There is no more fundamental affirmation in the Christian faith than the statement: “God is love.” Love is at the very core of God’s character. It constitutes his defining attribute. Along with holiness, love forms the central hub of God’s being.

God is love. (1Jn 4:8, 16)

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands … (Ex 34:6-7)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Ps 136:1)

But this quality of God involves not just any kind of love. It’s not the kind of love we mean when we speak of “loving” ice cream or “loving” a good book or even “loving” a friend. There are many things we love because they make us feel good or appeal to our senses or otherwise pamper our selfish nature. That is not AGAPE love. There are people we love because we enjoy mutual, reciprocal, and equally beneficial relationships with them: spouses, family, friends. But that is not AGAPE love.

AGAPE love is a selfless, self-giving, sacrificial, unconditional love that asks nothing, requires nothing, demands nothing of the one who is loved. It is a love that is focused on the other, the other’s good, the other’s best interests. It is a deliberate and disciplined commitment to the well-being of another that manifests itself in behaviors that promote the other’s welfare.

Perhaps the most famous definition of AGAPE love was written by the Apostle Paul:

[AGAPE] is patient and kind. [AGAPE] is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. [AGAPE] never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1Cor 13:4-7—NLT)

God is AGAPE love (1Jn 4:8, 16). He “abounds” in this kind of love. His love “fills the earth” … it endures “forever.” This is the kind of love God has for his Son (Jn 3:35), for the world (Jn 3:16), and for those who belong to him (Rom 5:8; Eph 2:4). It was this kind of love that persuaded God to show mercy when we were disobedient and rebellious. It was this love that prompted God to send his Son to die for the sins of the world. It was this love that caused God to extend his covenant and his promises.

Like Father, like Son. As you would expect, this same AGAPE love is also characteristic of Jesus Christ. This is the kind of love the Son has for his Father (Jn 14:31), for his Apostles (Jn 13:34; 15:9), and for us (2Cor 5:14; Eph 3:19; 5:2). The “love of Christ” is a constant whose height, depth, and breadth we cannot plumb or understand (Eph 3:18). Nothing can separate us from that love (Ro 8:35). It was this amazing love that drove Jesus to leave heaven behind and take up residence among us. This was the love that led him to suffer and die for us. It is because of this love that he continues to call us and justify us and glorify us (Rom 8:30).

So it should come as no surprise that those who follow Jesus are expected to develop and demonstrate this same kind of love. No, it does not come naturally to us. No, it is not easy. But the primary proof that we are being transformed by God (in the image of his Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit) is that we demonstrate AGAPE love in our relationships with God and others.

The fruit of the Spirit is AGAPE … (Gal 5:22)

AGAPE the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Mt 22:37)

Grace to all who AGAPE our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Eph 6:24)

AGAPE one another. As I have AGAPED you, so you must AGAPE one another. (Jn 13:34)

Above all, AGAPE each other deeply. (1Pe 4:8)

AGAPE your neighbor as yourself. (Mt 22:39)

AGAPE your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Mt 5:34)

Do everything in AGAPE. (1Co 16:14)

AGAPE love, when it appears in broken people like us, is always the result of a partnership between ourselves and God. Only God’s transforming power can plant the seed of AGAPE in our hearts. Only the grace of God can make this kind of love possible. But for that seed to grow and mature requires our willing, obedient, and intentional cooperation.

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© 2012 by Tim Woodroof. Reproduction of this material requires permission from the author.