|From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase|
Part three of a five-part series. Read part two.
All authentic manifestations of agape love - God's love for us, our love for Him, our love for fellow believers - are rooted in settled truth, not our variable opinions or feelings.
To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.
And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another.
This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. (2 John 1-6)
Truth and Love: Pillars of Authentic Christianity
In this very personal epistle, John speaks of both walking in truth and walking in love as the commandments of God. The love of which John speaks is agape love.
John uses this word fifty-three times in his three short epistles. Repeatedly, John emphasizes the fact that aletheia truth and agape love are inseparable for the Christian. They are pillars of genuine Christianity. John makes this connection even more emphatically in his first epistle:
In this the children of God and the children of the Devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)
Long ago, some unknown evangelist first asked the question, "If being a Christian were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" To be more specific: Is there enough evidence of your adherence to aletheia truth, and of your corresponding agape love for the brethren, to demonstrate that you are a child of God and not a child of the Devil?
In Colossians, Paul cites agape love in its proper relationship to truth as one of the pillars of Christian unity:
For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3)
The Nature of Agape Love
The hearts of believers, both Paul and John tell us, are to be knitted together in agape love. What is the nature of this love? What are its key characteristics? How are we to demonstrate it within the body of Christ? How can we tell the real from the counterfeit?
In the language of the Greek New Testament, agape love is characterized mainly by two things. There is something in particular that motivates it, and there is something else in particular that demonstrates it - something in particular that characterizes how agape love puts itself into action.
The motivation of agape love is an appreciation for the preciousness of the person who is the object of that love. The demonstration or the out-working of agape love is self-sacrifice.
Authentic Christianity is based on what we may call the three steps of agape love.
The first step, the Bible says, is God's agape love for us. God has agape love for sinners, John 3:16 tells us. God so loved the world. God so loved His creation. God so loved sinners. God's creation is precious to Him. Sinners are precious to Him. That is the motivation of God's agape love for us. In spite of the depth of our sin, in spite of our complete depravity, we are precious to God because He created us. He created us for fellowship with Him. Sin has broken that fellowship. Restoring that fellowship with those who are precious to Him is the motivation of God's agape love.
And what is the demonstration of God's agape love? John 3:16 goes on to tell us: God had such agape love for the world, that the demonstration, the out-working of that agape love was that He gave His only begotten Son to go to the cross and take the death penalty that we deserve for our sins. In spite of our rebellion, in spite of the depth of our corruption, in spite of the deep stain of sin in every part of our beings, we were precious in God's sight. In Isaiah the Lord says this, to the rebellious house of Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by My name, you are mine...I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you...Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory (Isaiah 43:1-7).
The second step of agape love is the response of the believing sinner to God. The Apostle John puts it this way: "We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Because of what God has done for us, God becomes precious to us. Peter puts it this way in First Peter chapter two:
Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone [Jesus Christ], elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame." Therefore, to you who believe He [Jesus] is precious (1 Peter 1:6-7).
When you truly place your faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He becomes precious to you. That is the work of the Holy Spirit of God as He indwells you, and as you study God's Word and the Spirit illuminates it for you. Christ becomes more and more precious to you. The building up of that motivation within you has the effect, or the outworking, of a growing desire to exhibit self-sacrificial love toward God. As John the Baptist put it, "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).
But then there is step three, and this is where agape love comes into focus as one of the pillars of Christian unity. Every other believer in Christ within the true church, within the body of Christ, should be precious to you, because every other believer in Christ within the body of Christ is precious to God. That is the motivation of agape love within the body of Christ. In his greeting at the beginning of his second epistle, Peter says that we have all obtained "like precious faith...by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1).
Love Rooted in Truth
Clearly, all of these manifestations of agape love - God's love for us, our love for Him, our love for fellow believers - are by definition rooted in truth. They are a matter of settled facts and not variable opinions or feelings. Yes, there can be an emotional response to the truth. What truly regenerated saint of God can sing Charles Wesley's great hymn, And Can It Be That I Should Gain An Interest in the Savior's Blood?, without a swelling of emotion? "Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, My God, shoulds't die for me?"
Such emotion is a proper response to propositional truth. The problem for the Christian comes when emotion runs contrary to and roughshod over truth. That is the problem of many in the church today. Emotion has taken the place of truth and has produced a "love" that is a counterfeit.
Paul and John both emphasize that ours is to be a love "without hypocrisy" (Romans 12:9). This leads us on to the consideration of the next point in the theme of John's second epistle - that for the Christian, walking in truth and walking in love can only be done under the authority of Christ.
Next: Christ and Antichrist