Until the Good News of Jesus Christ burst onto the human scene, the word love was understood mostly in terms of seeking one’s own advantage. Loving the unlovely was incomprehensible. A loving God reaching down to sinful humans was unthinkable.
The New Testament writers chose a little-used Greek word for love, agape, to express what God wanted to reveal about Himself in Christ and how Hewanted Christians to relate to each other: “By this we know love, becauseHe laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives forthe brethren” (1 John 3:16).
This new love bond was given its fullest expression at Calvary. Those redeemed by Christ’s death would be able to reach out to God and to each other in a dimension never before understood or experienced. Agape would now be the “more excellent way” of living (1 Corinthians 12:31). This new kind of love quickly became the identifying characteristic of the early church. Jesus had said: “A new commandment I give to you . . . 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).
But as the years passed, much of the true force of agape faded. The church of today is in the position of having to rediscover its meaning. Agape is not mere sentiment; love that is dormant is powerless. Love is dynamic only when it actively loves God, even as He loved us; only when it is surging, unconstrained—loving brothers, sisters, neighbors, and the world for which Christ died (1 John 4:10–12; 2 Corinthians 5:14).
On the human plane, as on the divine, love says: “I respect you. I care for you. I am responsible for you”:
I respect you: I see you as you are, a unique individual—as we are all unique. I accept you as you are and will permit you to develop as God purposes for you. I will not exploit you for my own benefit. I will try to know you as well as I can, because I know that increased communication and knowledge will enhance my respect for you.
I care for you: What happens to you matters to me. I am concerned for your life and growth. I desire to promote your interests, even if it means sacrificing my own.
I am responsible for you: I will respond to you, not out of a sense of duty, but voluntarily. Your spiritual needs will motivate me to pray for you. I will protect you, but will guard against overprotection. I will correct you in love, but will try not to overcorrect. I will find no pleasure in your weaknesses or failures, and will keep no record of either. By God’s grace, I will be patient and will not fail you (1 Corinthians 13).
We understand God’s love only as we respond to it in Christ. The most important point in the life of any individual is the moment of decision to receive this unmerited, unearned love through which we learn to love Him and to pass this love on to others.
“God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us” (1 John 4:8–10, NIV).
For the Non-Christian:
If the inquirer has never experienced God’s forgiving love, share the gospel, emphasizing John 3:16.
For the Christian:
1. If the inquirer is a Christian expressing the desire to love God more, offer commendation and encouragement, for this is also God’s highest will for us: “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (Matthew 22:37):
A. We are to love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:10).
B. We are to love Him “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22).
C. We are to love Him through obedience: “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching’” (John 14:23–24, NIV).
D. We demonstrate our love through devotion to Him: “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8):
(1) We seek Him through His Word: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
(2) We seek Him through prayer: “‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:12–14, NIV).
(3) We seek to serve Him: “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV). “He will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10, NIV). Agape love is the greatest motivation to become involved in evangelism and missions, as we seek to share God’s love with a lost world.
2. If the inquirer is a Christian who has problems in loving a fellow Christian, point out that we only begin to understand God’s love as we reach out in love to each other:
A. It is a command of God to love our fellow Christians: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10, NIV).
B. Because God has loved us, we should be able to love regardless of the worthiness of the object of our love: “. . . because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). Share the outline in the “Background” on the dimensions of agape love: respect, care, and responsibility.
C. Point out that love doesn’t demonstrate itself automatically; it is a learned, practiced behavior. The more we love, and the more deeply we love, the more love is perfected in us:
(1) Prayer for others stimulates a deeper love for them.
(2) Acts of kindness, service, and sacrifice add the dynamic dimension to love. “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10). “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, NIV).
“Let us have no imitation Christian love. Let us have a genuine hatred for evil and a real devotion to good. Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit” (Romans 12:9–10, PHILLIPS).
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5, NIV).
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (1 John 3:1, NIV).
“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12, NIV).
Other suggested Scriptures:
Matthew 22:37, NIV
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook; World Wide Publications, 1984, 1996
Loving and Serving Others
See also Loving God.
1. Love one another in response to God’s love for us.
1 John 4:9–21.
1 John 4:9–11. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:21. And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
2. Love one another deeply.
1 Peter 1:22. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.
1 Peter 4:8. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
3. Genuine love is serving others.
1 Peter 4:9–10. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
4. Love is absolutely essential; one is nothing without it.
1 Cor. 13:1–3.
5. Paul describes what love really is.
1 Cor. 13:4–7. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
6. To love is to be devoted to one another.
Rom. 12:9–10. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
7. By washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus modeled for us, showing us how we must love one another.
John 13:14–15. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
8. Jesus commands us to love others in the manner in which he loved us, to imitate him.
John 13:34. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
9. Don’t be self-centered, but look out for others; in this imitate Jesus.
Phil. 2:3–5. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
10. Jesus gave his all for us.
11. Do not seek honor and prestige but, like Jesus, be ready to serve others.
Matt. 20:26–28. “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
12. Attending to the needs of others is doing it for Christ.
Matt. 25:35–36. ‘For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Matt. 25:40. “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ ”
13. Don’t become weary in doing good.
Gal. 6:9. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
14. Do good to all, especially to members of God’s family.
Gal. 6:10. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
15. Follow the golden rule.
Matt. 7:12. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
16. Don’t be self-centered, but please others.
Rom. 15:1–2. We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
17. Imitate Jesus.
Rom. 15:3. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”
18. Devote yourself to doing good.
Titus 3:14. And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.
19. You can find your life by doing good.
Matt. 10:39. “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
20. Love your enemies and those who persecute you.
Matt. 5:43–48. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Rom. 12:20–21. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
21. As members of Christ’s body, we all need one another; each member must use his or her gifts to serve others.
1 Cor. 12:1–31.
1 Cor. 12:4–7. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
1 Peter. 4:10–11. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
22. True freedom is to serve one another in love.
Gal. 5:13–15. For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
1 Thess. 4:9–11. But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.
See also Obedience; Loving and Serving Others.
1. The believer responds to God’s love and favor.
Deut. 6:4–7. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
2. Jesus calls us to love God above all else. He summarizes the Law as a matter of love.
Matt. 22:37–39. Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
3. Christ’s love for us must compel us to love and serve him.
2 Cor. 5:14–15. For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
4. Hold fast to the Lord and out of love keep his commandments.
Josh. 22:5. “But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
5. To love Jesus is to obey his teaching.
John 14:23–24. Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.”
6. Solomon tells us to respond to God’s favor by serving him from the heart.
1 Kings 8:56–61.
1 Kings 8:61. “Let your heart therefore be loyal to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and keep His commandments, as at this day.”
7. David’s charge to his son Solomon, to serve God with wholehearted devotion, is good for all of us.
1 Chron. 28:9. “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”
8. Motivated by love, reject partying and all sinful pleasures. Instead, put on Christ.
Rom. 13:13–14. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
9. God’s love for us should move us to strive for purity.
2 Cor. 7:1. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
 Kruis, J. G. (1994). Quick scripture reference for counseling (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.