Loving others with an unconditional, self-sacrificial love is nothing short of the Christian’s mandate
Love is a supremely precious and meaningful word.
We hear this word over and over again throughout our daily lives. We hear it within the frequencies of our favorite radio stations, the corporate advertisements we speed by on the freeway, the podcasts we fall asleep to, ad nauseum.
It is an unfortunate truth that this lone word, “love,” has become anything but a banal utterance abused by far too many of its users. No one bats an eye at telling a family member they love them. Neither does anyone bat an eye at confessing one’s love for their favorite cereal. Yet, these are two fundamentally different assertions that hold drastically different values.
Love is more than what we make it out to be. It is more meaningful than any other word in our language, yet we toss it around as if it is something to be utilized and hastily disposed of.
While the English language suffers from vocabulary deficiency, Koine Greek features a varied use of our single term for love. Such terms are, but not limited to, eros, meaning erotic love, philia, meaning friendly love, storge, meaning parental love and agape, meaning self-sacrificial love.
I would like to challenge us by positing this question: what would our world look like if we abandoned the generic use of “love” and replaced it with Greek’s ultimate term, agape? Would we be as quick to say we love a particular brand of ice cream as we would a dying loved one? More saliently, would Christians tell their brethren they love them and actually act upon that statement, as opposed to abandoning them by the wayside like the unmerciful priest in Luke 10:31?
I contend that the church would respond with a unanimous, “Yes!”
Agape is the type of love with which God loves his children. The apostle John illustrates this perfectly when he records, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This majestic love which God graciously bestows upon his saints is not to be harbored up by you and I, but emanated from our innermost beings to those around us. This is what Jesus commands us to do in John 13:34, “ … just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
If the Father gave his only Son to be sacrificed on our behalf, how much more should we sacrifice for others?
While brainstorming for the first issue of ZU Magazine, one of my fellow editors and I discussed the significance of “community.” There is a deep need for greater, bolder and more vibrant communities in our world today.
A part of being a Christian is submitting yourself to the infallible, inerrant and inspired word of God. A major tenant within his word is the maintenance of loving, communal relationships. This was one of the foundational principles of the early church, and we first get a glimpse of this within the book of Acts.
We read in Acts 4:32, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The apostolic church’s commitment to one another was marked by their unity: “one heart and soul,” as well as their mutual care for each other: “they had everything in common.”
Community was of such vital importance to them that we later read, “There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34).
Living in such a charitable and communitarian society seems so far from what we Western Christians are acquainted with. Western values are autonomy, libertarianism and self-determination, which are not inherently evil values; however, they often drift too far away from the righteous, altruistic mandate of our Lord.
Communal welfare characterized the early church so peculiarly that Tertullian once asserted, “What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another.’” These Christians were marked by their deep love, care and charity for one another. They did not esteem themselves as higher than others, but were serving one another just as their Redeemer did (Phil. 2:3). Can we say the same about the modern church?
When we tell a fellow brother or sister in Christ that we love them, what word are we using? Do we tell them we love them merely as a friend? Or, do we tell them we love them with the only acceptable love in the eyes of Christ?: agape.
When Jesus questioned Peter, “Do you love me?” three times in John’s gospel, Jesus’ qualifier for Peter’s love was “feed my sheep.” If Peter truly loves Jesus like he claims to, then a certain action will arise from it. In this case, the spiritual feeding of God’s servants.
Just as Peter was called to instruct and exhort the people of God, we are called to act upon our love of God. This looks like loving one another by providing for our fellow saints, and not only this, but preaching the fullness of the gospel “to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
The first fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22) and the greatest Christian virtue is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Therefore, expressing love for all of God’s children is a biblical mandate given to all followers of Christ, and not just loving with any type of love, but a love so deep that it is willing to sacrifice itself for others. What does this love look like?: clothing those who have no clothes, feeding those who hunger, praying for those who mourn and preaching to those who are lost.