Seeking the agape kind of love that Jesus can nurture in us
Since the Renaissance, the factions in the Christian world have caused people to despise Christianity. Even generous critics of Christianity question the many denominations and their splinters. The Restoration Movement set out to restore the purity of New Testament Christianity, but from earliest days of the initiative, differences have thwarted the efforts to get back to the heart of Jesus’ teaching. In my lifetime, I have seen the body fragmented by anti-Sunday school efforts, the one-cup doctrine, the anti-institutional movement, the anti-cooperation attack on The Herald of Truth; the discipling movement of the International Churches of Christ, instrumental music, role of women, re-acquaintance with Christian Churches (not merger, but re-acquaintance), and so on.
Agape is, in contrast, a learned love, not something that is natural with mankind. Agape love is not possible unless the Spirit of God is living and working in a person. Without God’s work on the heart and the actions, no person can rise to love all other disciples in the way Jesus described in John 13. We hardly ever show that we are disciples of Jesus by the way we respect, love and care for each other — especially if we disagree.
I personally long for the loving spirit that allows people to come together to study Scripture, to discuss concerns, to pray together and to reason with each other to search for the truth. Postmodern values may deny that there is truth, but Christ never doubted the truth of his father or the truth of his mission in the world.
The capacity to love all believers depends on our loving Jesus and the church with all our being. We live in a time when people do not generally love institutions or organization, and so our process of loving each other must begin with our learning to love God and the church with all of our hearts, minds and spirits. The church, God’s kingdom for all his followers, must be a primary love of our life or we will not care about others who are seeking to be the disciples of Jesus.
Agape is not easy. We have to submit to the Spirit and allow the Spirit to nurture in our nature the ability to show patience and long-suffering. Disciples can be ugly, unlovable, demanding, challenging and cantankerous, but agape sees beyond those character flaws to the eternal soul of another redeemed person.
Agape helps us develop persistence in love for those who are acting up in a way that turns us off. We continue showing care and kindness in an effort to reach the person and bring him or her and to a transformed relationship with God and with others. Agape means never giving up on a person until the relationship is fulfilling and meaningful.
Agape bring joy to a community because there is acceptance and relationship. The mystery of God the father, Jesus the son and the Spirit all being one should be the model for the joyous fellowship of people who truly love one another. The mutual love allows us to rejoice and share the happiness of those we care for like we care for ourselves. And the sharing of sorrows help lifts the sense of oppression.
Agape recognizes that understanding and interpreting God’s word is a challenge when God requires that we use our intellect to search out the doctrines of the kingdom from the biographies of Jesus, the history of the early church, epistles to church and individuals and the Revelation. Agape beats down the impulse to challenge and divide and inspires the determination to love each other as saints together and thereby declare to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples.