“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16 – 17
Last week I wrote a post on fear and this week I am writing about love. Too often we think the opposite of love is hate but the truth of the matter is that the opposite of love is fear. Hate is a by-product of the fears we have. In gathering information for my post today, ran across a great quote by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire who said basically what I just wrote: “The opposite of love is not, as we many times or almost always think, hatred, but the fear to love, and the fear to love is the fear of being free. Love softens you; fear hardens you. Love opens the universe; fear isolates you in yourself.” Very wise words to live by!
I remember, years ago when I was taking my speech class for my undergraduate degree how the above quote played out in the lives of two students in the class. There were about 25 to 30 of us as speech was a required course in order to graduate. So, there were these two students, I don’t remember their names, but I do remember feeling very sad for them as they dropped the class. This was the only class they needed to graduate and as soon as they found out they would have to speak publicly, in front of the other class members, they walked out, never to return. They allowed their fears to overcome their desire for a college education. I hope they were able to overcome their fear and get the diploma they desired.
I get it. I really do. I am a pastor and yet I still get nervous when I preach. That is partly a good thing as it helps to keep me on my toes. At the same time, my nervousness about being in front of a large gathering of people, makes me more forgetful. It is something I continue to work through.
Unfortunately, our fears can get the best of us. Our fears can keep us from doing what we love or might love if we would just try. Depending on what we are dealing with, our fears can overwhelm our life. They can keep us, just like those two students in my speech class, from achieving our hopes and dreams. We can leave our determination to accomplish our goals, or work through a difficulty by the side of the road and just give up and give into our feelings…not a good plan but we do it all the same. There is an antidote if we are willing to persevere. That antidote? Love.
Not just any kind of love either. In our English language we don’t have the words to describe the many kinds of love like the Greek does. So, I am not talking about the love two people have for each other. I am not talking about the love we may have for a favorite activity or food or even the love we have for our families. I am talking about the “agape” love Jesus teaches us to have for ourselves and especially for one another.
First, I think it is important to understand exactly what agape love is. It is the highest form of love – sometimes called charity and it is the love God has for humans and humans have for God. Agape love goes way beyond our feelings or emotions and seeks to do what is best for others in all circumstances. It is unselfish in all it does. It doesn’t matter if the other person is treating us badly, we still treat them lovingly. Agape love allows us to create safe places for others. Places that give individuals permission to be vulnerable so that their fears can be dealt with and finally released. Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional. It also defines God’s love for humankind. A love that is immeasurable and is constantly seeking out the lost and fallen in order to bring them back into a loving relationship with God the Father. Scripturally, think of it in terms of the lost sheep, or the prodigal son.
But even more, agape love allows us to be who God created us to be and it gives us the capacity to love all others, whether we agree with them or not in what they think or how they live life. Agape love extends past emotions. Agape love does not rely on sappy sentimentality but is active and it shows people how loved and valued they are through our actions. Agape love is hard because many times we would rather sit with our hurt feelings and fears. But God calls us to be better than that.
God calls us to be people who share agape love with one another. This means that we need to find ways to love those who disagree with us ideologically. Even to love those who are our political opposites. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ answer to the question one of the teachers of the law asked about which was the most important commandment. Jesus gave this reply: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” 1 John takes this even further by saying: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister.” There is no wiggle room here.
The bottom line is this: If we love God, we must find ways we can love all people from our enemies, to those we disagree with, to those who vote differently than we do, to those who live differently, to those we are related to, to those who…well I think you get the idea. There is no one we are not called to offer agape love to because Jesus uses that singular word “all.” And just in case you forgot, all is defined as: “the whole, everyone” It is completely and totally inclusive.
We are able to love, because God first loved us. And the love God has for us is our example to follow in all our relationships.
Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.