Agape: Divine Love in the Bible

Definitions and examples of self-sacrificial love in the Scriptures.

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The word "love" is very flexible in the English language. This explains how a person can say "I love tacos" in one sentence and "I love my wife" in the next. But these various definitions for "love" aren't limited to the English language. Indeed, when we look at the ancient Greek language in which the New Testament was written, we see four distinct words used to describe the over-arching concept we refer to as "love." Those words are agape, phileo, storge, and eros.

In this article, we'll see what the Bible says specifically about "Agape" love.

Definition

Agape pronunciation: [Uh - GAH - Pay]

Perhaps the best way to understand agape love is to think of it as the type of love that comes from God. Agape is divine love, which makes it perfect, pure, and self-sacrificing. When the Bible says that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), it's referring to agape love.

It's also important to recognize that agape love goes way beyond feelings and emotions. When we say we "love" someone or something, we're typically referring to some kind of emotion inside us. We feel love for someone or something. But such feelings are not connected with agape love. Instead, agape takes a much more active form -- it's all about actions.

In other words, agape is the kind of love that does rather than feels.

Examples

The Greek word agape is found many times throughout the New Testament, so I won't attempt an exhaustive list of examples.

Instead, we'll look at a few Scripture passages that reflect key elements of agape love.

For example, Jesus mentioned agape while giving final instructions to His disciples at the last supper:

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love [agape] has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:12-13

Again, agape love is self-sacrificial. It is a love so pure that it places others above self, just as Jesus did through His sacrifice on the cross.

As I mentioned above, agape is the divine form of love. But that doesn't mean human beings don't have anything to do with it. In fact, earlier in Jesus' teaching at the last supper, He commanded His disciples (and us) to demonstrate agape love for one another.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love [agape] one another.”
John 13:34-35

This verse also reminds us that agape love is not defined by feelings, but by action. It may be difficult for us to conjure up feelings of love for the distasteful people in our lives -- and especially for our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-45). But we can take action to demonstrate agape love even when those feelings are hard to find.

Finally, the Book of Romans contains a stirring reminder from the apostle Paul about the power and permanence of agape love:

35 Who shall separate us from the love [agape] of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love [agape] of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39