Unselfish Love

Audio MP3 

"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity [agape]. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Mark Grillo

Can thought exist without language? Are there some truths that language is incapable of expressing? The philosopher Wittgenstein argued that the limits of his language were the limits of his world and that it was impossible to think or speak about anything beyond the limits of language. He suggests that such experiences must be passed over in silence. Agape love may be one of these ineffable experiences.

In scripture, several different words from both Hebrew and Greek have been translated as our English word "love." Agape (Strongs 25) is one Greek word translated as "love" and the one that will be addressed here. We find the word agape in such scriptures as:

John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Luke 10:27, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart ... soul ... strength ... and mind; and thy neighbor as thyself."

One of the dilemmas of the English language is that we often have only one word that we use in a variety of circumstances to mean a number of different things. For instance, we say we love pie or baseball, or we love our wives and children, or we love our brethren. Does this assume we have the same level of regard for all of them? At times it may be that we get lazy with our speech. Whatever the cause, when we try to express this thing called love, what is it that we are transmitting or receiving? What is love? Is it a thing? Is it a craft or a skill? Is it merely an emotion?

The media, as a by-product of our society and our economy, have done a great disservice by creating an incorrect image of love. They have established in our minds a skewed and false perception so that when we use the word love, even in our best efforts, it does not evoke the true and pure sentiment that God intended. We are being deceived. Has our understanding of love has become so corrupted, that when we read "God so loved [agapao] the world that he gave his only begotten Son," we fail to grasp the depth and breadth of what this means?

In our normal conversation, when we use the term love, what do we convey, and what does the listener hear? The one listening would by nature picture images of love based on their paradigm. Those impressions have likely been distorted by this sin-filled, "self "-filled world.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).

How do we learn to live a life of agape, or God-like and Christ-like love? In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that, in order to understand the depths of the meaning of agape, we must grow up. We need to mature. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11). He grew up! When we are young infants, we are self-absorbed, prone to immediate gratification and thoughtless of the needs of others.

As we grow mature and experience more of life, we become responsible. We begin to think less about the here and now and consider more the there and when. We begin to think beyond ourselves, and about putting the needs of others before our own, and giving to meet their needs, not our own.

This is agape, not a reciprocal love, but rather a sacrificial love.

Think of something you can do very well, then working hard to do it better. Picture a person in your life that needs help and imagine helping that person in some way. Then, imagine helping them even more, giving as much as you are able, as often as you are able. This is agape the way Jesus lived it! It is totally spending yourself, your energy, your resources, your everything ... for others. "We know we have passed from death unto life [when] we agape the brethren" (1 John 3:14).

A Scientific Perspective

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: "I want to know God’s thoughts, all the rest are details." Now, take this thinking out to the edge. Albert Einstein also said, "E = mc2," in what is commonly called, The Theory of Relativity. Essentially, what the theory suggests is that there is a relationship between energy (heat, electricity, light etc.) and matter (the temporal, physical material we and our environment are made up of). The thought is, if energy is slowed down enough, it could turn into matter and the corollary is, if we speed matter up enough, it may become energy.

Link these thoughts together. What if love is energy? It does make things happen. Love can make the heart race and motivate decision-making. 1 John 4:16 says, "God is love [agape]." So, if the very essence of God is this forceful energy called love, then what if God took some of that energy and slowed it down to make the matter we are made of? Likewise if we "ramp up" our love, could we become more God-like?

Consider the following, based on the comments from Pastor Russell. The struggle between selfishness and agape is rooted in the problem that we are very poor material from which to try to form likenesses of God’s dear Son. We were "children of wrath even as others" (Ephesians 2:3). The original likeness of God, possessed by father Adam before he transgressed, has been sadly lost in the six thousand years intervening. Hence, instead of finding ourselves in the divine likeness of agape, we were "born in sin, and shapen in iniquity" (Psalms 51:5). This is so to such a degree that instead of agape being the natural ruling principle in our characters, it is in many instances almost entirely obliterated; and what remains is largely contaminated with selfishness and evil (Reprints 2202 and 4837).

"If we [agapao] one another, God dwelleth in us, and His [agape] is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12).

It has been suggested that as light is broken up, when it travels through a prism, into a rainbow of color, so also does love as it is expressed in the life of the earnest Christian. Love is dispersed as a rainbow of character traits. These characteristics are delineated by the Apostle Paul.

"Charity suffereth long [patient], and is kind [kind]; charity envieth not [generous]; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up [humble], doth not behave itself unseemly [courteous], seeketh not her own [unselfish], is not easily provoked [good tempered], thinketh no evil [guileless]; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth [sincere]" (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

Agape beareth all things, agape believeth all things, agape hopeth all things, endureth all things. agape never fails (verses 7, 8).

"And now abideth faith, hope, agape, these three; but the greatest of these is agape" (verse 13).

Our Challenge

We are navigating through a world very contrary to the nature of the new creature within us. We must continue to transform our minds (Romans 12:1-2) and think it not strange when fiery trials beset us (1 Peter 4:12) as we press on toward the perfection of agape in us.

"For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12 ).

At present, we look at our agape reflection in the looking glass, the mirror, and we see a poor reflection, as though we were looking into a polished piece of metal, and we think we are doing alright. The day will come when, face to face with the model, our master and Lord, face to face we will see even as we are known.

The symbol of service for the Christian is Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:5-14).

When he had finished, he said to his disciples, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:15). This is not the model of the world. The world says, it is all about "me, myself and I." The world says, "You are number one!" A life lived in agape, on the other hand, is a life transformed, given, and spent. This agape is an unsolicited, sometimes unmerited, giving of yourself, your time and your energy for others. Love (agape) is not a euphoric emotion set ablaze by beauty, or charm, or opulent gifts. Love (agape) is not in what we receive, but rather in what we give.

Just as cold is the absence of heat, and darkness is the absence of light, it may be said that selfishness is the absence of love (agape). "Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me" (Luke 18:22).

As Peter places this capstone attribute of agape onto the hierarchy that he provides in chapter one of his second epistle, he builds upon faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and then agape. The position Peter gives agape in 2 Peter 1:5-8 seems to set it off as though it were the pinnacle of spiritual attainment. Peter, as Paul does in Corinthians, styles agape the principal thing of Christian character, the crown of all Christian graces, telling us that without it all sacrifices and self-denials would be valueless in God’s esteem, while with it as the inspiring motive, our feeblest efforts are acceptable through Christ (Reprints 2807).

Whether we are something or nothing in God’s estimation is to be measured by our agape for Him, for His brethren, for His cause, for the world in general, and even for our enemies, rather than by our knowledge or fame or oratory. In the measurement of character, therefore, we are to put agape first, and to consider it the chief test of our nearness and acceptance to the Lord (Reprints 3150:3-4).

The replete and repeated scriptural evidence indicates that the character trait of agape is very high on God’s list for our development. So whether in a few years or many, and with little or much friction of adversity, the transformation and polishing of our character must be accomplished. The agape likeness of our wills to the will of God is the end to be sought.