Recently many of us from across the country were on a conference call with Dan Bohi, and he was expounding on the topic of biblical love. I want to continue in that line of thinking in this week’s blog. The Bible states the following about love: Love is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37–39), love is the distinguishing characteristic of being Jesus’ follower (John 13:35), love is the sweet-smelling fragrance of Christ (Eph. 5:2), love is the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14), and love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). After Paul described a supernatural culture where the Holy Spirit manifested for the profit of the entire body of Christ, he transitioned into a chapter that has affectionately been called the “Love Chapter.” In 1 Corinthians 12:31, Paul began his discourse as he wrote to the Corinthians that he was going to “show [them] a more excellent way.” Suffice to say that the “more excellent way” that Paul talked about was a description of something that is beyond comparison or beyond measure. It was not a lifestyle void of the supernatural gifts, but a supernatural lifestyle expressed in the most excellent way. If the manifestations of the Spirit are going to make the greatest impact, they must flow from a person who is becoming love.
Years ago, Nazarene scholar W. T. Purkiser observed that the grammar in Galatians 5:22 argued for one central fruit of the Spirit. The word fruit (karpos) is a singular noun, and the verse indicates that the fruit of the Spirit is, implying that only one fruit emerges in a person’s life when filled with the Spirit. The remaining eight characteristics, then, spill out of a person who is walking in love. S. D. Gordon once suggested the following:
- Joy is love singing
- Peace is love resting
- Patience is love enduring
- Kindness is love sharing
- Goodness is love’s character
- Faithfulness is love’s habit
- Gentleness is love’s touch
- Self-control is love in charge
What is love? How is it defined? You need to realize that the term is washed out in our culture because we say things like “I love my wife” and “I love my dog,” hopefully in that order, too. But what does it mean to love? Unlike the English language, which has only one word for “love,” the Greek language has four different words. First, is the word eros, which is defined as a sexual, erotic type of love. However, this word is never used in the Bible, not even in the context of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. The root idea behind this word is selfish gratification and it’s far from what God calls us to. Second is the word stergo, which is a relational love as seen in a family. It’s used rarely in the Bible, and where we find this type of love, it’s depicted in a negative manner. For example, in 2 Timothy 3:3, stergo is defined as being unloving. Third is the word phileo, which describes the affection between two people. This word is used several places in the New Testament and usually it depicts the love between friends. Phileo is usually used as a compound word that describes the love of something specific, for example: the love of our brother (philadelphia), the love of wisdom (philosophia), or the love of strangers (philoxenos).
The final word is agape, and the meaning of this word which is used in the New Testament defines the love of God. This type of love is only generated by God; it defines who God is—First John 4:8 says He is love (agape). We cannot actuate this kind of love without being filled with God’s Spirit. There is no way to manufacture agape through our own efforts. We experience His love first, and then He enables us to give it away to others. Over the years I’ve read many definitions of this kind of love, but no definition has touched me more than Rick Renner’s description. He wrote, “Such great respect is awakened in the heart of the observer for the person he is beholding that he is compelled to love them. In fact, his love for that person is so strong that it is irresistible….when you love with this kind of love, it is impossible for you to feel hurt or let down by the response of the recipients of your love.”
Think about that for a moment. Do you get hurt by people who don’t treat you well? Are you easily offended by someone who says or does something to hurt you? Perhaps you really don’t love them with agape love. This kind of love is not contingent upon others responding favorably toward you. If you truly love someone with agape love, you aren’t seeking anything from them. Your only thought is to pour love upon them because you have been radically transformed by the love of God. Your heart is engaged in giving no matter how you’re treated; you are simply compelled to love others.
After three years of pouring His life out for others, the very people that Jesus touched, healed, cleansed, and cured turned on Him and crucified Him. Yet, Jesus didn’t retaliate in offense. We can’t even imagine Jesus getting halfway to the cross and stopping to say, “Barabbas? Are you serious? You want Barabbas instead of me? That is so totally unfair.” If we can’t imagine Jesus saying something like that, then what is our excuse? Jesus forgave the angry mobs because He loved them, and He realized that they had no idea what they were doing. That response is the nature of agape love; it compels us to lay down our life for other people regardless of what they say or do to us. You simply love others; no questions, no expectations, no reservations, or no strings attached. Because God has loved you, you are enabled to love others, and because God’s love is unlimited, your love for others reflects that same characteristic.
In some ways, nothing is more miraculous than agape love. When you love with His love, you are impervious to the ill effects of other people. Why? Because to truly love with agape love, you are dead! In other words, your life has been crucified with Christ and He lives through you (Gal. 2:20). So you give, you pray, you sacrifice, you forgive, you heal, you minister, and you simply don’t think of yourself anymore. Your life is a funnel that God’s incredible love is poured through. This kind of love changed our world two-thousand years ago when Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30). We have the blessed privilege to extend that same kind of love all over our world. Open your heart to Jesus right now; experience His love in your life, then become His instrument to touch the lives of everyone you meet with His amazing love. This is the more excellent way.