God’s Kind of Love
Bible Reading: 1 John 3:16-18
Our focus this month in these devotionals is “loving like Jesus,” but if we are to love like Jesus we need to make sure we have a good definition of the term “love” in the context in which we are using it.
If you were to take a survey of a dozen people, asking them to define the word “love”, you’d likely get about a dozen different answers. The word love is one of the most commonly used words in the English language, evidenced by the fact that Webster’s Thesaurus offers 62 synonyms, plus 185 related words for the term. It is a complex word with lots of diverse and divergent meanings, some of which are quite contrary to the definition the Bible puts forth.
The Greek language had four commonly used words translated “love,” two of which appear often in our English Bibles. Eros was a word used to express sexual love. The term is not used even once in the New Testament. Storge was a word used to refer to natural, familial love (for example the love of a parent for a child). It is also not used in the Bible. The term Philia (from which the first part of the word Philadelphia comes from) is commonly used in the New Testament and is used to describe the kind of affectionate love which typically exists between family and friends. Agape is also commonly used in the New Testament. It speaks of the love sourced in God Himself (1 John 4:16b), which he revealed to us by sending his Son Jesus to die for our sins (1 John 3:16).
Vine’s Expository Dictionary includes an extensive definition of the term agape. Let me highlight some of its main points:
- “Agape (presents) the characteristic word of Christianity, and since the Spirit of revelation has used it to express ideas previously unknown…inquiry into its use, whether in Greek literature or in the Septuagint, throws but little light upon its distinctive meaning in the NT.”
- “Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9-10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Romans 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself.”
- “Love had its perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:14; Ephesians 2:4, 3:19, 5:2.”
- “Christian love is the fruit of His Spirit in the Christian, Galatians 5:22…Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments, John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God.”
- “Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered.”
- “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant “love” and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects.”
So let me summarize, by offering this working definition of agape love = That kind of unconditional (Romans 5:8), sacrificial (1 John 3:16-17) and purposeful (Ephesians 5:25-27) love, sourced in God Himself (1 John 4:7-8)–but borne in His children by the Spirit (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22)–which selflessly acts, in first loving God, to the put the interests of others ahead of one’s own (Philippians 2:3), caring for them both in their physical and spiritual needs and concerns (3 John 2; 1 John 3:16-17).
1 John 3:16-17 offers a simpler definition: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” In other words, if we wonder what God’s kind of love looks like then we should look to Calvary, for it is there where it has been gloriously defined and declared to us. Then the passage goes on to say, “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” God’s kind of love looks like that in Jesus and looks like that in us.
God’s Kind of Love Has Been Gloriously Defined for us At the Cross
Heavenly Father. I can remember back to those days when I gave no thought to You and had no idea of what true love is. Thank You for intervening in my life according to Your deep and abiding love. There’s so much enmity and strife in this world. The fact that You’ve loved us so in sending Jesus is an incredible thing. And in His sacrifice You’ve both declared and defined Your love for us. Such love is not native to us, it is only by the Spirit that any of us could possibly walk in love. Grant that we might be Spirit-led and empowered to live and love like Jesus. We are prone to look for love in all the wrong places, grant that we might be always looking to You, and that we might be used by You in directing others to look to the cross. That they might come to know You and the greatness of Your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.