The True Nature Of Agapē Love
How Love & Obedience Are One And The Same
How Agapē Love Literally Is God-Wrought Obedience To God’s Extant Law
The following is one of the most important doctrines that I have researched/written about, concerning the Christian’s walk before God in light of their justified state. Why is it so important? It is because it concerns the true nature and manifestation of spiritual (agapē) love, what the AV/KJV often translates as charity. We read in…
1 Corinthians 13:1-7, 13 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things….And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.“
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. 14 Let all your things be done with charity.“
I submit to you that charity, agapē love, is not a feeling or emotion only. Charity is the benevolent exercising of intellect, feelings/emotions, volition, and effort (deliberate action) towards others, in a manner that is in keeping with the commandments of God. Said another way, agapē love is literally a right attitude and operation of obedience to the extant commands of God concerning our communications with, and actions towards, Him and others. One cannot truly express love towards another outside of obeying God’s commandments concerning how we are to interact with them. So spiritual love absolutely is walking in accordance (or harmony) with God’s commands, along with the attitude, mindset, and emotions that go along with it. To the extent that we so walk, our love is strong; to the extent that we do not, our love is waning or weak.
The question now is, via the Bible alone (properly exegeted), can this assertion be proven beyond a shadow of doubt? The answer, I trust, is absolutely.
All Of The Extant Commandments Are Summed Up By The Word (Agapē) “Love”
Please consider carefully…
ROMANS 13:8-10 “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if [there be] any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law.“
Note how this plays out; “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor” is the same as “love does not sin against his neighbor” which is the same as “love does not transgress the (extant) law of God against his neighbor” which is the same as “love does not violate the commands/commandments of God concerning his neighbor.”
Consider also the term briefly comprehended (it is hyper-linked; please click it and read through the entire definition, as well as clicking the links for the various “Root Word (Etymology)” levels found therein, to read through their definitions also. In the Greek and Hebrew, the root words often shed much light on the right use, and full meaning, of the derivatives). Now, briefly comprehended (as the linked definition and root word definitions will affirm) literally means “to sum up (again), to repeat summarily, to condense into a summary, to summarise, to gather under one header, to gather together in one, to group together as one, etc.” Agapē love can rightly be viewed as the gathering together of all the extant commands of God under one umbrella, under one category/term/heading. So not only is Agapē love not at variance with obedience to the God-breathed words of God — Agapē love literally is God-wrought obedience to the God-breathed words of God as manifested through our attitude, thoughts, feelings/emotions, words, and actions. You simply cannot agapē love anyone, or anything, apart from thinking, speaking, or acting towards them the way God specifically commands us to think, speak, or act towards them. It is an impossibility; it cannot be done; you truly cannot separate the two. Consider,
1 John 5:1-4 “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments [plural]. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. 4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, [even] our faith.”
Clearly, clearly, clearly, we see from verses two and three that the only way we can show forth true love for the brethren, is by loving God, and keeping His commandments, seeing that keeping His commands (without them being grievous to us) is the core evidence of our loving God. This passage alone proves that God-wrought, spiritual love is utterly yoked with God-wrought, spiritual-law-keeping, which is the keeping of all the extant commandments, so as to obey them (as God enables). We see this further evidenced in:
2 John 1:6 “And this is (agapē) love [i.e. this is the very definition of true love], that we walk after his commandments [plural]. This is the [great/royal] commandment [singular], That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”
The Commandment (singular) incorporates/encapsulates/summarises/brings together under one heading all of the extant commandments (plural) and love literally is keeping those commandments because in keeping those commandments, we keep/fulfill the great commandment. I am striving to really drive this home given that there is an absolute myth held to, by some in modern (and not so modern) sovereign grace circles, that states that you can express true love for (a) God; (b) His people; and/or (c) your fellow-man apart from the extant law of God, which is made up of the extant commands (given to us in the form of infinitive verbs, imperative verbs, admonitions, reproofs, etc.). This is why those preachers who insist that we “have nothing whatsoever to do with the law,” without properly qualifying that statement, are dangerous to the body of Christ (even if some are truly regenerate). They are seriously mistaken at best (hopefully the majority) and Antinomian/Anomian hereticks at worst. Why? because they fail to distinguish between the end of the Mosaic Law (which was nailed to the cross with Christ) and the perpetual nature of the Spiritual Law, the law of love, the royal law, which consists of (or incorporates into it) all of the extant commands of God.
They also fail to make clear that though we have nothing to do with either law set as far as “initiating salvation” or “maintaining salvation” is concerned; and though we have nothing to do with either as it relates to going about to justify ourselves or to establish a righteousness of our own; and though we have nothing to do with either as it relates to being under the law or under the curse or condemnation of law, the Christian nonetheless has a vital, living relationship with the spiritual law of God. It is to be our delight, we are to love it, and we are to serve it — not in a mercenary sense but out of thanksgiving, reverence, and adoration towards the Lord Jesus Christ and the Triune Godhead, of whom He is the fullness bodily.
