Way of Agape
What Is God's Love, Really?
by Nancy Missler
Over the last few months, I've been sharing how God saved our marriage twenty years ago by His supernatural Love. I made the statement that had we not found God's Way of Agape, we would not be together today.
I really mean it! God's Love not only salvaged and restored our marriage, it has turned it around to where it is now a hundred times better, sweeter and more passionate than it ever was, even when we were first married. Now, that's quite a statement when you realize how long we have been married-41 years this past month! Talk about hope for marriages, hope for relationships and hope for families; God's Love is the answer! Agape is the answer. (Agape is the Greek word for God's Love.)
"Okay," you say, "So what's the big deal about God's Love? How is Agape Love any different from natural, human love? And, why on earth is this Agape Love so important?"
What is God's Love?
Well, the Bible tells us that Agape is a Person. 1 John 4:7-8 says, "Beloved, let us love one another; for Love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is Love (Agape)."
This is what makes Christianity so totally different from all the other religions in the world. Christianity is the only religion where God Himself (who is Love) comes to dwell within each of our hearts. There's a precious story that exemplifies this: Art Katz, a brilliant Jewish philosopher, was a teacher at the University of California at Berkeley. After years of seeking truth, he decided to travel around the world in search of the real God. As he traveled, he took time to painstakingly explore all the religions that he encountered.
One day, while riding a train to Frankfurt, Germany, Art happened to sit next to a young Christian girl who had only a few days previously become a believer. They began to talk about God. A few minutes into the conversation, the erudite Art sarcastically turned to the girl and asked, "What makes you think your Jesus is any different from all the other religions of the world?" The young girl paused a moment and then lovingly looked Art straight in the eye and said, "Because Jesus is God. He is Love and He lives in my heart."
Well, this was not at all the response that Art had expected. In fact, it caught him totally off guard. He never saw that sweet girl again, but for months he could not get her simple answer out of his head. Over and over those words echoed in his mind, "Because Jesus is God and He lives in my heart." Whoever heard of a religion like that, Art thought.
Finally, at the end of his trip, Art found himself in Jerusalem, Israel, his homeland. He befriended a man there that secretly was a Messianic Jew (a Jew who has found Jesus to be the true Messiah). After a series of lengthy conversations with his friend and some "God-orchestrated" circumstances, Art finally found what he was looking for. And the God of the universe, who is Agape Love (just as that young Christian girl on the train had said) came to dwell at the core of his being.
Ephesians 3:17-19 tells us, "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; [so] that ye...may know the Love of God which passeth knowledge..."
God's Love is a supernatural Love that is poured into our hearts the moment we invite Jesus into our lives. It's God Himself who comes into our hearts at that moment, and He is that Love!
One of the reasons so many of us have had problems finding real Love is that we have been looking in all the wrong places for it. Rather than looking to the Author of real Love, we have been looking horizontally to our spouses, our families, our friends and our relatives to meet our need for love. And, they simply are not able to do so.
Real Love is a Person
God's Love can't be found in a church building, or in a religion or in different philosophies, real Love can only be found in a Person. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of real Love from the Father to us. His Love is a Love that not only elects whom it will love, but also initiates and maintains that love relationship. It's a Love that focuses all of its intentions and abilities on the one being loved-by putting their will and their desires above its own.
It's difficult for us to even fathom a Love like this, let alone produce it in our own strength. And the reason is, this kind of Love is supernatural. It originates in the heart of God and just keeps on coming no matter what the one being loved does or doesn't do. This kind of Love never stops flowing. In other words, there are no conditions or stipulations which would cause real Love to cease.
A precious example: In the mid 1930s, a dear, sweet German (Protestant) pastor was abducted from his church. He was suspected of harboring, abetting and aiding Jews. He was immediately taken to prison and put in a five-foot cell. There was no hearing, no trial-not even time to let his family know what had happened to him. For weeks, this gentle pastor asked the prison guard outside of his cell door if he could use the pay phone at the end of the hall to call his wife and family and, at least, let them know he was alive. The guard, however, was a contemptible man who hated anyone and everyone that had to do with Jewry. He not only wouldn't let the pastor use the phone, he determined in his heart to make this man's life as miserable as possible.
