Love can be, in simple terms, from the heart or from the head. Which is better? The type of love we most often think of when love comes to mind, is “heart” love (Greek: phileo, Hebrew: ahab) which is a favorable reaction or response to another. But when you love with your “head” (Gk: agape oragapao, Heb: chashaq), one’s reaction or response is inconsequential because you have decided to love unconditionally. You esteem someone as precious, whether or not that person really is worthy of such esteem. Marriage often starts out with heart love, a reaction to a loveable person, but if it never matures into head love – the kind that stays true “for richer or poorer, for better or for worse” – the marriage may fail. Head love, then, is superior in both motive and direction. This article will deal with agape, head love, as mentioned in three books in the New Testament: John 15 (9 times), 1 John 4 (27 times), and 1 Corinthians 13 (9 times).
Commanded to Love
Thank God, there is no greater love than His love! If He hadn’t chosen to esteem us as precious, chosen to sacrifice His only begotten Son for us sinners, we would have been lost for eternity. There is nothing in us naturally to which He could react favorably. Now God’s commandment for us is to love with our heads, because that is how He loves. This love, like God’s love, is a choice, not a feeling. If we only reacted favorably to God (or others) when good things happened to us – when we had good health, plenty of money and friends, an enjoyable job, a happy marriage, and well-behaved children, – how shallow our love would be for Him (and for others)! Think of Abraham’s love for God – how he left home and family and was even willing to sacrifice his own son (Gen. 12, 22), rather than disobey God’s command. Jesus gave to His disciples, including all who put their trust in Him today, a commandment to love in John 15: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love … This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. These things I command you, that ye love one another” (Jn. 15:9-10,12-13,17).
This is why we are to love God, Christ, our spouse and children, our neighbors, our fellow believers (no matter which church they attend), even our enemies – because we are commanded to do so. The words of John 15 were spoken just after the Passover supper in the upper room, as Jesus was on His way to be betrayed. He said, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (Jn. 15:7). What are we to ask for? The context of the rest of this chapter shows us that we are to ask for help to love the way He loves, because it doesn’t come naturally!
When Jesus met some of His disciples one morning following His resurrection, He had a conversation with Peter which could be paraphrased like this: “Do you love Me with your head, that is, esteem Me precious, more than the others do?” Peter replied, “You know that I love You with my heart.” The second time, Jesus asked the same question and Peter gave the same reply. The third time, when Jesus asked, “Do you love Me with your heart?” Peter became distressed, knowing his love fell so far short of Jesus’ love for him, and he replied, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You with my heart.” But Peter’s love became a head love with the giving of the Holy Spirit, and he then wrote of the Lord: “Whom having not seen, ye love (esteem precious); in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). It is this head love, that God has shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit, that allows us to love like He loves (Rom. 5:5). Notice in John 15:19 that the world’s love is only heart love. Whose love would you rather receive, the world’s or God’s?
God Is Love
As a boy, I went to a Billy Graham Crusade at Yankee Stadium in New York City, and I’ll never forget the message that was spelled out using the chair seats in the top rows. The contrasting colors of the seats set up or down spelled out a message the whole stadium and TV audience could see: “God is love!” This is the central message of 1 John 4.
If you think you have great love for people, know first that the source is God. If you love your wife and children beyond anything else in this world, know that the source is God. If you love God and put Him first in everything, know that He loved you first. There is no love like His; He originated love, and is love. God created mankind in His own image, so He has put an amazing ability to love and care for others even in those who do not know Him. But to love all unconditionally, as He loves, requires the gift of the Holy Spirit, as we see in 1 John 4, where the word agape is used 27 times:
“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not knows not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation (sacrifice) for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. And we have known and believed the lovethat God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love Him, because He first loved us. If a man says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:7-12,16-21).
Actions Of Love
This love requires action. Having love’s source and being commanded to love, what are the actions by which we may demonstrate this love? For this, we turn to 1 Corinthians 13.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have notlove, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long, and is kind; love envies not; love vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away … And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:1-8,13)
The love in action shown here is exactly the love God demonstrates to us daily. If you desire to display spiritual gifts, then look to love, for love is the greatest. First Corinthians 13 is in the middle of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts. We tend to be so taken up with visible gifts of the Spirit, while displaying so little of the inward gift He has abundantly given to every believer: the very love of God Himself. How little discord among brethren there would be, how few divisions would break up our fellowship, if we all displayed the love of God described here.
Prophesies may fail, tongues may be silenced, and knowledge may vanish, but love shall never fail; love can never cease; love will never disappear. Even compared to faith and hope, love is the greatest. It is more important to have love than either faith or hope, because “love shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). Our faith in God would be useless unless He covered all our sins at the cross. Our hope of His return would be presumptuous if we were yet in our sins, for judgment would fall on us. So let’s display this love by determining in our minds to do so, as Christ did.
Jesus did not hold on to the exalted position He had before coming into this world but gave it up willingly. Nor does He force Himself upon us; He works only upon willing hearts. He never sought His own comforts first, and was only provoked by the hypocrisy of the religious rulers for their own good. He esteemed Himself least in the kingdom of heaven in order to do what was right for God and man. His thoughts were pure, for He did no sin, knew no sin, in Him was no sin (1 Pet. 2:22). His compassion for those in need was ever on His heart, and He rejoiced in the satisfaction of His work. He put up with the shame, mockery, and disdain of the cross because He loved us unto death. Even while suffering for us, how kind He was to the repentant criminal hanging next to Him, and assured him of everlasting life. In those three dark hours on the cross, Jesus suffered the separation from God that we deserved for eternity. He bore the sin of the world, and endured God’s wrath for you and for me. Truly there is no love like His; and through His power we can show that love to our fellow believers, family members, neighbors, friends and even to those who hate us. Do you have a desire to love like He loves? Then He will show you what you must do.
By Tom & Susan Steere
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org