1 John speaks of agape in the way Jesus demonstrated His love to His friends, followers, and family. Agape is the kind of love that opens our lives to our beloved, that rewards vulnerability with acceptance and care. Love is, as Jesus demonstrated, humble, generous, self-giving, transparent, vulnerable, and trusting.
There is a quality to agape that is unlike the other loves, for it comes from a place of fullness, a place of depth and peace, it is an overflowing kind of love that does not need a response to exist.
Our Nature is Love
Let us return to the narrative of our creation:
Then God said, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earthand over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humans in [God’s] image,
in the image of God [God] created them;
male and female [God] created them.
God blessed them …Genesis 1:26-28 (NRSV, emphasis and brackets added)
And what is God’s image? What is God’s likeness?
Beloved ones, may we love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves has been begotten of God and knows God.
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.1 John 4:7-8
God Is Love
We are made in that image and likeness, the image of love, and though we lost our way, God brings us back and gives us a fresh infusion of who we have been designed to be.
… and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.Romans 5:5 (NRSV, emphasis added)
John adjured, “Beloved ones, you are begotten of love, your nature is love, and you know your Father, Who is love. You and I were born to love, so may we love one another” (cf. 1 John 4:7). God’s love is infinite and eternal and flows through every Christian from that infinite and eternal source.
The one who does not love (agape) does not know God, for God is love (agape).
In this God’s love (agape) was made apparent in us, that God sent forth His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
In this is love (agape): not that we have loved (agape) God, but rather that He loved (agape) us and sent forth His Son [as] propitiation regarding our sins.
Beloved ones, if God loved (agape) us in this way, [then] we are obligated to love (agape) one another.
God has never been beheld [by] anyone—if we love (agape) one another, God is remaining in us and His love (agape) is being made complete in us.1 John 4:8-12
The heart of the gospel and the heart of 1 John is found in this passage and is echoed by all the writers of the Greek Testament.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:36-40 (NRSV)
“Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love 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 your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”Mark 12:28-33 (NRSV, emphasis added)
“But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes away what is yours, do not ask for it back again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.Luke 6:27-31 (NRSV, emphases added)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.John 15:9 (NRSV, emphasis added)
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:16-19 (NRSV, emphases added)
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deedsHebrews 10:24 (NRSV, emphasis added)
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.James 2:8 (NRSV, emphasis added)
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual affection, love one another deeply from the heart.1 Peter 1:22 (NRSV, emphasis added)
Repeatedly referred to his readers as “beloved,” a form of the word agape.
Out of love—for God is love—the universe was created, humanity came into being, the earth and everything in it, the sky and the sea, the profusion of flora and fauna, the celestial orbs that sing their eerie praises to God.
And from God’s agape come all the other forms of love there are, the love of parents for children, the love of friends for friends, the love of sweethearts for each other. All is a gift of God to the human race, like sunshine and rain, food, resources, everything that makes life beautiful, happy and wholesome.
In the words of James, we do well when we love as God loves.