Agape is seen by Christians to be the highest form of love there is. It is a Greek word, and literally means, I Love. It is seen as an act of the will, a choice to love. The one who loves has chosen to love the recipient of that love, and is used in the Bible to express the covenantal love that God has for His people Israel, and that Jesus expressed when He died on the Cross for us. At the end of this article, I will include a link to the use of agape as a replacement for the Hebrew Ahavah in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint). In non-Christian works, it was used to mean “affection” or “high esteem”, particularly for family members.
The first use of agape in the Old Testament is in Genesis 22 when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It is used in the expression of Isaac’s love for Rebekah and Jacob’s love for Rachel. Leah longs for that love and considers that Jacob might also love her since she has given him sons. The son of Hamor has agape love for Dinah, and Jacob loves his son Joseph with the same agape love. We are to love our neighbor with agape love. One revealing passage is expressed in the relationship of Samson and Delilah. Delilah says in Judges 16:4 “How can you say I love thee, when your heart is not with me?” This indicates that agape includes affection and is an expression of heartfelt love.
Agape is used throughout the Bible to express the love God has for His people, a love that often includes affection, and profound expressions of kindness, caring, and compassion. It is used in other verses to denote love for spouse, love for a child, the close love that Jonathan had for David, the love that the nation of Israel and the house of Judah had for David as God’s anointed. It is used to indicate high esteem, such as that used in non-biblical Greek works, in Esther where it says that the king loves Mordecai (the King James translates this as in whom the King delights). It is used to denote love of virtue, such as righteousness and the commandments of God.
Agape is used throughout the Song of Solomon to indicate love, or beloved, which gives a strong indication that SoS is not strictly erotic as much as an expression of the soulful love between a man and his bride. And some of the references are clearly the man expressing agape love toward the woman.
There are some instances in the Old Testament where agape could be interpreted to mean strictly physical love: the love that Amnon had for his half-sister Tamar, who he later rapes. In the prophets, it says that Israel went aside to her “lovers”.
Frequently in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, agape means “beloved”, which is gives a deeper meaning to God’s love. It means that not only does God choose to love us, and we Him, but His love is centered on His people. In Zephaniah 3:17, it says that God will bring joy upon His people and refresh them with His love and rejoice over them with delight.
In the New Testament, the word agape and variations of it are used to express the love that Jesus had for us in giving His life for the us, in making atonement for our souls. It is mentioned 166 times in the New Testament, 23 times in the book of 1 John alone.
Repetitively, Jesus calls us to this agape love. It is a choice to love one another. Jesus said we are to love one another as He loves us. The Apostle John tells us repetitively in 1 John that God is love, He first loves us, He showed us His love by the sacrifice of Jesus, and we are to walk in that love.
Bearing in mind that agape love means not only the choice to love, but also affection and high esteem, Paul commands husbands to love their wives in Ephesians chapter 5. Why? Because the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church. He is the earthly type of Jesus Christ, our spiritual husband. Jesus gave Himself for the Church. He shed His blood to wash away our sins. He holds us in affection and high esteem. Paul says that He sanctifies His bride and cleansed her. He presents her to himself as a glorious Church. Proverbs tells us a man who finds a wife finds a good thing. The glory of the Church is the glory of God—it is the greatest gift Jesus could present to Himself. So, we can see, that the obedient wife, as a type of the Church, is 1)highly esteemed, 2)is a gift to the husband, 3)glorifies the husband through her obedience and holiness. This is all accomplished through agape love which unifies the wife and husband.
So, as Christians, men should strive after this glory, striving to be righteous men who love their wives, are affectionate, esteem their wives, seek her sanctification, and women should stive to be virtuous women who submit to and obey their husbands, which in turn, glorifies Jesus Christ and the Church.
Single men and women can also display their agape love through devotion to Jesus and the Church, through service and commitment, and through promoting biblical roles. Let us all lift Jesus higher.