Learning to Love, Part 5

The definition of the Greek word agape (benevolent and selfless love) gives us theological information, but what do we do with it? How do we live it? Jesus showed us. He lived it. We are to walk in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8 NIV).

crownofthorns, istock image

True love always involves suffering. To put others first hurts.

  • Selflessness
  • Humility
  • Valuing others above ourselves
  • Putting another’s interests ahead of our own
  • Giving up our comfort or position for the good of others
  • Meeting another’s deepest needs
  • Obeying God so we can love as he does

All of this is a tall order for sinful humans. Loving others in this way means denying ourselves and suffering discomfort, fatigue, and/or anonymity. My writer friend Carolyn Sherrow describes it: Agape love is laying down your soul for another.”

There’s a deep spiritual transformation when we love like Jesus. God’s Spirit is mightily with us in it. He fills and enables us to sacrifice when we obey him. Agape is sacrificial.

The needs we hesitate to meet were the very needs Jesus rushed toward. He touched the untouchables; he served the outcasts; he embraced the poor and the marginalized. While exhausted and sleep deprived, he served with passion and without complaint. When he gave his life for us, it was a bloody, bodily-fluid-filled transaction. There was nothing polished and pretty about it. He lived and died driven and motivated by agape.

The needs we hesitate to meet were the very needs Jesus rushed toward. He touched the untouchables; he served the outcasts; he embraced the poor and the marginalized. Click To Tweet

When we walk in his steps, we serve in like manner. This is normal Christianity. Yet we often resist the menial, sacrificial, messy, or painful. We are selfish, whereas Jesus is not.

God has been teaching me these lessons in love since I married and my first child was born in 1977. I’m selfish, a slow learner. It takes repeated lessons. I’m learning to love my family and others more thoroughly. I’m learning in prison ministry. And my mother’s recent recovery taught another lesson.

hospital care Her first week after surgery was rough. She was sent home with medication that hindered her cognition and caused increasing nausea. She was not herself. All of this eventually caused an electrolyte imbalance and low blood sodium, which created a medical emergency. She doesn’t recall most of that week.

We had known her recovery would be a challenge; reactions to medication are common for her. What we didn’t expect was how much physical care she would require in her weakened condition. It was similar to having a newborn in the home. New babies require round-the-clock care for the most basic human needs. This was my mother. This produced a vivid awareness that I had been her newborn. She had cared for me. I now performed for her many of the same tasks that she had performed for me countless times.

mom in chair

I hadn’t expected that serving her in these intimate ways would deepen my love and respect for her. I felt honored and humbled to have the privilege of serving my mother, when she had devoted eighteen years of her life to raising me, starting by caring for my needs day and night when I was a helpless baby.

I love my mother. I didn’t think I could love her any more than I currently did, but by emptying myself and caring for her I learned something that Jesus’ life made vivid.

In the moments of the most intimate service and the meeting of desperate need, love grows. The Holy Spirit filled me, enabling me to care for her and causing God’s love to flood my emotions. As I served my mother, I decreased and my love for her increased and expanded and enlarged. This is agape.

In the moments of the most intimate service and the meeting of desperate need, love grows. Click To Tweet

It was messy. It was draining. It required suffering. It was sacred.

To this Christ called us. The pouring out of our very selves for others is normal Christianity.

Love is a lifelong lesson. Walking in Jesus’ steps and living as he did teaches us the lesson. When we obey his example and his instructions, we learn to love as he loved.

How are you learning agape?

Find Carolyn Sherrow’s series on Loneliness with her definition of agape: CLICK