When the Apostle John wanted to define the nature of God's love, he did not rely on the classical Greek words "phileo" and "eros" for to him, they were inadequate. Instead, he chose an unused Greek word, "agape" to convey his meaning. "Agape" means "me for others" and this agape is as absurd as it is outrageous. To the religious mind, it is risible and yet, it is nonetheless, the truth about the God of the Christian Bible. God is love and God loves us and His love is unconditional. To love us is both His heart's desire and His fixed choice. Agape finds its meaning, purpose and fulfillment not in acquiring all it can for itself but in being all it is for others. It is in giving and not getting that agape finds its fulfillment.
There are only two words in the Bible, each meriting a chapter dedicated entirely to describing them - Faith (Hebrews 11) and Love (1 Corinthians 13). Faith is the revelation of the second phase of the Christian life, but love is the foundation without which all faith an all activity are worthless. The realisation that God is Agape ought to thrill our souls and cause us to soar, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not grow faint. Sadly, for some (if not, all) of us, the concept of love causes us to hesitate. We are cautious of it, suspicious even. That, I would suggest, is due to our becoming more accustomed to the counterfeit rather than the real thing where experience triumphs over hope resulting in our tendency to withdraw, to be compulsive, inhibited, repudiated, rejected, disdainful and to mistrust. These fear inducing introjections have caused us to run from, and not run to, God.
Herein lies a crucial reality - since God is love, we cannot seperate our understanding of love from our understanding of God. Moreover, we are being conformed into the image and likeness of God [Rom. 8:28-30]. However, in the absence of an abiding and trusting heart which allows Him to be the cause of His own effect, of His being the Author and Perfector of our faith, we are want to try and conform ourselves in our perception of what He is like. In short, we ultimately become whatever we believe Him to be like.
So, until we 'get' a serious heart revelation of who God really is, and how unconditional and vast His love is, we will be stuck, and won't be able to discover who we really are. We have to get a serious grip and revelation on the ridiculous love of God!! So the Apostle Paul, devotes 1 Corinthians 13 to do just that. Paul Walsh goes on to expound further on Paul's exposition to the church at Corinth and carefully looks at each characteristic of agape. He explains how each attribute of love builds to show agape in a deeper way. So each aspect of love; patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily provoked, keeps no records of wrong, thinks no evil, rejoices in the truth, bears all things, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails, help us to step by step 'see' the awesomeness of agape. Or as Paul states it, "they complete, step by step, an ascent of Mount Carmel until we finally arrive at the breathtaking summit." I won't go into each characteristic of love in this post, but thought I'd include a the first two so you can see how they build and get a deeper revelation of the aspects of God's agape.
Let's start with, Agape is patient. It was not immediately apparent to me why the Apostle would think to start his assent of the mountain with this characteristic until I realised how we use the word "patience" nowadays.
I thought about the amount of times I had heard the expression "I am losing my patience" when I was growing up or how many times I had both heard and said, "you're trying my patience." The more I thought about it, the more I realised what profound effect the word "patience" had had on me during my formative years. With disturbing ease, I was able to recall the anxiety I felt and , to a much lesser extent, still feel when someone was trying to explain something to me which I did not understand. Whenever they had lost me in the conversation, I would have this terrible inner struggle about telling them that I did not get it because I did not want them to lose their patience with me. Many a time when someone gave me instructions rather than seeking clarification, I would just nod like I understood. I thought about my life struggle with instructions and it is like those demonic things which you get with self-assembly furniture. I can guarantee you that if I start working on something like it, I will "lose my patience" with it. Why? Well, it is simply because I do not have any love for things like that. Where there is no love and understanding, there is an indefatigable amount of patience.
When people tell me that they are being "patient with me", what I assume is that they actually want to beat the living daylights out of me, that they are effectively withholding their anger and thus, I should be careful not to push it too far. Consequently, in my previous religious paradigm, the god of that world would stay his anger towards me provided that I did not push him too far. I have not really seen that "patience" is calm endurance of hardship, provocation or delay. It is tolerant forbearance born out of calm self-possessed waiting. It is, in fact, core to God's nature and is neither limited nor conditional. It simply is a descriptor of His nature. God is patient and this is completely different from stating that God is being patient to which He is not. He is patient by disposition and not imposition. When I finally realized that God was not tutting the whole time and getting impatient with me because I did not get it, that liberated me. Despite my stupidity, He never lost His patience, never chided me and never thought about getting rid of me by replacing me with someone who would get it.
For a child, I can see how this understanding of patience is integral. I had taught four children how to walk and not once did I lose my patience with them nor write them off and say to them, "You're wasting my time, you'll never get it." Every attempt was celebrated. Indeed, the more they failed at walking, the more I cheered them on. Moreover, I knew that they would walk when they were ready and not before. All they got from me was the constant encouragement, "Yes, you can do it. I believe in you. I will show you how."
It is easy to see the value of knowing that agape is patient because it means that agape gives us room to fail without censoring us. It also means that we are freed to not get it and yet, not be adjudged as being stupid. In short, it means that love is set in the context of assurance and therefore, it is rooted in the ground of no condemnation. Patience gives us permission to fail and consequently, permission to succeed.
He then asks; How does the idea that God will never lose His patience with you make you feel?
Wow, I don't know about anyone else, but I needed to hear that and see that!! His patience, makes me feel so safe and so secure. I realize it's okay to stumble and trip along the way, and He will be right beside me cheering me on!!! Wonderful!!
Next, let's look at what Paul says about, Agape is kind.
"Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead to repentance?" - Romans 2:4
Nobody in the world knows me better than my wife, Hayley. I began to think to myself about how she reacted to my kind of "kindness" and quite often, though not always, her response would be to say, "What are you after?" It is such merited cynicism as the anti-type which we must keep in mind when we think about God's kindness. The first thing we must insist upon is this- For kindness to be agape kindness, it must want nothing for itself. That principle is non-negotiable. If kindness wants anything for itself, it is disqualified. Agape is always and can only be "me for others". It can never be "others for me". Kindness having anything up its sleeve is not kindness at all. It is manipulation or seduction. Sadly, the vast majority of our exposure to "kindness" has been the counterfeit variety which, in truth, is manipulation, i.e. self-giving in order to promote self-getting. And this gives rise to the widespread notion that men give love to get sex and woman give sex to get love.
He then asks; How do you feel knowing that God is kind to you not because He wants something from you but because it is His nature? I don't know about anyone else, but that truth makes my heart soar. It creates such a freedom in me that gives rise to a greater awe for my Heavenly Father. His kindness is so pure and so wonderful, I just can't fathom it fully, but I want to soak in the true aspects of His astounding nature more and more!