Matthew 22:35-40 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The word used to describe our love for God and our love for others is the Greek word ἀγαπάω (agapao). It is God’s love. We hear the word “love” used all the time in our world, but how is God’s love different from the way it is used in our culture today? First, agape love comes from God. We respond to the love which Christ demonstrated toward us, but only because Christ’s love was both supernatural and didn’t demand a response. The whole message of the Gospel is that Christ loved first, without reservation or without any necessity of reciprocation. Second, this love is a fruit of the Spirit. It springs from the presence of God’s Spirit within us. As we walk by the Spirit and are led by the Spirit, we will be in the process of being transformed into those who love with the love of God. God’s love comes only from God and is not a product of trying harder or practicing disciplines. It is worked into our character as we walk with Christ. Third, God’s agape love is not natural and instinctive, but spiritual. Yes, God has given us natural love – sexual love, a love for family, a love for friends. But the limits of our natural (but still God-given) love end at those with whom we have a hard time getting along, or in very difficult circumstances. God’s agape love goes beyond what is natural to what is spiritual, that which comes only from God. Fourth, God’s agape love is volitional. It is an act of the mind or will, not of our emotions. The verb used in Matthew 5:44 (Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you) is in the present imperative, which means that our loving is to be continuous, habitual, an act of the will. Fifth, God’s agape love is not reciprocal. We are called to love others even if they don’t return the love which we extend to them. We cannot love with the thought of return, but only as a result of what Christ has done in our lives. We love because Christ loved us. Sixth, God’s love is indiscriminate. Love, if it is God’s love, is love irrespective of the object of our love. Our love is to resemble God’s love, which is indiscriminate. Christians ought to be in forefront of every civil rights movement, since God has called us to love others regardless of who they are. Seventh, God’s agape love is unselfish, sacrificial. It involves laying down our life for someone else. God’s love in our heart moves us from desiring love to learning to give love. Eighth, agape love is limitless, boundless. We don’t stop loving someone just because he/she does something which we don’t like. God’s love never ends, because God, who never ends, lives inside us.
In conclusion, then, God’s agape love is not just a matter of degree, that we as Christians love more than others love; rather, our love is of a different kind, a different nature, a different quality. We love with God’s love, which is a heavenly love and part of God’s nature. God’s agape love is as natural to the Christian as hatred is for the non-Christian and the wicked. We love because He first loved us. Only in a relationship with Christ can we truly love other people spiritually, continuously, unilaterally, indiscriminately, unselfishly, and boundlessly.