cost. Thus, we must allow God to love us on HIS terms, not ours. He simply cannot do it any other way.

 

God has done everything possible to both declare His love for us, and make it possible for us to come back and experience His love. He has given HIMSELF to us. He laid down His life for us, and bore the sin of the world. Once we enter into this reality, we will begin to experience the love of God.

 

Scripture tells us HOW God has most profoundly manifested His love:

 

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

 

But God demonstrates his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:11)

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

 

Now, it is precisely because these verses are so familiar to us that we sometimes lose their impact. The message here is that LOVE is self-sacrificial. LOVE will do anything necessary to save the one loved Ė even unto self-sacrifice. God, who IS love, did exactly that. HE not only gave us salvation. He gave us HIMSELF.

 

Get that. Jesus died for us. We have life through Him. But in the final analysis, Jesus left heaven and became one of us, and gave Himself for us. Indeed, Paul says this very thing in his letter to the Galatians:

 

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

 

This is, of course, the gospel. But have we ever noticed that the FACT that God gave Himself to us through Christ is said to be the ultimate expression of His love? In short, to give oneself for another is the greatest expression of love anyone can have for another.

 

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

 

Human love is a give and take. If you love me, Iíll love you. If you are nice to me, Iíll be nice to you. If you do right to me, Iíll do right towards you. But with the love of God, it is not so. God loves us, even if we donít love Him. God blesses us, even if we donít bless Him. Consequently, if we want to love one another with the love of God, how must it work? Well, it will mean that when you donít love me, I will continue to love you. When you are bad to me, I will be good to you. When you are mean to me, I will do right by you.

 

Can we see what is going on here? Love Ė the agape love of God Ė is never dependent on the one loved. It is dependent on the one loving. The one giving the love continues to LOVE to the complete disregard of the one receiving it. In other words, AGAPE is UNCONDITIONAL and ETERNAL.

 

This is the "kind" of love expressed in the Redemption Ė that God loves us even while we are yet His enemies and sinners against Him. God IS love towards us Ė even when we are at enmity against Him. *

 

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