The Pastor's Pen: Agape Love

June 5, 2017

by Graeme Shanks

"Greater love hath [has] no one than he who lays down his life for his friend.”

I was recently reminded of these words of Jesus whilst on holiday with my family. I’d love to tell you that it was whilst I was in deep meditation in John’s gospel. It wasn’t. Rather, it was whilst we were all watching the Jungle Book. Picture the scene; Baloo has just been wounded in a struggle with Shere Khan whilst trying to rescue Mowgli. Baloo lies there in the dirt seemingly dead amidst the pouring rain. Bagheera, assuming that Baloo is dead, comforts Mowgli by hailing Baloo’s heroic example as providing, from this point on, a source of constant inspiration to the Jungle. It’s at this point that Bagheera quotes Jesus.

Now I must admit, I found it quite surprising that Rudyard Kipling (the books author) would use these words of Jesus. But, as I thought about it, who better to look to when seeking to define the shape of sacrificial love.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul urges the believers there to be those who ‘walk by the Spirit’ (5:16). God has sent his Spirit to live in their hearts. The Spirit will help them grow more into the likeness of Jesus Christ and help them to live out their transformed lives to the glory of God. The Spirit will help them say ‘no’ to the sinful patterns that dominated their former way of life and ‘yes’ to Christ and a holy lifestyle that fits with their new life in him. This is what the Spirit will do in their lives. He will pull them in the direction of Christ. Paul then urges them to go with the grain of the Spirit’s pull!

What will be the proof that they are walking in step with the Spirit? Their lives will be marked by the Spirit’s fruit. What will this fruit look like? Paul outlines love (agapē) as being one aspect of it.

As we reflect on this let me ask us two questions;

Firstly, are we EXPERIENCING this love?

It is interesting that Paul uses the word agapē 5 times in his letter. Crucially, before he talks about showing love, he talks to about receiving love;

20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (2:20)

According to Paul, when looking for a definition of love, one must look to the cross. What amazing grace God has shown his enemies in sending his Son to die for them! It’s as Paul is reflecting on the fact that God has loved him, is loving him and will always love him. And more to the point, God has loved him, is loving him and will always love him. Paul never strikes me at this point as one who has a stale relationship with God! His life is wholly the Lord’s.

As the late John Stott once wrote;

‘The Cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough for its sparks to fall on us.’

Secondly, are we EXTENDING this love?

Love should mark the lives of God’s people. But what will it look like to walk and grow in love? Rather than leaving them with a fluffy concept, Paul roots it in practical terms.

Firstly, it will look like saying ‘No to the flesh…

To biting and devouring (v.15). To jealousy. To fits of anger. To rivalries. To divisions. (v.20) To envy. (v.21) Such attitudes are more in step with their former worldly way of life.

Secondly, it will look like saying ‘Yes’ to the Spirit…

To preferring others. To seeking the good of others. To going the extra mile for others. To asking after others. To speaking well of others. To forgiving others. To dealing with issues when they arise with others. To rejoicing with others. To weeping with others. To reaching out to others. Such attitudes are in step with life in the Spirit.

In the Jungle Book, Baloo the bear never actually died in end much to everyone’s delight. Jesus did though.

"Greater love hath [has] no one than he who lays down his life for his friend.”

First, the praying church is a church who admits her dependence on God