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All We Need Is Agapē

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Without the divine love known as agapē, all relationships eventually succumb to entropy and mediocrity. Dissipation and disordering of love is our natural course when we’re left to our own devices. But if we abide in Christ and walk by the power of the Holy Spirit, God can empower us to love in an unnatural — indeed, a supernatural — way that isn’t otherwise possible. (This is the quality of love described by the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians read at so many weddings.)

But too often we leave these high-sounding principles in vague, theoretical terms. What exactly does it mean to love someone with agapē? And how do we do it?

When used in the New Testament, this term refers to a love not of emotions or feelings but of the will. Agapē is a choice. It can be defined as the steady intention of the will to another’s highest good. This type of love is an ongoing benevolence — willing (-volence) what’s good or best (bene-) for another.* And nothing is better for a person than knowing and growing in Christ.

The Source of Love

God is the source of this kind of love:

“We love, because He first loved us.” (NASB)

Agapē shown on the human level mirrors and is powered by God’s own causeless and ceaseless love for us. It’s a love based on His choice to love and accept us while we were still sinners, even when we didn’t deserve it.

says we’re “chosen of God, holy and beloved.” (NASB). Our identity is secure in Him. You can’t choose someone accidentally, and neither did God choose us by accident. Those of us who are in Christ are holy and beloved whether we feel that way or not. The result is a capacity (which we didn’t have before we trusted Christ and received His Spirit) to do what the rest of the verse says:

“put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” b (NASB)

So the basis and pattern for our unconditional love and forgiveness of others is God’s own forgiveness and love for us (“just as the Lord forgave”; ). He gave us more and better than we deserved, and He now calls and equips us to give others better than they deserve. We have the ability, by His power at work in us, to put their interests above our own, taking the same, humble attitude that Christ had when He took on human flesh ( ).

This other-centered mindset isn’t natural. It’s supernatural. And our capacity for it is directly proportionate to our grasp of who and Whose we are. The more we grasp that our security, significance, and satisfaction are found in Him and not in people, the more secure we are.

Agapē transforms relationships, because even if it’s not reciprocated, it doesn’t destroy us. We can still love even when we’re hurt or wronged (even when, as Paul says in , we have “a complaint against” someone). It’s a love that is not merely theoretical but is expressed in action.

Just think, God didn’t stay in heaven—His love caused Him to give His one and only Son ( ), sent to earth as the most tangible expression of love ever known.


“Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (NASB)

Letting God infuse us, our marriages, and all of our relationships with His agapē love is the only way our various human loves will be ordered correctly, elevated, and sustained for the long term — becoming what God intended them to be.

Love as the world defines it is anemic; it’s a thin broth, unable to sustain a robust relationship, particularly a marriage relationship. We need something more. Only divine love provides the proper foundation for a successful marriage, or friendship or other relationship.

Today, ask yourself this question: Am I willing to be a vessel of the love of God — letting Him love others in me and through me, as me? If you are willing, not only will others be changed, but you will change too — becoming more in practice who He has already made you in position: holy, blameless, and acceptable in His sight.

*Not every use of agapē (or its verb form agapaō) in the New Testament conveys this meaning; language doesn’t work that way. However, I am referring to a particular use of the term as I’ve defined it, recognizing that it can have a range of meanings depending on context.

Copyright © 2019 Ken Boa, used with permission.

Read more about divine love and how it’s distinct from the various forms of human love.

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About The Author


Ken Boa has been engaged in a ministry of relational evangelism and discipleship, teaching, writing, and speaking for more than 40 years. An author of more than 50 books (from Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, Tyndale House, and NavPress, among others), his titles include Conformed to His Image, Handbook to Prayer, Life in the Presence of God, and Faith Has Its Reasons; he is also an editor or contributor to multiple Bibles and winner of three Gold Medallion Book Awards. View a complete list of books authored by Ken Boa. As founder and president of Reflections Ministries (based in Atlanta), he seeks