Living on planet Earth, with all its noise, bustle and opinions, it is easy for what really matters to slide behind the din. Maybe that is one of the advantages of my time up here in the Angel Court. The stark reality of everything God’s word says is just so clearly obvious here around me, as angels and demons fight for their respective leader until the end. They don’t fight up here (usually). Well, demons fight each other often, and anywhere, I hear. But the real battleground is the din-filled planet below that I call my home, for now anyway.
The word “Christian” means “little Christ”, and was originally applied to the disciples, the followers of Jesus as a label of scorn, of contempt. Well, not any more, for me, anyway. A “little Christ” is what I want the world to see in me, of me. How do I do that? How do I show that I am a little Christ, and that Christ Himself has so penetrated my life, just like a watermark on a sheet of paper; the watermark cannot be removed without ruining the paper. I want Christ to be in me like that!
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NASB)
Jesus said that. The watermark of the Christian, well the Christian that is trying to follow Jesus, and so is committed to being His disciple, that watermark is this four letter, very abused and misunderstood word “love.” Most attempts at defining this word end up describing what love is like, what love does, using the word “love” in some way. Maybe this is primarily because the word “love” is often used, explained in this manner in the New Testament. Or maybe, it is because we have no clue… The meaning of this word in secular Greek is barely helpful, because this is one word that, well the work of God in Jesus mushroomed the meaning of this word into so much more. And the far too generic English word “love” rapidly dilutes any real meaning in our minds. I wonder sometimes if we should just come up with a new English word for this concept. Well, the New Testament is the best source for what this word “love” means.
The focus of this entry is the amazing word “agape”; the root for this is pronounced like the title above suggests, “agapa-oh”. Including the actual Greek letters for this word would have been nice, but understanding exactly which word I am referring to should be clear. Rather than trying to define this word contextually, which is the usual approach, I have arrived at the following analytic definition for agapao, working through various attempts over decades of study of the Bible, in the Greek especially.
Agapao: To do what is best for the object (of our love), regardless of the personal cost.
This analytic definition includes the following crucial aspects:
— Do what is best: The focus of Agapao is on the object, on their needs. The concept “best” itself absolutely must be understood as ultimately from God’s perspective. Any other perspective is not for their best. Still, Agapao involves us doing what we can to meet their real needs, to do what is truly best for them.
— For the object: Agapao always has an object. You cannot have Agapao. You cannot Agapao only by yourself. You can only Agapao someone else.
— Regardless of the personal cost: Agapao can only exists where all personal (our) limits to giving have been removed. Agapao exists where we have put ourselves aside for the needs of the other.
This short analytical definition is the Greek word Agapao at it’s root meaning; what Agapao love actually is. It explains why all the other uses of this word in the New Testamant mean what they do. You can easily check this out yourself.
And we need to explain the ‘object’ part a little more. Agape love as used in the New Testamant ALWAYS has an object, the object of that love. Sometimes it is us, sometimes it is one another, sometimes it is God Himself. Each verse where this word is used should easily clarify that.
Taking this definition, we can do a test-fit on a number of amazing passages in the New Testament where Agapao or a derivative is used.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but will have eternal life.”
The Person loving is God Himself. The object of His love in this verse is the world, which can easily be extrapolated down to just one person (me? you?), if that was all the world contained. The “best” for us was God sending the only perfect sacrifice to rescue us. John’s point? God Himself spared no expense when He gave a sacrifice to ransom people back to Himself. God gave the very best, His own Son. Imagine God setting aside His own personal limits to give each of us exactly what we needed; the sacrificial death of His own Son… That is Agapao, the word used in this verse.
Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.”
Jesus Christ our Saviour, He loves His Church! How do we know that? He gave everything, He gave His own life! Further explaining Agapao used here, the Person loving is Jesus Christ Himself. The object of His love is the Church, Believers in Jesus Christ. Jesus willingly gave everything and offered his own life for his bride, the Church. This is amazing, and the application of this same picture back to husbands is astounding.
1 Corinthians 13, The love chapter
This amazing chapter uses Agapao in various forms through-out. A careful reading of this chapter, along with a little reflection; this chapter does not define love. It describes how Agapao love responds, how it acts, and in very real-world scenarios at that. If the definition included above is worth anything, then it needs to explain correctly the implications of this amazing chapter. It does.