Love and Commandment Further Defined In Scripture
Consider the following verse…
2 John 1:6 “And this is love [i.e. this is the literal definition of agapē love], that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment [i.e. this is the great commandment, the royal law, this is that agapē love which encapsulates and incorporates all of the other commandments], That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.“
Now apply it to this one…
John 15:12 “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
How does one love one another as Christ has loved His people? The answer should be simple (simple in statement, though not always in action or deed). We love in such a manner by walking in accordance with the word of God; by doing what He tells us to do, with the right motive and attitude, in His strength, and to the degree that He enables us. We do so by denying ourselves, buffeting our bodies daily, laying down our lives, and acting in a way most contrary to our base nature and carnal inclinations. Can we do it perfectly? Can we obey perfectly? No, of course not (I fall short miserably, daily) — but that isn’t the point — given that God does not expect us to walk perfectly, to obey perfectly, given that we are still in this body of death by His decree. Moreover, are we doing this for our justification, or to maintain our salvation, or to establish a righteousness of our own? No, absolutely not; we are doing it in light of being already justified in/by/through Christ, as He (through the Spirit of God) works these things out in us, enabling us to walk as He would have us walk — precisely as the Father foreordained for us to walk, even from before the foundation of the world.
The Great Commandment and the Royal Law In Context
The Great Commandment (…love one another…) is simply the master commandment, the container commandment, for all of the other extant commandments. All of the other extant commands, together, make up that Great commandment, which makes up the essence of the spiritual law of God. Hence, again “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if [there be] any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended [literally, summarised, grouped together under one term/heading, condensed into a summary] in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.“
The following passage also ties all of these things together, making the point very clear:
John 14:21 “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
We evidence love, we manifest love, we work out love, via (God-wrought) commandment keeping and obedience. If any doubt this, then the onus and great, great burden is on you to define agapē love in a manner that is separate from, that is apart from, God’s very own definition of love. If, per Romans 13:10, agapē love is literally defined as the fulfilling [literally, the fullness of, the completeness of all aspects of, the abundance of] the law, then the naysayers will have an exceedingly difficult time developing from Scripture, an honest alternative to the definitions that God, Himself, provides.
Some have pointed to 1 John 3:23, which states “And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment,” and have argued that the only commandment the Christian keeps/obeys/observes is the commandment to believe on the name of Christ (i.e. to have faith in Him), and to love one another (in some vague, emotional, albeit well-intended sense). The problem with this reasoning is that the commandment in vs. 23 is not the only commandment of God for us today. Verse 23 represents the primary commandment, the great commandment, the one God works in us to be able to do everything else that He ordains for us (through His strength) to do… but it is not the only commandment. Note the vital connection with the very next verse… which proves this:
1 John 3:23-24 “And this is his commandment [singular], That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment [singular]. 24 And he that keepeth his commandments [plural] dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
No one can keep the commandments (plural) unless they have been made/brought to the point wherein they can keep the (great) commandment (singular). Keepeth primarily means to watch, keep watch, set a watch, guard, attend to carefully, take care of, etc. Now, it should be “so as to do,” as God enables, but tēreō is not directly synonymous with obey (so though there is a very clear and close connection, seeing that the Christian always keeps the commandments of God to one degree or another, yet he/she doesn’t always obey — we cannot say they are the same thing). Also note how God, Himself, uses the same Greek term for commandment(s) which is entolē:
1 Corinthians 14:34-38 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments (entolē, same Greek word] of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”
Ephesians 6:1-3 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment [entolē, same Greek word] with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”
We must keep in mind that, as in the above passages, every imperative (and often infinitive) verb directed at the Christian is a command of God; for instance, consider:
Romans 16:17 “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them [an infinitive mood verb] which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them [an imperative mood verb].”
Now, going back to the love aspect (as it relates to each command), consider if you will this simple analogy. If the extant commands (or commandments) of God were represented by cookies, then the “filled to the max cookie jar” would be agapē love. The physical jar itself would not be agapē love, but the sum total of all of the cookies, grouped together in this one “container,” would indeed be agapē love — which would also be synonymous with the all-encompassing spiritual law of God, the royal law, concerning which, the Holy Spirit moved the Apostle Paul to say:
Romans 7:12, 14, 22, 25 “Wherefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. … 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. … 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: … 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Serving The Law vs. Being Under The Law: A Vital Distinction
James 2:8 “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
James 1:22-25 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”
Galatians 5:13-15 “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only [use] not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
Do not ever confuse being under the law, under the curse and bondage that is associated with it, with being set free (being now at liberty) to serve the law; they are two totally different things. The distinction is set forth clearly in…
Romans 7:6 “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not [in] the oldness of the letter.“
All unbelievers are under the law. No true believers are under the law. All true believers have been set free from the law after the letter (delivered from being under the law and the curses and demands of it, per Romans 7:6) so that they can now delight in the spiritual law, serve the spiritual law, walking in love (which is walking in accordance with the spiritual law, though never unto perfection in this life), not in oldness of letter (i.e. not carnally in an unsaved state) but in newness of spirit (i.e.spiritually having themselves received spiritual life). It is the difference between the letter of the law strengthening sin and condemning the unsaved man, versus the spiritual law instructing, guiding, and edifying the quickened man, as it is applied to his heart by the Holy Spirit, so that the Christian can observe, love, delight in, keep, and do what it encompasses. “The carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…” per Romans 8:7. However, the flip-side, the clear implication in reverse, is that the spiritual mind is subject to the law of God, it can be, due to the operation of the Holy Spirit on our quickened hearts. Lest some say to be subject to is the same as being under (it is not), consider that the word subject also means obedient as in the following:
1 Corinthians 14:34 “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but [they are commanded] to be under obedience [subjection/G5293], as also saith the law.”
