Agape is a Greek word ( ἀγάπη, agápē) used to describe God’s love for us. Jesus shows us what this love of God is by his teaching and commandments. For instance, human love is for the most part conditional, because it is based either on instinct or on need. We love another because we need them; we also want them to respond to us. If there is no response the relationship will most likely die, or turn into an obsession.
Parental love is the closest love to being unconditional that you can get. A child can hurt their parents, reject them, disrespect them and be contemptuous, yet the parent will still love the child. I think that goes beyond instinct, but is a love that will pour itself out for the well being of the child. However, being human, finite, it is possible for there to be a time when that love can end if the pain and hurt become too great. It happens, though if the parent is a good parent, this is rare. We have our limits if left to ourselves.
What about a love that never stops, protects itself, or becomes enraged over how one responds. For me that is beyond comprehension, yet the term Agape does point to that kind of love. Jesus tried to get us to understand by his teaching, as well as how he related to others. For the most part he was gentle, kind, and compassionate with others. He was told the truth and never misled others. He constantly called others to conversion, to turn away from what destroys their lives, their sin.
Our lives if spent failing to love others the way God wants us to only leads to more pain, death and destruction. He wants us to try another way. For instance the way he taught us how we should deal with anger:
Anger – Matthew 5:21-26
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
The Sermon on the Mount is not sentimental at all, but seeks to show us how destructive anger really is, an emotion so common that its effects are overlooked. The importance of being reconciled is shown to us its great importance. Our relationships with others cannot be separated from our relationship with our Creator. We are responsible, we are not victims. When we give in to our anger and seek revenge, we are allowing evil to plant a seed in our hearts.
My heart stills contains seeds of self destruction, and one of my greatness challenges is allow grace to work its healing in my often hard heart. It is a matter of going forward in hope, knowing that it is grace, the life of Christ Jesus as he grows in my heart that brings healing, as well as the grace to not be afraid of the struggle.
Lust – Matthew: 5:27-30
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
The reality of sin is often denied by many. Even those of us who believe in sin,, myself included, find it easy to down play the harm it does not only to the one lusting, but to those who are lusted after. It is easy to use each other, to manipulate, and to abuse when lust takes over. It all begins with a thought, then the thought is entertained, and it can lead to an event that can have wide ranging consequences.
To reduce another human being to the level of an object is an act against one of God’s beloved children. Sex is not a sport, it can bring forth bitter fruit, in fact it does. The sex trade is a gross example. Abortion, and STDs, are often the fruit of living a life that believes that “sex is for fun.” Not understanding that when sex becomes a commodity, those in the trade are often forced into it, costing many lives.
Yet Jesus tells us, that it is the opposite of any kind of love when people are reduced to a function, or to a thing. It wounds the soul deeply, both the perpetrator as well as the victim. So to treat others with true dignity is a very difficult road to travel, yet one we are asked, no, commanded by the Lord to do so.
Retaliation – Matthew 38-42
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. ”
In dealing with evil, the Sermon on the Mount is at its most difficult. I am stymied by this to tell you the truth, yet it is something that needs to be studied, pondered, and prayed over. Yet the normal way of dealing with evil has never worked and actually seems to be getting worse as time moves on. Our sense of justice is often based on revenge or the eye-for-an-eye attitude.
True justice is impossible to achieve in this world, one of the most painful facts that we have to face, not to try balancing the scales by using violence to fight violence. My heart still struggles with the love demanded of Jesus from all of us. It also brings to full consciousness our need of the life of Jesus Christ in our hearts to bring this to full bloom.
Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect; as you’re heavenly Father is perfect.”
When Jesus asks us to love our enemies, it is here that it is possible to see into the inner life of God. ‘Love of enemies”! Is Jesus asking us to become something that is not actually lived fully by God? No. He is showing us how God relates to mankind; he loves all, those who hate him and those who love him. He allows the rain to fall on the good as well as the evil. In order to be perfect, we must love like the Father loves. This kind of teaching by the Lord should bring us to our knees, to the understanding that the human heart by itself, without ‘Agape’ is impossible. The only way I can deal with this is to consciously pray for those that I find unlovable, hard to deal with and may even feel emotions of hatred.
We are told not to judge for a reason. We really can’t, though we try, or I do. When I judge someone else and have the grace to grow in understanding of their inner life, their past, their family situation, I usually find my judgments harsh, wrong and in the end, hurtful to myself just as much as it is to my neighbor.
Jesus asks us to give to the needy, to love the outcasts, to lend without worry about getting anything back etc. Yet in all of this Jesus is showing us something about how God love us. I often find it mind boggling this Love of God. In 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most powerful verses that show us what God mercy and love is like. We are commanded to become like the Father, in perfect love.
The Way of Love – 1 Corinthians 13 1-8
13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 (The Father) is patient and kind; (The Father) does not envy or boast; is not arrogant 5 or rude. (The Father) does not insist on (His) own way; is not irritable or resentful; 6 does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 (The Father) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (The Father’s) love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
God’s love is of a nature that goes beyond our understanding. Perhaps it is because our loving Father sees all, understands all and loves all. What am I saying? Well, perhaps many of our ideas of God are really idols that we create for ourselves. We can create God in our own image and likeness, instead of allowing Him to make us into His. How God sees and responds is always right, true and just.
Jesus allowed tragedy to destroy him, injustice overcame His love, power made his teaching a mockery, thus, He died and was buried. Yet this led to something so glorious that the human mind is still baffled by how a man who was crucified could forgive those who destroyed him, revealing the love belong to God alone – Agape.