Week 8 of a series examining Christian virtues
This week we take a look at love, – the last virtue identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).
Hopefully over the last 7 weeks we’ve learnt that we are to grow in grace, which entails growing in godliness and Christlikeness. We are to display the fruit of the Spirit in the bond of peace and we are to demonstrate the gracious characteristics that only come from above, in our everyday life and pattern of living.
As children of our heavenly Father, we are to function in His divine supernatural nature, which He has been gifted to us, by faith in Christ. Jesus himself lived His life in the way that God ordained that we should live, from the beginning.
Despite Christ being fully God, and equal with His Father, He became a little lower than the angels and lived His life in subjection to God’s perfect will. The eternal Son became the perfect Man, to demonstrate to us sinners, who are saved by grace through faith in Christ – just HOW we should live, as children of God.
As we abide in Jesus, and He in us, we are day by day to strive to be conformed into the image and likeness of Christ Himself.
We’ve spent the last 7 weeks looking at Peter’s list of the beautiful characteristics that our heavenly Father desires for all His blood-bought sons and daughters to display in their daily lives. Yes, we are in the world, but we are also not of the world, and so should show these divine characteristics that are ours, in and through our new life in Christ, for we are a new creation.
Peter explains that by faith we have escaped the corruption of this world, and that by faith we have been given all we need for life and godliness. And because we are God’s sons and daughters, we should make every effort to supplement our faith with goodness, our goodness with knowledge, our knowledge with self-control, our self-control with perseverance and our perseverance with godliness.
One would have thought that godliness, would have been the ultimate objective in a Christian’s life… but Peter continues; and to your godliness, add brotherly kindness, and to your brotherly kindness – add LOVE. Love is the fulfilling of God’s law in our lives. Loving others in the same way that Christ loved us, is the commandment that He gave to each one of us.
Godliness should be the objective of a believer – where a practical holiness honours the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – but godliness should manifest love. And love for our perfect God must develop into love for an imperfect humanity.
We are to demonstrate Christ-like tenderness and brotherly kindness to our imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ… for by this all will know that we are Christ’s disciples. Such love is to extend to our enemies too because the bottom line is this… God requires perfection from us, and this is an impossibility in our own fallen nature – but we are being made a new creature in Christ, and have been clothed in His righteousness by faith. His eternal, resurrected life dwells in us, therefore, we have been given His perfect sinless nature – through which the supernatural love of God can be manifested.
When we die to self and all that the sin-soaked nature of our old life in Adam represents, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in newness of life, through Christ Jesus our Lord.
So now we’ve come to love. Note how faith leads the way, and love brings up the rear because it is the greatest of all!
The Greek word agape is often translated “love” in the New Testament. How is “agape love” different from other types of love? The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and wilful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love (eros). Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, (for which the Greek word philia is used). Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character, as we see beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13.
In the New Testament, Agape love has a distinct meaning. It is used to describe the love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God does not merely love, because He is love itself, for everything God does flows from His love.
Agape is also used to describe:
- Our love for God. (Luke 10:27 – He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”)
- A servant’s faithful respect to his master (Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”)
- A man’s attachment to things (John 3:19 – This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.)
The type of love that characterises God is not sappy and sentimental. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve it or because of any excellence we possess, but because it is His nature to love and He must be true to His nature.
Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5). We did not deserve such a sacrifice, “but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s agape love is unmerited, gracious, and constantly seeking the benefit of the ones He loves. The Bible says we are the undeserving recipients of His lavish agape love (1 John 3:1- See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.). God’s demonstration of agape love led to the sacrifice of His one and only Son for those He loves.
Because of all this we are to love others with agape love, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34 – ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”). Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us. Agape love, as modelled by Christ, is not based on a feeling; rather, it is a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.
Agape love does not come naturally to us. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love (agape) can only come from its source. This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5; cf. Galatians 5:22). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another.
Are you growing colder as you get older in your Christian life? Or are you pressing toward the upward call, seeking to know the Lord Jesus more and more intimately? May we all press on in the power of the Spirit of God, and through the provision of the Word of God.