One of the traditional themes of February is love. When Valentines Day rolls around, school kids exchange hearts created from colored paper and glue; couples hope to fan the flames of romance; singles may feel marginalized, widows and widowers may revisit their grief.
Although love is the most popular theme in popular music, it is also the most widely misunderstood. Greek scholars have noted the different uses of love in ancient literature. There is friendship love (“phileo”), family love (“sterga”), and romantic love (“eros”). However, these loves fall short of God’s quality of love. The apostle John identified unconditional love as the gracious attribute God whereby He works in the hearts of His children: “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16; see Rom. 5:5).
In order to describe this selfless love, the Holy Spirit led the New Testament writers to employ the word, “agape.” Dr. J. I. Packer has noted the significance of this word choice:
“The Greek word “agape” (love) seems to have been virtually a Christian invention–a new word for a new thing (apart from about twenty occurrences in the Greek version of the Old Testament, it is almost non-existent before the New Testament). Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It is a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike–Matt. 5:44-48). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness.”
The classic description of love is given in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. Dr. George Mundell has outlined the qualities of agape love from this passage:
- Self-sacrificing love never gets impatient. (v. 4)
- Self-sacrificing love never gets jealous. (v. 4)
- Self-sacrificing love never boasts. (v. 4)
- Self-sacrificing love never gets conceited. (v. 4)
- Self-sacrificing love never gets rude, discourteous, or unmannerly. (v. 5)
- Self-sacrificing love never gets selfish. (v. 5)
- Self-sacrificing love never gets irritated, touchy or resentful. (v. 5
- Self-sacrificing love never thinks an unkind thought or pays attention to a suffered wrong. (v. 5)
- Self-sacrificing love never is happy with sin or injustice. (v. 6)
- Self-sacrificing love is always kind. (v. 4)
- Self-sacrificing love is always happy in the truth. (v. 6)
- Self-sacrificing love is always gracious, overlooking faults in others. (v. 7)
- Self-sacrificing love is always confident in the Word, believing the best in others. (v. 7)
- Self-sacrificing love is always strong in faith. (v. 7)
- Self-sacrificing love is always long suffering. (v. 7)
- Self-sacrificing love is always victorious. (v. 8)
- Self-sacrificing love never worries.
- Self-sacrificing love never criticizes, murmurs, or complains.
- Self-sacrificing love never gets discouraged.
- Self-sacrificing love always covers with silence.
Although we admire this description, we may react to it with discouragement. “Where was that kind of love in my family, in my school, in my neighborhood?” Thankfully, in Christ we can discover the infinite, gracious love of God. The LORD declared through Jeremiah, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer. 31:3). And the New Testament celebrates divine love in salvation: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Although we have experienced painful disappointments with human love, divine love is a healing balm. Dr. Charles Solomon notes, “God’s love is the all-pervasive antidote to rejection.”
Through this vital experience of God’s love, we are called to intimate discipleship with the Lord Jesus, who declared: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34,35). No wonder Dr. Francis Schaeffer identified love as the mark of the Christian.
If you sense that you can’t live up to this standard, you’re not alone. But there’s hope! Pastor Bill Freeman observed how every new glimpse of God’s requirements for believers should lead them to a deepened reliance on “the supplied life” of the indwelling Christ:
“Sometimes when we hear the truth from the Scriptures or from others, we may take it as a personal demand upon us and feel threatened with thoughts like, I’m not like that. I could never do that. Or, I can’t imagine that I could ever feel that way. I just can’t live up to that. When we have these kinds of thoughts and feelings, if we do not realize that the Christian life is a supplied life, we may conclude that this life is not for us and give up.
“But listen to this: Every word that God has spoken in the Bible, whatever it is, whatever apparent demand it brings, God wants to supply that very thing into our being. It is not that we are expected to measure up, or come up with the ability to perform in ourselves. No, God intends to continually supply Himself to us. We must understand the Christian life in this way, it is a supplied life. From beginning to end, it is supplied to us”( see John 15:5; Col. 1:27; Phil. 2:13; Gal. 2:20).
The apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian believers, “For who makes you different from anybody else, and what have you got that was not given [supplied] to you? And if anything has been given to you, why boast of it as if you had achieved it yourself?” (1 Cor. 4:7, Phillips).
A popular song from yesteryear noticed, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” But, the only supernatural source of love is found in the One who is Love incarnate. This month and beyond, accept the supply of God’s love in Christ and pass it on to those around you.
 James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.
 George Mundell, “Self Sacrificing Love” – tract from Osterhus Publishing House, Osterhuspub.com
 Charles Solomon, The Ins and Out of Rejection, Solomon Publications, p. 191.
 Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian.
 Bill Freeman, The Supplied Life, Ministry of the Word, Inc., P.O. Box 12222, Scottsdale, AZ 85267 USA. (480) 948-4050 / (800) 573-4105 MinWord12@aol.com http://www.thechristian.org
 Burt Bacharach, “What the World Needs Now is Love.”
For further consideration of this topic, see C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960).
Grace Notes, copyright (c) 2004 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non commercial use. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (unless indicated otherwise) (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.