Yesterday morning, at Redeemer, Tim Curry and I co-preached on "Love: What It Is; What It Is Not." (Message HERE.)
I began by sharing how Tim and I have seen our church family expressing and manifesting the love of God, Our church family is one that loves by serving one another, and serving beyond the walls of the church building. For many of our people, servanthood is a lifestyle. It is their character, We have not yet fully arrived, but we are being formed into the character of Christ. (Galatians 4:19)
"Love" is an often-used, often misunderstood, often abused word. Over 100 million songs have been written about love. 60% of all songs ever written are about love. Last week I think I looked at all of them. My conclusion is that ninety-nine million are about self-gratification. They are, in Pauline language, flesh-indulgent.
They are contrary to the ways of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:17)
The biblical Greek word for 'love' is agape. Agape, and its other forms (e.g., the verb agapao), appears 320 time in the New Testament. Philieo (friendship-love) appears fifty-five times. What about eros, the word for sexual desire? Eros does not appear, at all, in the New Testament.
Eros is massive in the "love" songs of today. So many are about the gratification of desire. But desire is not central to love, because desire is consumptive. When I say "I love Klondike bars, what I'm really saying is, "I want to eat Klondike bars."
Agape love is poles apart from desire-fulfillment. John Stott defined agape love as the sacrifice of self in the service of another. In other words, it is a voluntary giving of yourself. This is the Galatians idea of agape as a fruit of the Spirit. Agape love is profound concern for the well-being of others, with no expectation of getting something in return, with no expectation of even getting a “thank you.”
For followers of Jesus, what is the meaning of "love?" At this point in yesterday's sermon Tim and I pointed to the large wooden cross in our sanctuary. And said...
...This is love...,
...There is no greater love.
The connection between agape and servanthood is solidified in Galatians 5:13.
Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh,
Instead, use your freedom to serve one another, humbly, in love.
The agape love of God is radical, revolutionary, and dismissive of all cultural narcissistic "loves." It is, as Paul writes, "contrary" and antithetical to flesh-desire.
When it comes to knowing love and loving others with agape-love, I am not turning to the flesh-songs of today. The love of God, which is real love, foundational love, and about which there is no greater love, is essentially other-centered.
Greater love [agape] has no one than this:
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.