God is the embodiment of love, and all his deeds reflect the quality of love. Paul makes a comparison of faith, hope and love and comes to the conclusion that the greatest among these God is love (1 Cor 1:1).
Agape-which is the concept of love in the Bible, can be defined only in the characteristic of God. “God is love,” affirms John (1 John 4: 8). God not only loves us, but he is the very essence of love. That all God allows happening emerges from his love.
God loves his son, Jesus (John 5:20, John 17:26) and Jesus loves his father (John 14: 31). Since God loves his son, Jesus was made aware of the will of God. In turn, Jesus demonstrated his love for the Father through his obedience and submission.
God wants to remove the barrier between Him and humankind due to the sin of Adam and Eve. This was done by sending his son into the world to save sinners and provide all with eternal life (Rom 5: 7-8. John 3: 16). John declares that the evidence of God’s love for humankind is that Christ died for our sins.
We do not receive the love of God through any of our merits (Rom 5: 7-8). Since God is love, He does not wish that any human should perish but desires all repent and gain life.
The Bible says one must love God with all your strength. God will transform a ‘heart of stone’ into a ‘heart of flesh’ after getting a second birth with the spirit (John 3:3). One must die from one’s former sinful life and resurrect to a fresh one (Col 3: 1 to 4). One must move from darkness to light (1 John 2:9).
The source of all love is God. He poured out his love into our hearts by the working of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). All of us are channels of his love: we must abide in the love by being fruitful vines to the plant of God’s love. Since we love others, we pass from death to life.
Because we receive God’s love, he has the expectation that we must love. John says, whoever does not love, does not know God because God is the embodiment of Love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”Jesus is the model of love. Renunciation of the world and obedience to God are crucial elements of our relationship with God.
The expression of love is in practical deeds. John exhorts, “Dear children, let us not love with tongue or words but in truth and actions.” The faithful need to have an attitude of sharing those with need whether the needs are for food, clothing, shelter, healing or water. Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that ‘agape’ love is not merely emotional love but responding to others in need.
God’s command to love has the foundation in how God loves us. Because believers have received love, they must, in turn, express this love to others. Because Christ laid down his life for us, we must be ready to lay down our lives for others (1: John 3:16).
In the time of Jesus, many Jews believed that the neighbour he refers to is a fellow Israelite. But when asked to define a ‘neighbour,’ Jesus points to a Samaritan, who helps a Jew in need as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) A neighbour, according to Jesus is any other in need. In fact, a neighbour can be one, who mistreats curses or hates one. In fact, one must love one’s enemies (Luke 6).
The Old Testament exhorted us to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Jesus gives a new command, “Love one another as I have loved you (John 15).” In fact Paul sums up the entire law in one command,” Love your neighbour as yourself.” Evangelism is also motivated by love.
Poets, philosophers, and writers have down the ages stressed on the primacy of love. But all find it a difficult task to define love.
The best definition of love was given by Apostle Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. and now these three remains: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is Love (1 Corinthians 13).”
The concept of love in the New Testament derives its meaning from the Greek word- Agape. It is a love emerging from one’s heart by a heightened sense of value in the object of affection. This word is unique in the time of Jesus and is regarded as the creation of the Christian Church since it is absent in the texts of Classical Greek.
Weust (1997) explains that Agapao- love springs from a sense of value or preciousness of the object. The quality of love springs from the value of one, who loves and one who is loved.
Agapan was never a word common in Classical literature. The noun form is Agapesis and is very rare. The type of word Agape so common in the New Testament is not present at all in the classics. It appears first in the Greek translation of the New Testament.
Agape conveys the meaning of admiration and wonder. In classical literature, it is used along with the word Philein, which means ‘a love of liking.’ But since it was rarely used, it came to have unique use in the New Testament to stand for a higher concept of love of the divine. Agape became an ideal concept to indicate Christian love.
In Greek, the main language of the New Testament, there is a reference to four kinds of love. One is sexual love. A second is a type of interpersonal love based on enjoyment or pleasure. A third describes familial love. But, in the New Testament, there is a reference to a supreme type of love.
Agapao is popularly referred to as altruistic or selfless love. In the New Testament, it is referred to as the God’s love for humans. It emphasizes on the love conferred regardless of whether the object of affection is worthy or deserving of it. Thus, God’s love is unconditional love. Peck (1978) says that one of the characteristic features of this love is the unconscious or conscious intention in the lover’s mind.
Thus, Christian’s love emerges from God’s love for us and is also an exhortation to love others. It is a call to help those in need by one’s actions whether the recipient deserves or not.