Way of Agape:
What Does It Mean to Love God?
by Nancy Missler
Over the last several months we have been delving into the real meaning of Agape Love-the supernatural Love of Jesus that is poured into our hearts the moment we believe and invite Him into our lives. It is God Himself who comes into our hearts at that moment-He is that Love!
"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 Agape." 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.
( 1 John 4:7-8)
This kind of Love is not found in a church building, or in a religion or in different philosophies, this type of Love can only be found in a Person. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of real Love from the Father to us.
God Loves Us with Agape
We have also been exploring how we can know that God loves us with this same kind of unconditional Agape Love. Not just knowing in our heads that He loves us, but that moment-by-moment experiential intimacy that only a loving Father and child can enjoy.
We all need to live in the security of God's Love, no matter what our race, our circumstances, our marital situation or our financial status. If we know that God loves us, then we can do anything because we know who we are.
"...as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name...."
( John 1:12)
God created man with two basic needs: the need to be loved and the need to love. Our need "to be loved" can only be fulfilled by our knowing that God loves us with unconditional Agape Love. This is what gives us our security and our identity in this life.
Our need "to love" can be fulfilled only by our learning to love God and others in the way that He desires. This is what will give our lives the meaning and purpose that we are all searching for.
What Does it Mean to Love God?
Let's turn our attention, then, to what it means to really love God. Are we loving God by going to church every Sunday? Are we loving Him by doing "religious" acts? Are we loving Him by raising our hands in church...by teaching Bible studies...by praying faithfully... by writing books? What does it mean, then, to really love God?
"Thou shalt love (agapao) the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." The Greek word for "love" used in this first commandment is the verb agapao. To "agapao" something means to totally give ourselves over to it; to be totally consumed with it; or, to be totally committed to it. What we agapao is what we put first in our lives. All our intentions and abilities are focused and consumed with this one thing. In other words, agapao is a commitment or a binding of ourselves to something, so that we become "one" with it.
( Matthew 22:37-39)
Now, this commitment love can either be to God, to man or to things of the world. In other words, we can totally give ourselves over to something that is good (like God or others), or we can give ourselves over to something that is bad (like things of the world-money, materialism, pleasure, sex, etc.).
Listen to the following Scriptures and hear what some of the people in the Bible "totally gave themselves over to." The Greek word in each of these Scriptures is agapao:
o John 3:19, "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."
o John 12:43, "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."
o Luke 11:43, "Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues."
o 2 Timothy 4:10, "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world."
o 1 John 2:15, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world."
o And lastly, Luke 6:32, "for sinners also love those that love them."
So, be careful not to get the verb "agapao" mixed up with the noun "Agape," because they mean two completely different things. Agape is God's pure unconditional Love and it's always used as such in the Bible.
There is never a negative usage of Agape in the Scriptures. In fact, the word Agape was actually coined for its usage in the Bible, whereas the verb agapao (what we are studying here) was commonly used and meant what you put first in your life.
Some examples of "things" that we agapao might be: our careers, houses, money, pleasure and self.
When we agapao something, we are submitting our wills and our lives to it. In other words, it's the ultimate commitment of our selves; it's what we put first in our lives.
Do You Love God?
Now, if I asked you, "Do you love (agapao) God?" Most of us would automatically say, "Yes, of course I do!" But, if we are really honest with ourselves, how often do we seek to put His will and His desires above our own? How often are we consumed with what He desires for our life and not what we want out of life?
Can you honestly say that you desire God's will above your own happiness?
This question puts everything right into perspective, doesn't it? People everywhere are seeking happiness as their ultimate goal. Is this your goal? Or is your goal to totally give yourself over to God and do whatever pleases Him?
There was a lady in one of my seminars who really took offense at my statement, "we must desire God's will above our own happiness." She came up to after the session and said, "Nancy, surely you only mean our perception of happiness?"
I thought about it for awhile and then said, "No, I really believe there will be many times in our lives where we must choose to do God's will over that which we know might bring us momentary happiness."
There was a woman I met years ago who knew that God wanted her to stay in her marriage, regardless of the horrible circumstances. Her husband no longer loved her and he used every opportunity he could find to tell her so. He had "tired of her," and wanted her "out of his life." Thus, he was doing everything he could to make her life miserable.
Certainly my friend would have been much "happier" choosing to get out of the situation and away from her accuser. Yet, she knew that God had not given her permission to leave yet. And this dear sister in the Lord was more concerned about doing God's will than she was about her own momentary happiness.
I happened to see this lady not too long ago at a party, and she had some incredible news. God had totally changed her husband's heart. He had repented publicly and privately to her and he was now doing everything he possibly could to love her and to make things up to her.
God did restore their marriage and, I believe, much of that miracle was due to the fact that my friend was more concerned about doing God's will than she was about doing what she knew would bring her momentary happiness.
She knew that the long-term joy she would receive from being in the center of God's will was worth far more than the brief happiness she might have felt for a moment had she chosen to leave the marriage.
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory..."
( 2 Corinthians 4:17)
To Love God Means to Lose "Self"
To love God, then, is not an emotional feeling. To love God the way He desires us to love Him, means to totally give ourselves over to Him-to surrender, to relinquish and to abandon ourselves to Him, regardless of how we feel, what we think or what we desire. It means to set aside our life, so that His Life can come forth from our hearts.
