I believe that some of us remembers Diana Ross’s song:
“What the world needs now is love sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No, not just for some, but, for everyone”
Love – that’s our focus today, so the question is “what is love”?
The Greek language, the language in which the New Testament was written, has 4 primary Greek words to express love and the concept of love, but in the English language, there is only word. This one word, “love”, encapsulates a variety of feelings, despite the fact that there is a vast difference in the contextual meaning of love. For example, we say “I love my dog”; I love your outfit”; “I love ice cream”; “I love you”.
In view of the fact that the one English word “love” is used to describe a variety of feelings, it is incumbent on romantic lovers never to assume that when his or her partner says “I love you” that his or her feelings of love matches your feelings of love and the professed love is not one and the same as “I love my dog”. I have worked with people who claim to love their partner, but when you get down to exploring what love looks like for them, the bottom line is they are mistaking sex for love.
This one English word “Love,” the subject of novels, songs, poetry and glorified in Hollywood films, portrays love as an overwhelming, exhilarating, ecstatic, warm, tender feelings, experienced when someone falls in love. This kind of love, romantic love, is out of one’s control. Romantic love just happens and the ecstasy of this kind of love is so mind blowing, that one Helen Rowland said “it takes a woman 20 years to make a man of her son and another woman 20 minutes to make a fool of him”.
Unfortunately, the overwhelming, exhilarating, ecstatic, warm, tender feelings of love experienced when one falls in love, is not necessarily a forever feeling.When the feelings of love evaporate, relationships are broken.
Here are some of the comments people in the face of their experience of falling out of love. Maybe some of you can identify with one or more of these comments.
A young lady says: “I don’t know what love is”
Another says: “love is not permanent”
Others say: “Love is too painful. If this is love why do I and my lover get into so many fights?”
There are some who say: “I am jealous of people who fall in love. I want to feel love, but, the feeling of love simply cannot flow. I am numb. I am in a relationship and I mouth the words I love you and act like I do, but I feel absolutely nothing!”
Some who have had multiple ‘love relationships’ say: “with each partner, at first, love was wonderful, but somehow it all fell apart. Time after time the love I had for each partner seemed to have evaporated. Despite all I do, it never seems to be enough”.
I am fully aware that on this day that is being celebrated as Valentine’s Day, I am expected to give you the recipe of finding love and keeping the love you find. And who better to address such a topic given my profession and the fact that on the 23rd February, 2015, I would have been married 52 years? I am sorry to disappoint you, for I am led to hold up to you a love that is higher than romantic love. I am led to hold up to you the highest level of love, about which the Bible speaks, a love that enriches the bonding, the yoking together of a couple who equally embrace this highest level of love. And so if you are looking for romantic love this Valentine season, or anxious to fix your romantic love, listen carefully for maybe what I will share with you may be the missing link for you to find and to keep lasting romantic love.
Turning to the English translation of the Bible, there we read in Mark 12: 30-31 and in Matt. 5:44 the words from the lips of Jesus Himself about love. Agape is the Greek word translated into English as “love”. In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus said,“You shall agape the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this you shall agape your neighbor as yourself. There is NO OTHER COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE”. This teaching by Jesus is a combination of two commandments, one from Deut. 6:3 and the other from Lev.19:8. Jesus made them into two clear, but profound rules of life. Further, in Matt, 5:44 Jesus said, “I say to you, love (agape) your enemies”
Agape, the kind of love about which Jesus spoke is the love of willing. This kind of love is an act of the will. It is a choice. It is intentional. It is measurable and it will be tested. This kind of love doesn’t just happen. It is not like romantic love that you fall into and fall out of. Agape love is what you choose to abide in or choose to leave. This fact is highlighted in John 15:9 and Rev. 2:4.
John 15:9 Jesus’s invitation is, “abide in My love”. In Rev. 2:4 the indictment of the Church at Ephesus was handed down because of the choice they made. Says the angel to the church, “you have left your first love”. Agape, the love of willing is a choice to make first and foremost, GOD ONLY AND GOD ALONE, THE OBJECT OF ONE’S DEVOTION and secondly, to agape one’s neighbor and one’s enemy.
This kind of love, agape, denotes the highest level of love. 1 John 4:8 tells us“God is love”. Love is His character. Love is not something God has. Love is who He is and He cannot deny Himself. Love is God’s very nature. Agape is a love so profound that it knows no limits in how far, wide, high and deep it will go to show mercy to sinful, rebellious humanity.
Agape is the kind of love that moves God to act redemptively, favorable and graciously towards unworthy and undeserving, sinful folks such as we are. We find in John 3:16 is the best example of Agape. “For God so loved (agape) the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. Contemplating God’s so great salvation, led the hymn writer to pen these words: “love so amazing so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”.
The command to AGAPE God, neighbor and enemy is linked to a warning, Thewarning is found in 1 John 2:15, “do not agape (love) the world nor the things in the world. If anyone agape (loves) the world, the agape (love) of the Father is not in him”.
The command to AGAPE God, neighbor and enemy is also linked to an expectation that God will test one’s love. The expectation that one’s love will betested is found in Deut. 13:3, “for the LORD YOUR God is testing you to find out if you agape (love) the LORD YOUR God with all your heart and soul”. The evidence that God tests one’s love is seen in God calling upon Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham passed the test and proved that his first love was not the son of his old age, but God and God alone.
