HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
In Galatians 5:22-23, love is translated from the Greek word ἀγάπη, (meaning agape). Greek has multiple words for love including eros, which is sexual love and Philos, which is brotherly love. Agape’ is perfect love that only God can give.
“In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant ‘love’ and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential ‘love’ in them towards the Giver, and a practical ‘love’ towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver,” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary.
Love for God and others is the result of receiving God’s perfect agape’ love. Jesus encouraged his followers:
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11).
There are Different Kinds of Love
In Galatians, love is the first fruit of the Spirit listed. Perhaps that’s because love is what enables us to develop the other fruits of the Spirit in our lives, paving the way for what God wants to do in our hearts.
In the book, The Four Loves, written by C.S. Lewis, wrote about four types of love and I share them with you.
- storge (affection),
- philia (friendship),
- eros (romance),
- and agape (unconditional love), based off of John’s statement in Scripture “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
In examining the roles of these various kinds of love, Mr. Lewis provides a picture that is beyond what’s typically portrayed in sitcoms or found in the aisles of many supermarkets stuffed with now-75-per cent-off chocolate. It’s a picture that’s broader, even than the longings in our hearts that ask the same questions we asked as a child: “Do I belong to anyone? Am I treasured?”
God’s resounding answer is always, “Yes, yes, yes! I am pouring my love out to you through Christ. Do you see it?”
If we look as Lewis did, we find that love is expressed to us daily in many varieties, from the tight hug given by a small child to the kind words a friend or a coworker speaks to us to a passionate smooch from a spouse. But most importantly, it’s expressed to us in an unceasing, always-and-forever love from the God who created us and treasures us. A God who wants not only to lavish his love on us but also to overflow our hearts so that we would do the same for others.
When we actually stop to reflect on the different ways God is expressing his love to us and through us, gratitude wells up in our hearts. We begin to become thankful for how we are loved rather than resentful about what we believe we are missing in life. Gratitude leads to love and can serve as our starting place, instead of the things we think will help us feel treasured. When we are grateful it’s as if our heart peeks out of the despondent hole it’s been moping in and realizes, “Hey! I’ve been loved all along!” Gratitude tills the soil of our hearts so that the fruit of love can grow and ripen.
God is love. And God is always present. This means his love is always available and always present in our lives. What would it mean for you to become more aware of his presence today and to express gratitude for his love for you? How can you express the affection, friendship, or unconditional love that Lewis wrote about to a friend, neighbour, or coworker?
So what is love?
“Love” has been horribly abused in today’s world. It has wrongly been used to describe selfish sexual lust. It’s been given as an excuse for passively enabling terrible sins to continue in the lives of loved ones. It’s been seen as an uncontrollable emotion that leads to destructive behaviour, or as empty words were thrown back and forth with no substance.
The love that is listed as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is much different. It is translated from the Greek word agape, used here to express the highest form of love that comes through the Holy Spirit. The love we are supposed to be demonstrating must be a godly love, which comes from God, the being who personifies this attribute.
Look closely at 2 John 1:6, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it”.
The love Christians are expected to demonstrate as a fruit of the Spirit is based on the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:35-40). Love can be defined as outgoing concern demonstrated by following the commandments God has written in the Bible. The 10 Commandments show both how to have a true relationship with the Creator (appropriate respect and worship practices) and how to interact with and treat other human beings (avoiding what the Bible calls sin, which destroys relationships).
What is love? Love is a great gift from God. The Bible tells us that love suffers long, is kind, does not envy, does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and never fails (paraphrased from 1 Corinthians 13, often called the Love Chapter).
Becoming more like God
God is love. The apostle John describes this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
God loved the world so much that He gave up His Son to face torture and crucifixion, taking the penalty of sin on Himself, so that we might have our sins forgiven and have access to His Holy Spirit (John 3:16). Those who say they are Christian and who strive to walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6) realize that God wants us to demonstrate the selflessness of love because He wants us to become more like Him.
Humanity has tried for thousands of years to get by without loving God or loving one another, and it hasn’t worked. The world is full of misery, pain, death, suffering and many other horrible realities. The world’s version of love, unfortunately, does not come from God, but rather from Satan, an embittered fallen angel who will stop at nothing to twist anything good God has given to man.
Why does God want us to demonstrate love? It is who and what He is, and He wants us to experience that and show those around us that they don’t have to settle for Satan’s mirage of shallow or twisted love.
An example of love to follow
A good example of love for our fellow man and love for God can be found in how Jonathan behaved toward David (1 Samuel 18-20). It was a difficult time. David had been chosen by God as the next heir to the throne of Israel; and Jonathan’s father, King Saul, hated this.
Jonathan’s father was seeking to kill David. But Jonathan’s unselfish love toward David was so great that he did not resent or hate David for being chosen by God, instead of him, as heir to the throne. He also defied his father’s sinful behaviour, putting a higher value on love to God and outgoing concern for his friend (what is right) than loyalty to a family member bent on sinning.
The example of Jonathan flies in the face of so many modern notions of love. Jonathan didn’t enable sin to please others. He didn’t help only if it was a benefit to him, and he didn’t leave God out of the picture.
An example to avoid
A very sad example of the wrong kind of love can be found in the story of how one of David’s sons, Amnon, “loved” his sister. The story is found in 2 Samuel 13, and it occurred many years into David’s reign as king of Israel.
Amnon let his heart and sexual lust guide him to the point of being physically ill because he could not possess his sister Tamar. When he finally had the opportunity, he raped her and then immediately afterwards spurned her, apparently forgetting how much he “loved” her. Even aside from the horrors of rape, Amnon’s “love” was nothing of the sort. It was selfish, sinful and certainly damaging.
The outcome of this was devastating to Tamar, who lived the rest of her days in isolation. Amnon also earned the hatred of his half-brother Absalom, who later murdered him.
Amnon’s “love” didn’t care that rape is a sin and that there would be dire consequences. It led him away from God and away from basic decency. Even modern society would look at this example and be appalled. Unfortunately, most today would not make the connection between Amnon’s selfish and physical/sexual-only view of love and the views permeating modern society.