An eight-year old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukaemia. His parents explained that if his sister didn’t have a blood transfusion she would die, and asked her brother whether he would be willing to be tested to see whether his blood was compatible with hers. He said that was OK, and when the blood was tested, it proved to be a perfect match. Then they asked if he would be willing to give her a pint of his blood, as it was her only hope. He said he would need to think about that one overnight.
Next day the boy said that he had thought it over, and that he was happy to give his sister the blood that she needed. They took him to hospital and put him on a bed next to his sister. The nurse took a pint of the boy’s blood, and it was given to his sister. The boy lay there quietly while the transfusion was being given, until a doctor came over to ask how he was doing. There was a pause … and then the boy looked up at the doctor and asked, ‘How soon is it until I start to die?’
We are reminded of the words of Jesus to his disciples, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). Although Jesus would have been speaking in Aramaic (the common man’s Hebrew), John (writing his Gospel in Greek) uses the Greek word agape to convey the sense of meaning behind what Jesus was saying. In his little book, The Four Loves, C S Lewis discusses the different Greek words translated love in English. When the Bible describes God’s love for us, and the love God wants us to have for others, it is often this Greek word agape that is used. Agape love is found everywhere in the New Testament. When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44), Matthew uses the word agape. When Jesus said we were to ‘love one another’ (John 13:34,35) the word used by John is agape. When Jesus exhorted us to ‘Love God (with all you’ve got) and love your neighbour as much as you love yourself’ (Mark 12:30,31), Mark used the word agape. When the Bible says, ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8) it uses the word agape. The New Bible dictionary defines agape love as ‘that highest and noblest form of love which sees something infinitely precious in its object’.
It has been suggested that the Fruit of the Spirit, listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22,23, are not several different fruits but simply different facets of the one fruit – love! ‘Joy is love singing; peace is love resting; patience is love enduring; kindness is loves touch; goodness is loves character; Faithfulness is loves habit; meekness is love for getting itself; self-control is love holding the reins.’ The Gospel is most certainly possessed of incredible power – ‘the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16) – but it is essentially the power of love!
We hear a lot today (in certain quarters) about the need to see ‘signs and wonders’ (Acts 2:43) on our streets once again (as per New Testament days). For some this is the solution to all our problems, particularly in the face of declining numbers and evangelistic failure. Now I believe in ‘signs and wonders’ – especially those that ‘confirm’ God’s word (Mark 16:20) – I have seen them for myself, and experienced them personally, many times. But their perceived absence is not the reason for our alleged ineffectiveness, and they are not the solution to our problems. My own conviction is that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is at the heart of the teaching of Jesus, at the heart of the Gospel message, and if we made living that out our priority we would be far more effective in our witness (both as individuals and as Church) … and genuine ‘signs and wonders’ would follow as a result!
We need to be clear about one thing concerning agape love. All too often today love is seen only as an emotion or feeling. Certainly, there is emotion involved in love, whether it is love for others or love for God. But love is more than an emotion, love is not just a feeling – love is an act of the will, love is doing. True love is love which acts. That is the way God loves us. The Bible tells us that ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his one and only Son’ (John 3:16). The Apostle John exhorts us: ‘Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth’ (1 John 3:18).
Lord, try us lest our holy creed,
we hold in word, but not in deed,
or hold mere forms of godliness,
without a Christ-like holiness.
Lord, halt us, lest with roughshod tread,
we live a name and yet are dead.
Or lest in fighting error’s pen,
we smirch not heresy but men.
Lord, keep us true, but ever kind,
with thine own gentleness of mind,
with thine own wisdom from above,
whose strongest argument is love.