I have written about grace before. It is a term that is so hard to understand. The short meaning is unmerited favor. Why would God extend His grace to us? We don’t deserve it. We need it. We are all flawed individuals, in need of understanding and forgiveness for the sins we all bear, every day.
Another term that is spoken a lot in Christian circles is agape love. Like grace, what makes it so hard to understand is the idea that it goes against our cultural values.
Agape love is what I would call a theme of the New Testament so it is very important that we understand it. So many phrases occur in the NT that help us define agape [Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, Love one’s enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. Love is not selfish]. Paul writes so much about an unselfish love, a self-giving love that is the result of living a life of Christ. The source of this love is God. The response of faith that we have is the result of this love. Paul spells out that the Christian walk we have with God results in an increase of love that we have for others.
The love we feel is given to us via The Holy Spirit.
This is where Hearing God comes into play. Dr. Willard feels that human beings begin to understand agape love through the maturing process of hearing from God.
We don’t have a mindless relationship with God. We come to Him because we want to. We come to him with intact personalities.
He takes us as we are and he works with us to make us better Christians.
The Bible has so many rich images and to me one of the most powerful is that God is working with us just as a potter works with clay. Jeremiah 18 references the image of Jeremiah going to the potter’s house where he saw the potter working at the wheel. He was shaping the clay and it was marred. He started over with another pot. God explains to Jeremiah that He can do to Israel what the potter is doing to the pot.
What God is doing to you and me is shaping us, just like that potter shapes the pot on the potter’s wheel.
Dr. Willard states that we are already established as the clay is established. He goes further by stating that we are not without a mind, we have our freedom and we have personalities. God knows us intimately. God is willing to work with us with the idea that we have intelligence, freedom of choice and personality.
At times, I wonder why He would want to develop me, with all the flaws that I have.
But He does. To develop people into better people is a major goal of God. That’s why He wants to establish a relationship with us. Over time, we learn from God as he communicates his messages to us and one of the best messages He communicates is a deep understanding of agape love.
What stands in the way of this message?
Again, agape love flies in the face of American cultural values. Today we [as a culture] are pretty selfish. The idea of grabbing as much as you can in life is pounded into us from all types of media sources. Giving love to others is not the prevailing thought. The prevailing thought is that we should get love from others, mostly a love that is centered on physical pleasure and satisfaction.
Agape love is not centered on physical pleasure and satisfaction; it is about benevolence, it is about selflessness, it is about others, not me.
To understand this complex concept, one needs to hear the voice of God and comprehend it. One needs to hear the voice of God and realize that the Voice is about growth. One needs to hear the voice of God and realize that God wants us to mature as Christians.
People who struggle to understand agape love the most are the unchurched and Christians who are stuck. Stuck Christians are not growing. They are not interested in learning. They are mired in their own problems to the point that their thoughts are centered around themselves.
The person who understands agape love knows that others need their love and people who need it most are the people who struggle the most, the poor, the down-trodden, the lost, the sick and yes, your enemies.
Dr. Willard says that our “primary goals are not just to hear the voice of God but to be mature people in a loving relationship with him.”
One of the most important “primary goals” is to work to understand and implement agape love in our lives.