A Month of Love
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
The aim of our renewed lives in Jesus should be to live as Jesus lived. When people see us and observe us, they should see God in us. We should resemble our Father: “Just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15).
Just what does living like God look like? Well, being that it is February, it is appropriate to talk about the way that God lives out what we call “love.” To understand God’s particular expression of love, it is important to distinguish it from the different forms of love we see evidenced in our world today. Just like the Yupik and Inuit people have multiple words for “snow,” the Greek language has multiple words to describe the different dimension of “love.” God doesn’t look down on any of these forms of love, but He certainly holds one above the rest, and that one is “agape” love. Let’s explore love in all it’s forms:
First, there is “eros,” which describes how we feel when we “fall in love.” It’s romantic, ambitious, and passionate. It’s the sitting by the phone for hours waiting on eros love to call. We don’t have to summon it into action. It summons us!
Then there is “storge.” This word usually connotes family love that occurs between parents, children, and among siblings. It’s what wakes up parents at 3:00 in the morning after lying down for only an hour to care for their precious baby.
Next there is “philia,” which means “brotherly love.” It’s where we get the name “Philadelphia” from, the city of “brotherly love.” Philia is a love between people who are unrelated but have come to treat one another like family. It must be taught and learned.
And last there is “agape.” This is the kind of love is the favor given to someone who has no reason or position to deserve or merit it. This is the love that God shows us and commands all of us to show each other. As one Christian writer puts it, “it is the kind of love that goes on when the road is rough and the going gets tough. It goes on when the edges are frayed and the heart is dismayed.” Agape love shows kindness and favor when it is most unnatural for us to do so — when we’ve been hurt by another. It’s the kind of love Jesus is talking about when Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” He says, “Do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back” (Luke 6:35).
Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus modeled in His ministry when He called Judas “friend” even though He knew Judas was about to betray Him (Matthew 26:50). He still desired good for Judas even though Judas meant evil to Jesus.
Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus showed to the ten men He healed from leprosy, knowing that only one would come back and say thank you to Him (Luke 17:11-19). He showed kindness to others without expecting those He helped to repay Him.
Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus showed when He went to the cross to pay for the sins of humanity. We had no merit to earn forgiveness. Our sins grieved God, but “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He suffered so that we as sinners could be free.
To live like Jesus means that we too give agape love to those in our lives who have hurt us. It means we treat our enemies with compassion. This, as you probably have experienced, can be a difficult task.
There are a couple of strategies that can help us. Jesus refers to a woman early in his ministry who comes to Him to pour perfume on Him saying, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). This woman was able to love — with agape love — because of how greatly she recognized the forgiving love Jesus had shown her in her life. “How has God forgiven me?” is a question we can ask when we find ourselves struggling to be kind to our enemies. Surely, God has been merciful to us when we didn’t deserve it; in response, can’t we show mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it? Jesus says again: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Another strategy for showing agape love is to understand that we don’t have to bury the hurt in order to love. We just have to be able to let go of what we feel to be our right to hurt the person back. David, before he became Israel’s acting king, found his life in danger at the hands of King Saul who, in his jealousy and fear over David’s fame and success, desired him dead. Yet no matter how many times David was pursued by Saul and almost killed, David refused to fight back. He said, “Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (1 Samuel 26:9) He knew that if he fought back, he’d be in danger of punishment from the Lord. David was able to refrain from retaliation by resting in the knowledge that if he did what was right, the Lord would defend him. David said of Saul, “As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord Himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 26:10-11). It wasn’t David’s job to fight back, but he could also rest knowing that the Lord doesn’t overlook evil.
And yet, while agape love may find comfort in the justice of God, it doesn’t rest there forever. David, while hurt by Saul, still mourned when he learned of Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:17). Jesus didn’t just show kindness to those He encountered, but He longed for them to come to repentance, as He desires the same for each of us: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings and you were not willing (Matthew 23:37). Agape love prays for those who persecute us. We pray that people wouldn’t have to suffer the punishment for their sins, but that they would come to repentance.
As we embark into this month known for “love,” let us all endeavor through the strength of the Holy Spirit to love as Jesus loved, not just loving those people we like, but also those who have hurt us. And let us also remember how much we have been loved and forgiven by God. Amen.