There are those rare occasions when Melissa or I will take the early shift and just stay up with the kids. Sometimes we won’t come in and trade places with the other. We’ll simply stay awake with the kids until the other finally wakes up and runs out to the living room to make sure everything is okay. It is startling to be on the receiving end of this transaction. When these moments take place, I think to myself, “This is the kind of thing a good marriage is made of.”
For the next few weeks, we are going to focus on the different kinds of love found in the Bible. I have been asked to write about agape. Agape is Greek for the kind of love associated with God. It gets used to describe the unmerited love God shows toward humanity. Agape is most genuinely expressed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) There are, however, the rare occasions that agape is used in reference to humanity. In this case, it describes a selfless and sacrificial love. For instance, when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he responds, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love (agape) the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love (agape) your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, he explains that it begins with love of God. Not just any kind of love, but this selfless and sacrificial love of God. In other words, we can love God in such a way that we are willing to set aside our own priorities and agendas for God’s. Jesus says that the only way to love God is as he loved us, willing to give up our lives to and for him. Jesus then says, that with the same love you gave to God, agape, you can love your neighbors, as well.
We can express this agape in a variety of ways. Once this agape was shared with me when a neighbor mowed our front lawn while Melissa and I were out of town. It was such a blessing and relief that I’m not sure I will ever forget it. Because this love was shown for me, I have chosen to serve and bless both sets of neighbors in a variety of ways. This agape has a way of perpetuating itself once it gets shared. Although this love is incredibly impactful in all of our relationships, it is particularly meaningful in a marriage.
When we share this agape in a marriage, amazing things can happen. Agape love in a marriage is anytime we choose our spouse’s needs over our own. Not in a way that is particularly harmful to us, but in a, “I want what you want, more than what I want” kind of way. This isn’t in the big, grand displays of emotion, although it can be. More often this kind of love is expressed in the little things. Agape is when a partner goes in to put the 3-year-old back to sleep for the thousandth time. Agape is when someone chooses to do the dishes that have been piling up. Agape is when someone decides to fill the car up with gas without ever mentioning it to the other. And, yes, agape is when someone chooses to stay up with the kids and let the other sleep. This kind of love is not possible to achieve on our own. If we do it on our own, we might be able to do it in short stints, but not for any length of time. In fact, sustaining this kind of love is only possible through experiencing the agape of God through Jesus Christ.
Agape is not a transaction. It is not a, “I’ll do this for you only if you do this for me.” In fact, it is the exact opposite of a transaction. It is a, “I’ll do this for you, because you cannot do this for me.” That’s the way God used it when he sent Jesus Christ. Jesus did not come to barter in a transaction. We had no means by which to repay the debt we owed. Still, Jesus came, gave his life up for us and thus saved us. What if we lived this kind of agape love for our spouse? My hope and prayer for you this week is that we tap into God’s agape for us, so that we can share it with those whom we love most.