Often, we wonder, “What does it take to be a good Christian?” In response, we may think about right versus wrong: saying the right thing, doing the right thing, thinking the right thing. Christianity is, however, more accurately summed up as love. It is our response to the love that God has for us that should compel us to want to do the right things, say the right things, and think the right things—not the other way around.
In English, there is one word to describe every sort of love. In our language, love is love. We might use the same word to describe our love for the Alabama Crimson Tide that would be used to describe the love for our spouse. We would use the same word for our love of certain foods that we would use to tell our child we love her. Things, however, cannot return our love. My beloved Tide did not reciprocate my love when they played Clemson in the national championship game in January. Ribs and mac and cheese don’t reciprocate my love when I step onto the scale on Monday mornings.
In a much more descriptive manner than the English language, the Hebrew and Greek languages used in the original scriptures offer many different words to describe different types of love. Two such words for love—the Hebrew word hesed and the Greek word agape—helped to shape the original meaning of biblical texts.
Hesed refers to the steadfast, unfailing love of God towards man. Appearing 246 times in the Old Testament, this love is best used in describing God’s loyal commitment to us. Such love is manifested in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world. Though undeserved, the undying, loyal commitment of God would have it no other way. God’s hesed is covenantal; it emphasizes God’s work to secure an unbreakable bond between man and Himself. Here are a couple of Old Testament references to God’s hesed:
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing hesed for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10, NIV)
For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing hesed. (Lamentations 3:31-32, NIV)
love for others
As God’s hesed is continually given to man, we are required to extend the same steadfast, unfailing love to one another. In the original New Testament writings, the word agape defined unconditional, unlimited love. The expectation of agape is that its nature and power encompass love for all, regardless of the type of relationship or the lack thereof. Agape provides for limitless love to those who may neither accept, nor appreciate it. This love is also for those who can provide nothing in return.
Agape love is made possible for others through the hesed that God has graciously extended to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, agape is a mandate, aids in the sharing of the gospel, and strengthens our witness. Just as hesed leads to action on the part of the Father to redeem mankind to Himself, agape must lead to love in action to turn others towards the Father. Here are a few scriptures referring to this love:
Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Agape one another. As I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)
Agape must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in agape. Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:9-10, NIV)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, agape one another, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8, NIV)
A LOVE LETTER
Perhaps one of the most well-known scriptures on love is found in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. To truly understand its power, however, it helps to read love in the original language, with an understanding of Paul’s agape to denote unconditional love to our fellow man. He writes:
What if I could speak all languages of humans and even of angels? If I did not agape others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I agaped others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I agaped others. Agape is patient and kind, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Agape isn't selfish or quick-tempered. It doesn't keep a record of wrongs that others do. Agape rejoices in the truth, but not in evil.Agape is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Agape never fails! (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, NIV)
HOW DO YOU LOVE?
Does this describe you? Do others know that you are willing to step out of your place of comfort to love them? Are you willing to love, even when it’s difficult? Are you able to love the seemingly unlovable?
Be encouraged. We all can love better. We can ask God to move into our hearts and help us to see and love others the way that He does. We can ask Him to give us an even greater revelation of His committed love, hesed, to lead us to an even greater desire to unconditionally love others, agape. Our aim is to live in such a way as to share the gospel and display God’s true character. When we each act with agape, the world can become what God has called it to be.
Dereko Robertson is a High School Bible Teacher at Mount Paran Christian School. He has been in ministry for 12 years, having served as a Youth Pastor and Assistant Pastor for four years.
For inspiration on how to show love to others, explore how MPCS implemented the #BeKind grassroots movement here.