In the introduction of my book, I quote John 3:16—“For God so loved the world.” (This is an excerpt) What exactly does that mean? Does our definition(s) of love help us understand that verse? I am pretty sure they don’t. First Corinthians 13:2–8 is often considered the love chapter. It is used in many a marriage ceremony. It says:
“Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Though I do bestow on my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love 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, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails.”
Do you love like that? I know that I don’t.
But God does! God is always a gentleman; He does not force Himself upon us. We have free will so that we will come to Him under no duress. The book of James can be a tough epistle to read. He says what he means and means what he says. In his fourth chapter, he speaks against pride, worldliness, and judgmental attitudes. But he also says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” God’s love is kind, is not rude, rejoices in the truth, and bears with us because “God has loved you with an everlasting love; He has drawn you with loving-kindness.”
In our language, love can be used in many ways. I love the shirt you’re wearing. I love that paint color that’s on your walls. I will love you forever and ever. That movie was great—I loved it. In Greek there are three words for love. Eros is physical love, such as sexual desire. Philos is esteem and affection in our casual relationships, such as a friendship. Agape is based on a deliberate choice of the one who’s loving rather than the worthiness of the one who is loved. This love is unconditional, giving, and selfless. It is a love for the long haul.
This kind of love rejoices in the blessings others receive. It does not involve pride or self-glory. It does not seek its own reward. This love sets aside our own plans and agendas for the good of another. Agape love is not easily angered, nor is oversensitive. This love is not short-tempered toward other people’s words or actions. This love is not blind, so when we recognize problems and failures in others (or ourselves), we do not lose our faith in the possibilities of what they (or we) might become. This love never gives up, and it believes we can change our lives for the good. Agape love continues unabated to build up and encourage others. “Greater love has no one than this, then to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
And this is how we know that God loves us. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”