The despicable guard purposefully skipped the pastor's cell when meals were handed out; he made the pastor go weeks without a shower; he kept lights burning in the pastor's room so he couldn't sleep; he blasted his short wave radio hoping the intolerable noise would finally break the pastor; he used filthy language; he pushed him; he shoved him; and, when he could, he arranged for the pastor to have the most difficult job in the labor gang.
The pastor, on the other hand, prayed continually not to let hate consume him. He prayed instead to be able to love this guard with God's Love. As the months went by, whenever he could, the pastor would smile at the guard; he would thank him when his meals did come; when the guard was near his cell, the pastor would tell him about his own wife and his own children; he even questioned the guard about his family and about his goals, ideas and visions; and, one time, for a quick moment, he had a chance to tell the guard about Agape Love. The guard never answered a word, but obviously, he heard it all.
After months and months of unconditionally loving this sadistic guard, God's Love finally broke through. One night, as the pastor was again quietly talking, the guard cracked a smile for the first time; the next day, instead of the pastor's cell being skipped for lunch, the pastor got two meals; the following evening, he was allowed, not only to go to the showers, but to stay as long as he wanted; the lights began going off at night in his cell and the radio noise ceased. Finally, one afternoon, the guard came into the pastor's cell, asked him for his home phone number, and the guard personally made the "long awaited" call to the pastor's family.
A few months later the pastor was released.
It's a "Gift of Love"
C.S. Lewis calls this kind of Love a "gift of Love." God's Love is a gift because there are "no strings attached" to it. There are no conditions to fill-nothing to earn, nothing to do and nothing to be. Agape Love just loves unconditionally, spontaneously and continually.
Another beautiful example: Many years ago, there was a nine-year-old girl flying with her parents from England to the United States to have a kidney transplant. The child's condition was very precarious, so the operation was essential. The cost of the procedure was going to be $30,000. The parents had done all they could in Britain to raise the huge sum of money. However, they had only managed to raise $7,000, far short of the total needed. But they made the trip anyway, hoping for some sort of miracle.
And, they certainly found one!
When some of the passengers aboard that jetliner heard about the little girl's plight, they spread the word. People all over that plane began to personally involve themselves in this little girl's life. Unconditionally they began to give of themselves. Some men gave their expensive gold watches and whatever cash they had. One man wrote a check for $10,000. Ladies gave their fur coats, their jewelry and any other valuables they had.
The precious people aboard that 747 jetliner raised an amazing $23,000 towards the little girl's operation. That, plus the $7,000 that the family had raised on their own, made the exact amount needed.
The beautiful thing about this story is that the little girl's nationality, her religion or her social status had nothing at all to do with the decision those people made on that plane to love her unconditionally. They just gave of themselves-all they had to give-"with no strings attached."
When I think of this story, I think of God's Love, because Agape does the exact same thing. It's an unconditional giving of oneself for another with no strings attached.
A Gift with "No Strings Attached"
Agape is a one-sided Love because it doesn't have to be returned in order to be kept alive. In other words, it's not, "I will love you, if you love me." It's, "I will love you, no matter what." This kind of Love not only frees the one loving from expectations and presumptions, but it also frees the one being loved to respond from his heart and not his defences. In other words, Agape is a Love that truly lets us be who we really are.
God's Love is a gift that gives itself to the poor and the rich, to the needy and the full, to the ugly and the beautiful, to the maimed and the whole. In other words, it gives itself to everyone, not just those who seek and embrace it.
The whole Bible is summed up in this one word, Agape-God's Love. The Bible defines it like this: Love (Agape) is patient and kind, never jealous, envious, boastful or proud, never selfish or rude. Love doesn't demand its own way. Love is not irritable or touchy. Love doesn't hold grudges and will never even notice when others do it wrong. Love is never glad about injustice, but rejoices when truth wins out. If you love someone with real Love, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him and always defend him. (A paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.)
