Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13)
It seems so ironic that the greatest love the world has and will ever know should be represented by a symbol that speaks of the stark and horrifying reality of the most agonising torture and death humanity can devise. Yet it is only by the cross that the full magnitude of God’s agape love can be revealed. Today’s verse reminds us that the agape love we all desire and often speak of with little real awe and reverence is the ultimate expression of a love that is perfect, complete, and powerful.
We cannot comprehend the real meaning of agape love outside of the cross.
God Himself tells us, in today’s verse, that the greatest love is that which is self-sacrificing. To underscore this absolute truth, He gives us the vivid proof of the suffering saviour on the cross. If we struggle to fully understand agape love and its power in our lives, we need to fix our eyes on the cross and see the dynamic power of God’s love at work – a love which is perfect and complete.
The love God has for every single human being is infused and empowered by every single aspect or attribute of His nature and character. God operates in perfect balance, and no part of Him can be separated or operate separately. He works with Himself in perfect unity. This truth is critical to grasping the full measure of agape love. It is love which, first and foremost, encapsulates the complete identity of the great I AM of God. It is a love that manifests every single attribute of God in a perfect and complete way and contains the power to radically effect total and lasting transformation.
The cross is the visible manifestation of agape love.
We can easily lose sight of the fact that agape love is essentially active and dynamic. It is not some pleasant spiritual concept, a one-sided blanket of affection that overlooks our weaknesses and applauds our strengths. Agape love is always manifested. It works actively and powerfully to reveal who and what God is and to transform us. We were created in the image of God, and our Christian walk is the process of being transformed back into the image of Christ, who is God revealed. This process is empowered by the Holy Spirit through agape love.
In essence, agape love means a love that is perfect and complete. It requires nothing, and nothing can be removed from it, because it is part of the intrinsic nature of God who is also perfect and complete. God cannot love in any other way except agape love. We were created in agape love, and He is restoring us to agape love. Because it is perfect and complete in every respect, it will inevitably work to transform us to ‘perfect and complete.’ This is the essential and practical process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ, and the natural outworking is that we, in turn, reflect God’s agape love to the world.
Agape love is love which originates in the will of God
God is holy, and this is the place of separation and confrontation. Because He is holy, His nature and character cannot endure unholiness – that’s us and our sinful, fleshly natures. The absolute, stark reality is that we can do nothing to change this. We have neither the ability nor the inclination in and of ourselves to effect the necessary transformation to enable us to stand in the holy presence of God. But the agape love of God is perfect because it manifests the holiness of God, and it is complete because it manifests the answer to every single thing that prevents us entering the presence of God.
It’s so important to understand that agape love is ‘will love.’ It’s not inspired or sustained by logic, reasoning, or emotion. It’s not dependent on circumstances or behaviour, and it’s not regulated or affected by anything we think, say, or do. In essence, God has willed that He loves us – and that long before we were ever conceived or given life. Now, given that it is the will of God which created and sustains our immeasurable universe and everything in it, we begin to understand the power that is inherent in agape love.
Selflessness and self-sacrifice are the defining characteristics of agape love.
From this, we can see very clearly that agape love isn’t about us at all. It’s about the nature, power, and will of God. The reality is that there is nothing that ‘compels’ God to love us, and there is nothing we can do to influence this one way or another. That God should will to love us is utterly extraordinary. That He should love us sacrificially is beyond comprehension. Yet this is exactly how He demonstrates the perfection and completion of the greatest love in existence.
On the cross, Jesus met every single possible human need, temptation, and weakness. There is not one single human struggle that has not been provided for through the cross – totally and completely. The work He did is perfectly perfect and completely complete. It is the ultimate manifestation of agape love and the power it contains. It is the foundation of our faith, and the power of transformation, and it is through the ongoing transforming power of agape love that God continues the work of making us ‘perfect and complete’ in Christ.
It is impossible to avoid the outworking of agape love.
What we seldom grasp is that agape love is a dynamic, radical spiritual reality. In order for God to fully restore us, He must transform us. If He transforms us, it is by His love in us – filled with all the fullness of God. What this means is that we must, inevitably, reflect agape love ourselves. It is never intended as a ‘me and God’ exchange. God so loved the world, and if we desire to live in and experience the transforming power of agape love, we must expect and accept that it will begin to replace all other love in us, including our love of self.
We cannot expect or receive agape love without acknowledging its essential nature of self-sacrifice. Today’s verse makes this very clear. If we aspire to the ‘greater love’ we must be willing to lay down our lives. It’s easy to gloss over the truth that yielding our lives to Christ means that we in fact yield them for others. If we live in Christ and He lives in us, then we must live as He did – in servanthood to humanity. And it’s not just towards those we love naturally. It’s the world – which includes those that are hard to love or who may appear not to want it. That is the full, perfect, and complete expression of agape love. It’s an extraordinary, humbling, and inspiriting truth – the great I AM has chosen to reveal His perfect, complete agape love in a daily, ongoing way through you and I. We are called to receive it, to live in the fullness of it, and to reveal it through lives fully surrendered to Christ.
Lord, we are humbled by Your extraordinary love – a love we cannot earn or deserve. More than that, we are humbled by the revelation that You have called us to live Your agape love and reveal it to the world. Help us to lay down self, to look beyond our own narrow perception, and to joyfully take up the challenge and privilege You have called us to. Help us to always see the perfection and completeness of Your love in the cross, and in turn, to choose to live it daily so that the world might see You.