1 John 4:8 “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
This verse is very sobering. It does not say that love = God. It does, however, clearly communicate that this Agapao way of loving; Yahweh God Himself is the most perfect example of that! Loving the Agapao way is basic to God’s character. That is how God deals with us. I already did an entry about God’s name, and I know I need to augment that with another article clarifying that Yahweh God through-out the Old Testament, well His loving character was just as valid, out in the open, then as it is now. But our point is here that God Himself is the most glorious example of the “doing what is required for the object of love” which is Agapao, and always has been. John further clarifies this as his intent in the verses 8 and 9.
1 John 4:11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
As Christians, we are God’s children. Well, we need to act like God’s children, increasingly reflecting His character. Why is that? Yahweh God is a lover! You can understand the meaning of Agapao any way you want, but your understanding had better allow for this: If God Agapaos us, we have an OBLIGATION (the real meaning of the Greek word behind ‘ought’) to Agapao our fellow Christians exactly the same way.
Getting painfully practical, this is Agapao love…
a. Put others first, well, put Yahweh God first and others second. Put both God and others ahead of yourself… intentionally… consistently… Wait… Really? I have to put others first? (There is a verse that clearly states “considering others more important than yourselves.”)
b. Do whatever they need, even if the price seems exorbitant, or personally demanding. Well, be careful! This is not ‘random acts of kindness’, yuch! This is not just giving, doing anything you want to give, which is often what they don’t want and/or don’t need. The very real needs of the object of our love is what should determine our giving, what we give. Usually, we need to find out first what those needs really are. That can be scary. But their real needs are the important thing. That is Agapao.
But this is the way God loves us. This is the way Jesus loves us. We have an OBLIGATION to love Him and others this way, too.
…It should be so easy to see what would happen in and to the Church if we as believers in Jesus actually loved, lived this way. Not just ‘getting along’, or having a good time together, but always going out of our way to help each other, meeting the very real needs of each other, and not just at services! Church would be a small picture of Heaven! People would be lined up to come in and see…
…Have you ever had a friend that seemed to quietly, gently do exactly what you needed, even if it was costly, or hard for them? Such ‘true friends’ are few and far between, and living like that is not very popular, ever. But we instantly recognize them for what they are, and often feel drawn to them as a result. Believers in Jesus are called specifically and intentionally to living like that, to everyone, and the word Agapao spells out how, what and why. The Bible is the book of True Friendship! Of course, we need to not throw our pearls before the swine, and this just underscores meeting their real needs.
…Do you think Yahweh God doesn’t know that our love for Him is half-hearted, “lukewarm” at best? Setting limits on what we can and will do for Him, for His children, this is not Agapao. Can we softly say “Yahweh God, I truly love you and give you everything, every second, regardless of what it costs me, in Jesus’ name.” Don’t you think He knows where we stand here?
John is really clear about this. If we don’t love (Agapao) others, we can’t love God. If we don’t love (Agapao) God, we don’t even know God!.
Sweeping aside all the garbage and sweet sounding sermons, this simple word for love quickly and immediately confronts God’s people with the deep and potentially searing cost of walking with Yahweh God. There has never been any other way. And the Church has faded into disgusting luke-warmness because we are trying to play a game instead of giving up everything, for God, then for each other. Deeply, truly loving Yahweh God and the people around us… This world would never be the same.
— ACR, c2017
1. There are a number of Greek words for love used in the New Testament. The following comparison might prove helpful.
Agapao: To do what is best for the object, regardless of the personal cost.
Phileo: The core of this word is an agreed upon interdependence, helping each other, giving to each other. Whether it is good or bad depends on the context, other things. Friendship fits this word nicely.
Eros: To do what is best for our own self, regardless of the cost to anyone, everyone else.
2. True romantic love, the kind that fuels a marriage for decades, is first Agapao, with a good dose of Phileo mixed in. An entry is coming that deals specifically with this, because the implications are amazing.
3. And an enigmatic verse: “There is no fear in love…” This is 1 John 4:18, read the whole verse, it is amazing. But if we have already committed to love Yahweh God and His Son Jesus, the Agapao way, nothing that happens to us should cause fear; we have already committed to serve Him regardless, we have already given Him everything. The rest is in hands. The comfort is that He loves (Agapao) us the same way.