2 Corinthians 4:10-11 confirms this, "Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
I also believe many Christians confuse their natural "feeling love" (the Greek word is storge) with agapao, which is our "commitment love." And because most of us have great emotional feelings for God, we think we are loving Him as He desires when, in fact, we are not even close.
Ever since I was a little girl, I've had a great love for God. But that love always seemed to fluctuate depending upon how I felt, what I thought and what my circumstances were. Thus, my early love for God was really just an emotional feeling and not the commitment love that God desires.
God talks about this kind of relationship Isaiah 29:13, "This people draw near Me with their mouths, and with their lips do honour Me, but (they) have removed their heart far from me, and their fear (love) toward Me is taught by the precept of men."
And Ezekiel 33:31, "They come unto Thee... and they sit before Thee... and they hear Thy words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goes after [other things]."
So, to love God the way He desires is definitely not an emotional feeling. To love God literally means to lose self.
When I say a "losing self," I don't mean becoming some sort of a "mindless" robot. I simply mean setting aside all our own thoughts, emotions, and desires that are contrary to God's (becoming a cleansed and open vessel) so that God's Life from our heart can come forth and fill our souls.
A perfect Scripture that sums up what loving God means, is Matthew 16:24: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
Let me tell you how my precious friend, Melissa, learned what it means to really love God.
When this incident occurred, Melissa and her husband, Walt, had four small children under the age of seven. Melissa had become extremely exhausted caring for all the needs of her children.
Thus, she had begun to pray that Walt would be more sensitive to her and help her out more with the kids when he got home in the afternoons. (He was a medical technician and went to work around 6 a.m., but got home between 2 and 3 p.m.) Melissa had prayed this prayer for some time, but had had no visible results.
One evening Walt came home early only to find the house a total mess. He had to step over piles of dirty laundry, broken toys and leftover lunch in order to find where Melissa and the kids were. She had all four children in the bathtub where she was washing their hair all at one time.
Walt stuck his head in the door and asked, "What on earth is going on? Why is the house such a mess?" Since Melissa had all day been mulling over thoughts like, "I can't take this any longer, why can't Walt help me more?" she immediately reacted out of those frustrations and shouted back at him, "Well, if you would only help me more with these kids, I'd have more time to clean your house!" Obviously, it was not a response out of God's Love, but a response triggered by her own built-up frustration.
Poor Walt was terribly hurt. He immediately became defensive and said something else about her messy house. She retaliated with another jab. More words were exchanged, and then Walt slammed the bathroom door and started downstairs, mumbling to himself something like "Boy, it's great to be home."
Melissa finished putting the kids to bed, shushing their inquisitive little questions of, "Is Daddy mad at us?" and "Why did Daddy slam the door?"
After tucking the kids in bed, Melissa went downstairs. But, not wanting to be in the same room with Walt (ever felt that way?), she went to the opposite end of the house, got out her Bible and began to pour out her true feelings to God. She started to cry and told God how tired, how lonely, and how unhappy she was. She told Him that Walt seemed so distant, so insensitive and as if he didn't even care anymore.
After weeping quietly for a long time she told God, "But, I do really love You and I want to do what is right. What would you have me to do?"
God, in His still small voice, directed her to Matthew 16:24, the passage we just read. "If any man comes after Me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow Me."
Melissa sat there for a long time, contemplating how on earth this verse applied to her situation. When God, in His still, small voice said, "If you will love me first, I'll enable you to love your husband."
Melissa immediately replied, "But Lord, I do love You. What else am I supposed to do to show you I love you?" With that, God impressed upon her mind, "If you really love Me, then get a basin of water and go and wash your husband's feet."
Well, you can imagine her reaction! If that were you, what kind of reaction would you have? Well, her reaction was the same! "Are you kidding?" she said. "After what he has done to me, he should be the one to wash my feet!"
God was silent. Finally Melissa began to understand, for the first time, what it really meant to love God: To deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him. In other words, do what Jesus would do. God was asking her not only to deny what she wanted, but He was also asking her to get up and do something she absolutely didn't want to do, which was to wash Walt's feet. God was asking her to do exactly what Jesus would do in her situation.
Melissa had been studying about Agape Love and she knew if she didn't obey God and do what He was asking, it would quench His Spirit and His Love in her heart. And she couldn't stand that.
So she made that difficult faith choice (denied herself), got up, went into the kitchen, got a bowl of water and towel (picked up her cross), and went into her husband's study.
Walt was lying on the couch, reading. She knelt quietly beside him and began to untie his shoes, crying softly as she did. At first, she said she didn't feel a thing (it was totally a non-feeling choice). But, she said, by the time she began to take off his shoes and socks, it had become pure genuine love (doing exactly what Jesus would have done). God had aligned her feelings to match her faith choices.
Walt was flabbergasted when he saw Melissa walk into the room with that bowl of water. He was sure it was going to go "over his head"! But when he saw her tears and felt her genuine Love, he reached down and drew her up to himself. After holding and embracing each other and truly realizing how much they really loved each other, Melissa was able to share with Walt her deepest needs.
As a result of this incident, they both became more sensitive to each other's needs: he began to help her more around the house and with the kids, and she tried to prepare a loving atmosphere when he came home at night.
"Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone [no fruit]: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit [God's Agape Love]."
( John 12:24)
This is what it means to love God.
This article has been excerpted from Chuck and Nan's book, The Way of Agape.