God's Love is a gift "with no strings attached" from the Person who created us, who loves us and who desires for us to have abundant life. And, you know what? That Love already has our name on it. "...I have inscribed you upon the palms of My hands," says Isaiah 49:16. That Love is free for the asking. All we must do is reach up and grab hold of it. God will do the rest.
Something else that is very special about Agape Love is that it has two distinct sides to it. One side is a long-suffering and merciful Love; the other side is a strict, firm, and disciplinary Love.
Therefore, God's Love can manifest itself either mercifully in our lives when appropriate, or it can manifest itself in strictness and firmness when the occasion demands. So, in those particular situations where "tough love" is needed, God will show us exactly what guidelines to use and what restrictions to put up. In other words, God will not only give us the Love we need, He will also give us the wisdom to know how to love "wisely."
Natural, Human Love
God's Love, therefore, is not a human love, but, in fact, is completely opposite. Our natural, human love (the love we were born with) will always be a conditional love that is dependent upon three things: how we feel; what our circumstances are; and how that other person responds to us. In other words, natural love will always seek the good of itself and not the other person and will always be based upon certain reciprocal expectations, "I'll love you, if you'll love me. But, if you stop loving me, I will stop loving you." This is why C.S Lewis calls natural, human love, a "need love." In other words, we need something from the one we love.
Now, there are three different types of human love: Our natural, emotional love, our natural, sexual love and, our natural, friendship love. The one thing that all three of these human, need loves have in common, is that they force the one loving to look horizontally (to the person being loved) to meet his own need for love. And therein lies the problem. There is no way that any of us can ever completely satisfy one another's built-in need for love. Our deep need for love can only be fulfilled by looking vertically to the Person who created us in the first place.
Thus, natural, human love (by itself) will always let us down and will always continue to fail us. It's important, however, that we don't completely negate all the natural loves, because they can be beautiful and they can be fulfilling, but only if they are built upon Agape as the foundation or the glue that holds everything together.
So, God's Love and natural love are not the same at all. They are totally opposite and it's vitally important that we understand these differences because confusion in this area is one of the reasons why so many of us are having problems in our marriages and our relationships.
Why Is God's Love so Important?
Receiving and passing on the gift of Love is the whole meaning and purpose of our lives. It's essential! We were not created simply to be happy and contented within ourselves, we were designed to be open and cleansed vessels, not only receiving God's Love for ourselves, but also passing it on to others. Without learning "how" to do this, our lives will always be empty and meaningless, no matter what we do or how we try to fill them.
As 1 Corinthians 13:2 says, "[If] I have not God's Love, I am nothing."
As an example: Many years ago, there was a newspaper article that told the story of a very famous and wealthy industrialist. Throughout his whole life, this man thought love and love relationships were a nuisance and just "in the way" of what was really important-success and financial independence. Thus, he set out to make a name for himself, to amass a fortune and to achieve the power and recognition that comes with these things. And, He did all three.
But in the process of spending his life on his own goals and his own ambitions, he missed the real meaning and purpose of his life, which is to love and be loved. In the end, when this millionaire was too old and too feeble to work any longer, he sat night after night, alone and lonely, in his huge, empty mansion, filled with priceless-and yet worthless-possessions. His name was Howard Hughes.
God made us and only He knows what it will take to satisfy our needs. Therefore, if we don't learn to love and be loved in the way we were created to from the very beginning, we really will have wasted our lives, no matter how much success and financial independence we have!
The three natural, human loves are loves that we need from each other in order to get along in this world. But God's Love is a Love that we desperately must have in order to survive at all. Agape is the only Love that can make us whole, meet our needs and give our lives the meaning and purpose that we are all seeking. In other words, it's the "glue" that ties everything together and makes everything possible. Without it, truly we are nothing!
Do you personally know this kind of Love in your life?
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