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What is Love? Part I – Definitions

The world has a lot of definitions for love. Deep affection, fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment, endearment; devotion, adoration, doting, idolization, worship; passion, ardor, desire, lust, yearning, infatuation. Compassion, caring, concern, friendliness, friendship, kindness, charity, goodwill, sympathy, kindliness, altruism, unselfishness, philanthropy, benevolence.

When I see the Jesus of the Gospels, I see the best of these definitions displayed, his deep affection for John, the tenderness toward Peter after his denial. I see his compassion and goodwill poured into the woman in John 8, and that little man Zacchaeus. I also see his anger toward the Pharisees, a love for sinners turned upon the self-righteous weapons of comparison and self-vaunting used to destroy lives.

But central, always central, is his adoration for and wholehearted committal to his Father, a passion that spilled out in a flood to redeem a world of men and women cut off from God.There is a reliant trust flowing from the Jesus of the Gospels, which except for the wilderness and Gethsemane seems to flow spontaneously, easily, richly. There is an awareness of total weakness and ability: “I can do nothing of myself,” and an admission of total strength: “The Father in me does the works.” The paradox of humility and boldness within the same Man.

The word “agape” has been often spoken of as “God’s love.” But in John 3:19 Jesus said, “…this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved (agapao) darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” To hate light is to love darkness. To love light is to hate darkness. Within the believer’s inner core is a new motive power; he is a partaker of the divine nature; it is the opposite of the Eph 2:2 spirit, “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (apeithia, literally, the obstinately unconvinced). The Love which laid down his life for his enemies is now a pulsating light within the believer which has the ability to conquer darkness. This Power within us is for others, even at the expense of himself.

Does that mean we never feel the desire to self-protect, or to strike back at those who hurt us, that we are never tempted? Of course not. Like Jesus, we are human, with all the capacities of feeling he possessed and displayed. We are temptable; it is a built-in characteristic of our humanity. Temptation is the very thing which gives rise to choice: So-and-so hurt me. I want to strike back. Do I? Well, who am I? I am a partaker of the divine nature. As such, I am energized and empowered at my core to forgive, to be for others, no matter what the cost. To plug into that Power  by faith brings life and peace through us to others. To fail to do so is to deal death to others.

The agape which produces love for God and others, then, is a whole-hearted commitment to faithing in the Lord within us, trusting that his grace, his love, his power to love God and others inside us is sufficient for the job. It is trusting an inner Power for the needs of the moment.

Does loving light and hating darkness mean we can never sin? No. What it does mean is that we can’t live there. Something eats at us, a sense that we are not being everything we are meant to be, a sense of failure, a sense of wrong that we cannot shake. 1John says if we are abiding in Christ we are not sinning, and if we are sinning we are not abiding. To abide, trust, rely, is to turn on Love’s switch and let the power flow that lights up the world.

What is this love of light, then? What is agape?

If it can be distilled down to one sentence, it would seem to me love is a wholehearted committal of oneself to something or someone, no matter what the cost. It is the love of a good mother and father for a child. It is the best of the love of lovers when divested of self-love. It is the love of Hudson Taylor for the people of China. It is agape, whole-hearted commitment-love which gives itself for the best of the beloved thing or person. It is not intellectual, or springing merely from feeling. But it engages the intellect, and awakens the other loves within the soul.

To be continued.

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