The higher love Christ calls his followers to practice is difficult — and worthwhile!
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus calls us to a higher standard of conduct — toward him and toward others. What he envisioned for his disciples was a harmonious community where love governed the way that people interacted with each other. Agape love is the highest form of care. It is the kind of love God demonstrated by sending his only begotten son into the world to redeem man’s sins. It is unconditional love, unselfish love and sacrificial love. Christ on the cross is agape incarnate.
Since the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with demonstrated power to lead the apostles into all truths about the Kingdom, disciples have struggled to make the love command of Jesus work. Grecian Christians were disturbed that widows of their number were neglected in the daily ministration of food. Jewish Christians remained uncomfortable with Gentiles who became Christian converts. Sisters became fractious and threatened the workings of a congregation. Even leaders such as Paul and Barnabas could not agree about John Mark in the early days of spreading the church into the Roman world.
“Love one another” never is easy — unless God is involved. Since the Renaissance, the factions in the Christian world have caused people to despise Christianity. Even generous critics of Christianity question the many denominations and their splinters. The Restoration movement set out to restore the purity of New Testament Christianity, but from earliest days of the initiative, differences have thwarted the efforts to get back to the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Agape is, in contrast, a learned love, not something that is natural with mankind. Agape is not possible unless the spirit of God is living and working in a person. Without God’s work on the heart and the actions, no person can rise to love all other disciples in the way Jesus described in John 13. The capacity to love all believers depends on our loving Jesus and the church with all our being. We live in a time when people do not generally love institutions or organizations, and so our process of loving each other must begin with our learning to love God and the church with all of our heart, mind and spirit. The church, God’s Kingdom for all his followers, must be a primary love of our life or we will not care about others who are seeking to be the disciples of Jesus.
Agape is not easy. We have to submit to the Spirit and allow it to nurture in our nature the ability to show patience and long-suffering. Disciples can be ugly, unlovable, demanding, challenging and cantankerous, but agape sees beyond those character flaws to the eternal soul of another redeemed person.
Agape helps us develop persistence in love for those who are acting in a way that turns us off. We continue showing care and kindness in an effort to reach the person and bring him or her to a transformed relationship with God and with others. Agape means never giving up on a person until the relationship is fulfilling and meaningful.
Agape brings joy to a community because there is acceptance and relationship. The mystery of God the father, Jesus the son, and the Spirit all being one should be the model for the joyous fellowship of people who truly love one another. The mutual love allows us to rejoice and share the happiness of those we care for — just as we care for ourselves. And the sharing of sorrows helps lift the sense of oppression.
Agape recognizes that understanding and interpreting God’s Word is a challenge when God requires that we use our intellect to search out the doctrines of the Kingdom from the biographies of Jesus, the history of the early church, epistles to churches and individuals and the Revelation. Agape beats down the impulse to challenge and divide and inspires the determination to love each other as saints together and thereby declare to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples.
Father, let agape dwell in your people and draw us together to serve you. – “Insight” by Baily McBride – Christian Chronicle