“Love: The Essence of Christianity”
By: Mark Mayberry
Love is a misunderstood and misused word, partly because in our language it is a “catch-all” expression. It is used to describe everything from the lofty nature of God to illicit and even perverted sexuality. The Greek language was much more precise. It had a number of words to describe the various types of love: Eros is the Greek word for sexual love. Storge is the Greek word which describes the natural affection within a family. Phileo is the love of emotion, and has to do with those warm feelings that arise within us in response to the good qualities of another. We have a special affection and friendship for those we are close to. This love is directed toward our family, friends and brethren. Agape is the highest form of love. It is not simply an emotion which arises unbidden in our hearts, but it is a principle by which we live. It involves seeking the highest good of another. Such love is to be directed toward God, as well as all mankind.
Agape love is a multifaceted jewel. This is demonstrated by the discussion of its qualities in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. It causes us to be patient with others, and not quickly retaliate against their shortcomings. Love results in active kindness. It causes us to shun evil attitudes such as resentment and envy. Love doesn’t allow us to become puffed up with pride; nor does it act in a boastful, rude, or unbecoming way. Instead, we treat others in a courteous and respectful manner. Love is not self-seeking. Selfishness is to be laid aside, and replaced with genuine consideration for the needs of others. Love doesn’t allow us to become easily angered. If we truly love others, we will not keep a running ledger of their mistakes. Love produces a genuine morality. Whereas the world takes pleasure in sin, he who practices biblical love delights in the truth. Love is steadfast: it bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. Agape is the summation of godly conduct.
The primary focus of our love is the God of heaven. We are to love Him with all our heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37–38). How does this love control our actions? It causes us to realize that sin brings shame and dishonor upon His name. If we love God, we will live in such a way as to glorify Him. We show our love for God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).
We should express this love toward fellow Christians. It leads us to edify and encourage our brethren. Unfortunately, petty differences sometimes arise and we lose sight of the principle of love. Then we “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15). We should “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NASV). This should be our constant aim.
Love should be practiced at home (Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4). Husbands and wives claim to love each other, but sometimes take each other for granted and even treat one another with contempt. When this happens, the home becomes a place of conflict. Love should be enshrined in the home. Its expression should go far beyond occasionally mumbling a few words. Partners in marriage should be positive influences on each other, realizing that they will greatly affect the destiny of the other.
We should love those who are lost in sin. Our hope of salvation is based on God’s love for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). We should be willing to share the blessings of Christianity with others. Sometimes, we fail to teach others the truth for fear of hurting their feelings or losing their friendship. A true concern for their eternal welfare will overcome such hesitation.
Finally, the Bible tells us to love our enemies. We may not always appreciate their actions, and their sinful ways may keep us from having a close emotional attachment to them. However, remember that agape is not simply an emotion. Even toward our enemies, we should conduct ourselves in a way that seeks their highest good. We show love by not returning evil for evil, but rather by doing good (Romans 12:17–20). By conducting ourselves as Christians in such circumstances, we show the reality of our faith, and will perhaps lead them to the Lord. This should be our aim in the first place.
Acting in love should be the basis of all our dealings with God and man. This is the essence of Christianity.
Originally appeared in the October 1984 issue of Christianity Magazine.