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What Is Agape Love?


(The following is a transcript of a sermon preached at the Mumbai church of Christ.)

Agape means love. But it is not the kind of ‘love’ that you generally see in movies, songs, media, etc. The ‘love’ that is portrayed in the world is selfish, self-preserving and self-assuring among other things. Agape is not that kind of love.

What is Agape love like?
Agape is a Greek word which is used in the New Testament. It stands for Godly love. What is this ‘Godly love’? Whatever it is, Ephesians 3:19 says it surpasses knowledge. For us to understand this, let us read a very familiar passage for the Gospel of John.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting love. – John 3:16 The love that is described here is Agape love. Notice that God did not hold back anything, even his own Son, when he showed his love for mankind. The ‘love’ that we find in this world is like me saying, “Listen, I’ll care for you and do anything you may need. But, you’ll have to do the same for me.” No, that’s not what God is doing. God, instead of looking out for his own interest, looks out for our interest. And in doing so he gives his only son to be butchered by our hands… so that we may have everlasting life.

Want to know what worldly ‘love’ is like? Listen to me…

‘Love’ is impatient, ‘love’ is rude and always jealous, ‘love’ always keeps on bragging and is arrogant, and it is always self-preserving, it is easily provoked, it does not care if anyone is suffering, in fact, it rejoices when there is something bad going on, it does not bear anything at all.

Want to know what Agape love is like? Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

So you see, Agape love and worldly love are two things which are completely opposite to each other. Agape love, for one thing, does not recognize man-made distinctions. That is why, even though we are worthless, God considers are worthy. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. – Galatians 5:6. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8. Worldly love says, ‘I can do whatever I want… whenever I want.’ Agape love, on the other hand, does not abuse freedom. For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. – Galatians 5:13

So how can we experience this self-sacrificing, self-denying kind of love? It’s very simple. Look to Jesus. Jesus is the perfect example of Agape. Everything that he did, in his earthly life, was an act of love.

  • When he was born to a poor earthly family and gave Mary the honor of being his mother, it was an act of love.
  • When he turned water into wine at Cana, it was an act of love.
  • When he commanded us to love our enemies, it was an act of love.
  • When he blessed the little children, it was an act of love.
  • When he cleansed the leper, it was an act of love.
  • When he made the blind see, it was an act of love.
  • When he rebuked the Pharisees, it was an act of love.
  • When he spoke to the Samaritan women, it was an act of love.
  • When he raised Lazarus from the dead, it was an act of love.
  • When he raised the widow’s son, it was an act of love.
  • When he fed the multitude, it was an act of love.
  • When he showed forgiveness to Peter for Peter’s denial, it was an act of love.
  • When he died on the cross, it was the act of love.

Even before the beginning of time, Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, has always loved. Listen to what Jesus is praying to the Father. “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:26

C.S. Lewis says that this kind of love in the divine Trinity is like an eternal dance that goes on and on and on. In short, the love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is never-ending. Now, listen to what Jesus is saying to his disciples. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. – John 15:9-10

Paul is astonished at seeing this divine love extended to us worthless human beings. He is so astonished that he wishes never to be separated from this love of Christ. Listen to what he says, Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? – Romans 8:35

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

How can we comprehend this kind of love? I’ll try to explain by telling you a story. There were two men, both of them were friends. The name of the first was ‘Winner’ and the name of the second was ‘Loser’. Both of them were sitting at a cafeteria drinking tea. The Winner kept on boasting about how he never lost. The Loser always remained humble. The Winner noticed that the Loser had an envelope in his hand.

“What is that in your hand?” The Winner asked.
“This?” The Loser raised his envelope. “I’ll show you but first you’ll have to answer my riddle.”
The Winner was eager for the challenge. “All right, tell me the riddle and I will see what is in that envelope.”
“Oh, but you will have to lose this riddle to get the prize,” said the Loser.
“What do you mean?”
“You can’t win this riddle.” The Loser said just like that.
“Ha! You can keep your ‘prize’ because I will answer the riddle.” The Winner said confidently.
“All right here’s the riddle:
“I became poor so that you can be rich
Hungry so that you can be filled
Lowly so that you can be elevated
Filthy so that you can be clean
Sin so that you can be pure
Dead so that you can be alive.”
“That’s nonsense!” The Winner cried.
“Here’s the envelope” The Loser said.

The Winner was disturbed, but he wasn’t going to give up. He took that envelope and went home, but he didn’t open it. For days, he tried to solve the riddle. He calculated and reasoned night and day. Sometimes, he even went without food, trying to make sense of the riddle. Finally he broke down. He was devastated. He was heartbroken. He realized that he could not solve the riddle. Hence, he was no longer ‘the Winner’. He became, like his friend, a ‘Loser’. He started to cry. He picked up a piece of paper and wrote on it.

I am nothing.

Finally he took the envelope, and he opened it. Inside was a piece of paper, a very small piece. There were some words on it. Want to know what was written on the paper?

“Love one another, just as I have loved you.” – John 13:34

First, the man was shocked at reading this. Was this another riddle? But soon something opened up his mind. It was like a bolt of lightning. The riddle, he realized, was about Agape. The answer to the riddle was none other than Jesus Christ! He was astonished. Then something wonderful started to happen. Finally, everything made sense. By losing, this man had actually solved the riddle! He was now a ‘Winner’ again. The love of Jesus Christ has made him whole. The Winner was filled with joy. Far away, the Loser was reading the newspaper and enjoying his cup of his tea. Then suddenly his phone began to ring. The Loser had a big smile on his face. He knew who was calling.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35