Titus 2:5 “[To be] discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient [subject/G5293] to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
All born-again believers have the spiritual law written on their hearts; all walk in God’s law as He has foreordained and as He enables; all love and delight in that blessed law, because it reflects the perfectly just and all-knowing mind and character of God. It is grievous, grievous error to set the extant/spiritual/royal law aside, or at nought as, sadly, so many do.
Hebrews 8:10 “For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
Hebrews 10:16 “This [is] the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;”
Ezekiel 11:19-20 “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: 20 That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do [them].“
Psalm 1:1-2 “Blessed [is] the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”
Romans 7:22 “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man…”
Psalm 119:165 “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.”
Psalm 119:65-72, 77 “TETH. Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word. 66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge: for I have believed thy commandments. 67 Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. 68 Thou [art] good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes. 69 The proud have forged a lie against me: [but] I will keep thy precepts with [my] whole heart. 70 Their heart is as fat as grease; [but] I delight in thy law. 71 [It is] good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. 72 The law of thy mouth [is] better unto me than thousands of gold and silver… 77 Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law [is] my delight.”
Psalm 119:174-176 “I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy law [is] my delight. 175 Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. 176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”
Other Key Aspects Of Agapē Love
Note that agapē, along with the verb form agapaō, also includes such meanings as having a preference for, to wish well to, to regard the welfare of, to have affection for, to be fond of, etc. How such divine love manifests is heavily dependent upon (1) the object of that love; (2) the one loving, and (3) the commandment(s) corresponding to the relationship or interaction at issue. Thus, one will not love a co-worker the same way they love their wife; nor will they love a stranger precisely the same way they love their own children; nor will they love hereticks or those Christians walking in an unrepentant, disorderly manner the same way they love their believing parents. Why? Because God has specific commandments governing each group and each relationship. In addition, The Lord designed us to have allegiances, responsibilities, and affections that differ based upon the relationship type in view.
For instance, how do we love our enemies? Do we necessarily have to have deep affection and fondness for them? Do we have to prefer their presence and company over our friends? How does the Christian show true love towards those hating and despitefully using them? Consider…
Matthew 5:43-44 “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate] you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
There are two ways to view this passage; one states that God is teaching us to love, bless, do good to, and pray for our enemies (four separate points in view). The other, which is the position to which I hold, is that God is teaching us how we are to love our enemies, and we are to love them by blessing them, doing good to them, and praying for them (three distinct points). I do not see Matthew 5:45-44 as teaching that we need to have a preference for our enemies, a deep emotional affection for them, or any substantive fondness for them. When the Apostle Paul stated in Galatians 5:12 (under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost) “I would they were even cut off which trouble you,” he wasn’t exactly flowing with sentimentality, fondness, or deep desire for friendship with the hereticks — yet he loved them in the sense of obeying God’s commandments concerning them. Paul wanted them dealt with; nonetheless, I trust at some point or another, He would have strived to stay above the fray, to not lower himself by reviling them, and to bless, aid, and pray for them as God enabled. In fact, Paul was also led to say in Romans 12:14 “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.”
Concerning the brethren, amongst many other passages, we are exhorted as follows…
Colossians 3:12-15 “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also [do] ye. 14 And above all these things [put on] charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
It is my hope that the above will convince you that agapē love, along with potentially encompassing affection, fondness, favour, and other benevolent feelings/emotions, most definitely encompasses all of the unabrogated commands/commandments of God. They are all encapsulated into, or under, the heading of agapē love, and this love manifests itself by obedience to those commands (in our relationships and interactions with others); this is indeed the royal law, the great commandment. Yet, it is one thing to talk about this, or to write about it, but it is another thing to live it out to the fullest. We should strive to do all that God commands us to do concerning Himself and concerning those with whom we come into contact. This is the Christian’s glorious calling and duty — God, through His word, makes this abundantly clear. May He give us both the will, and the strength to do so. May His effectual grace work in us to cause us to love Him all the more, to love the brethren all the more, to love our fellow-man all the more, and to love our enemies all the more — all by acting towards them, speaking towards them, and thinking about them the way that God instructs us to — ye even commands us to.
To God be the glory, forever and ever, amen.