Unlike Abraham, we see the Apostle Peter, who boasted of his love for Jesus, when tested, denied with cursing, knowing Jesus. However, Jesus after His resurrection met up with Peter and dignified his humanity with His stupendous, wonderful, divine gift of agape, giving Peter a second chance to affirm agape for Him.
As the Apostle John meditated on who God is, his heart overflowed with wonder and worship and he cried out in 1John 3:1, “behold what manner of love (Agape) the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God and that is who we are”.
Agape not only denotes the love that is the very nature of God, Agape is indeed radically different and diametrically opposed to the world’s view of romantic love that is self-seeking and feeling focused.
Question, how can we ever meet such a lofty requirement to agape God, agape neighbor and agape our enemies? The requirement to Agape God, agape neighbor, agape our enemies is not only upside down the way of the world, it is a severe problem for people who don’t love themselves and people whose early emotional deprivation made them incapable choosing to love.
This is CRUCIAL and may be the first exploration of yourself that you may not find answers to in a mirror. Do you love yourself? As we read earlier in Mark 12:31 and again in Matthew 22:39, the second of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor AS ourselves. AS – in the same manner.
We can fool ourselves into thinking we love someone else more than we love ourselves but that is not Biblically possible. We can love only as much AS we love ourselves. Yes, we can move someone to a higher priority than ourselves in demonstration of our love, but it is not possible to love other more than we love ourselves.
An extreme example and a difficult thing I find is those who commit suicide often because they have a problem with loving themselves and by extension love those around them to the same level. They believe falsely that a loving gesture is to remove their horridness from the picture is actually better for those left behind. They love AS.
In abusive relationships, the hatred that is delivered upon helpless victims is simply a reflection of how the abuser feels inside. They love AS they love themselves.
When your lover seems absent and uncaring about you, it is because they are selfish and self absorbent and will demonstrate their love in selfish, self serving ways. We love AS.
We cannot change others, but we can change ourselves, and by changing ourselves, by extension, others will eventually change their response to us. When you love yourself and the more you love yourself, you capacity to give love to others also expands.
For some of us, the ability to love ourselves is hampered by years of shame and years of our parents telling us how unlovable we are. You are no good like your daddy. You are stupid, you will never amount to anything, and such the like.
The capacity to love yourself becomes easier for the one who has received the saving redemptive forgiveness of being washed in the blood of the lamb and knowing that that is all behind us. That was then, this is now. Behold you become a new creature, a child of the living God. Identifying yourself this way creates that clean slate for God to write on and fills your heart up with as much of that Agape you have decided to abide in.
Countless relationships are immediately impacted when one partner gives their life to the Lord or renews their relationship, no longer forsaking their first love (Revelation 2:4). Why? When your heart is filled with agape love this change WILL SHOW UP in your behavior.
The good news is that God never makes a requirement without giving the ability to fulfill His will.
In Rom. 5:5, we read “the love (Agape) of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us”. What an amazing statement! The redeemed child of God is divinely empowered to fulfill God’s will because Agape, is a gift deposited into the heart of the redeemed child of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit and this love will increase as we choose, day by day, to practice righteousness!! Day by day we practice righteousness when we choose to:
agape God, neighbor and enemy when we don’t feel like it..
to agape when the other person is undeserving of it…
to agape when we will get back nothing for it…
to agape selflessly for Jesus’ sake…
Let us hold dear the glorious privilege to choose to agape God, agape our neighbor and agape our enemies so that the indictment on the Church in Ephesus as recorded in Rev. 2:4 will not be levied against us: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love”.
From the story of my own life I have come to the realization that my failure in the past to understand the difference between the love of feelings and the love of willing is what lead to confusion as to whether or not I was a Christian. I remember in my younger days, the feelings of frustration and jealousy that overwhelmed me when I met Christians who rejoiced greatly in God’s love, spoke in tongues, danced in the spirit and testified that the Lord spoke to them in audible ways.
Because my understanding of love was only associated with emotional thrill, I kept looking for feelings of love to confirm that I was saved. Then I learned about another kind of love, the highest level of love – Agape. This knowledge settled all doubts about my relationship with the Lord because I realized Jesus never equated the love for God, love for neighbor, love for enemies with feelings that come and go. No! The word of God in John 14:15, states, “if you love me, you will keep My commandments” making it clear that the love that is required is the love of willing.This kind of love is a choice, it is an act of the will, it is intentional, it is measurable and it will be tested. Further, 1 John 3:10, declares how the children of God and the children of the devil are made evident. 1 John 3:10 states: “by this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love (agape) his brother”.
Now I know and rejoice that my relationship with my Savior is not based on feelings that come and go. I choose daily to exercise faith in the Living Word of God and in the finished work at Calvary . Day by day, I choose to do His will whether I feel like it or not. When I fail, and I do fail to agape God, agape my neighbor, agape my enemy I choose to obey 1 John 1:9 that stipulates: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us for all unrighteousness”.
SIMILARLY, I no longer believe that emotional cues are the only ones that indicate I love my husband. We both enjoy the love of willing.
As a consequence I enjoy the peace of God in the memory of my past and declare like Hannah did in I Samuel 2:2 “I rejoice greatly in my so great salvation and I exalt the LORD my Savior for there is no one who is holy like the Lord, indeed there is no one beside the Lord nor is there any rock like my God”.
Question: Is Mark 12:30-31, agape love for God, agape love for neighbor, agape love for your enemy your magnificent obsession or is the love of feelings your magnificent obsession? My magnificent obsession is Mark 12:30-31.