I have taken the challenge to choose one word for 2019. One word to cling to and to always remember. One word to focus on, to empower and to center my thinking. A word to help me realign the misplaced affections of my heart. There were several words that came to mind and they were all words that I wanted to believe about myself. Yet focusing strongly on what I have been learning throughout 2018 and the ways in which the Spirit continually transforms my heart slowly in sanctification, there is one word to encompass all – agape. However, disclaimer, this will be encompassing of my own thoughts and ramblings, yet is still not adequate to describe my Savior, whom I cannot form a thought adequate to describe Him.
Agape is defined as the love of God. A word that we finite flesh use to attempt to encompass the love of God in our language yet is still a task impossible on this side of eternity. However, this word is the center for what I have been learning, how I have been transformed and how I long to live my life towards others.
I am daily learning more of the depths of Christ love. As someone who battles daily with a crippling anxiety in fear of inferiority, I cannot grasp that someone would love me so much that he would give his perfect and sinless life in order to cancel the record of sin in my life. I long to believe this love so truly that I may rest in it, allow myself to accept the truth and to cover every facet of my being that is shaking amidst the indulgence of perfectionism. This love has saved me, healed me, redeemed me and is continually restoring my broken life day by day. Recently marrying, there has been an incredible emphasis on Paul’s letter to Corinth in which he spends the 13th chapter describing the love of God. However, these words have slipped tragically into the false belief that we can achieve this love as children of God. Yet, we will not be able to achieve this love fully.
What is important to acknowledge is that God has perfectly kept and exuded this love from before the foundation of the world. This love that is perfectly and sovereignly patient, kind, one that is not envious or rude. His love is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice with wrongdoing, but with truth. His indescribable patience with my sanctification is seen in this love that bears all things as he bore my sin, dying my death on the cross. This love does not expect anything in return, but it is one that fully loves and fully knows. A love we cannot achieve in its fullness, but one that we are invited into ~ this acting love ~ agape.
I have recently began reading In His Image by Jen Wilkin. In this book she uses Kenneth Wuest’s definition of agape as an act of the will, “an intelligent, purposeful attitude of esteem and devotion; a selfless, purposeful, outgoing attitude that desires to do good to the one loved.” She says, “agape does not merely feel, it acts.” This love is supernatural. It is “not something that any human can practice apart from the Holy Spirit. Because it originates in God and is enabled by God, agape is unbound by the limits earthly love faces.” I have been learning the transcending power of this love. To truly understand this love is not only to understand Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf, but to grasp who we are as a result of this love and how we are to act in thankfulness for the abundant grace we walk in.
Breaking down agape has not only helped me greater learn how to preach the gospel to myself daily but has also worked so lovingly in my heart to restore deeply woven brokenness. His love continues to act despite that he fully knows us. He fully knows every thought, feeling, word and action long before it is done. In fact, every second was ordained before the world was spoken into existence. Returning to 1 Corinthians 13, I find great comfort in verse 12:
“For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
My deep pining for affirmation and achievement for fear of failure in the eyes of others collapses considering these powerful words of truth. I cannot see nor can know the full story that God has authored. I cannot see why each moment happens in its circumstance or what it will become. We cling to the fleeting feelings in our days without thought and understanding that we cannot fully know, so we must rest in his boundlessness. God’s acting love towards his children is infinite and it must cost me these self-indulging desires. My year ahead is already romanticized as to what I feel will be the best for me as well as my husband. This is the very depths of our indulgence that must be crushed.
I am learning the power behind agape, even though there are depths I cannot know and will not know. Yet, I am thankful that sanctification is slow, and I am abounding in thanks for the unfathomable patience my Father has shown me as he is daily delivering my life for eternity according to his divinely authored plan. My life is a mist, one that will vanish at dawn. My life is a speck in God’s grand plan for redemption and as I hold him in proper affection, then can I only begin to view myself and others rightly.
As I reverently ponder this love, this agape that my Savior daily acts through for our eternal salvation, who I am in light of this becomes clear. As a result, our calling for others is made clear as well. Wilkin continues, “When we devote heart, soul, mind and strength to loving him, we perceive ourselves rightly- no room for pride or exaltation- which prepares us to love our neighbor freely. Rightly perceiving ourselves to be unworthy recipients of the agape of God, we become willing to love our neighbor despite himself because God first loved us in spite of ourselves. We do not wait to feel love; rather, we will ourselves to act in love whether we feel it or not. Agape transcends our feelings.”
We cannot adequately worship God in our flesh, we cannot adequately thank God or act righteously toward others as we ought. Our love is cold, it is focused first and foremost with us at the center. Our heart’s affection directly flows outward in how we love and serves others. God’s sacrifice once and for all cannot be undone despite our unfaithfulness. His daily providence does not fail even in our feeble wandering. And His love, which transcends our understanding, never ceases acting even as we daily deserve nothing but wrath. His word demands holiness, which we cannot reach. Yet, I have been challenged so deeply with the unwillingness of my heart to daily serve while expecting nothing in return. To spend myself without feeling bitter or even thoroughly inadequate in my abilities. I am so thankful that those feelings are fleeting and are not truth. The truth is that God and his sacrificial love- agape- moves history to secure his children and he has moved history to save my life. In response to this love we cannot fathom, we can act in such as way as Christ did towards others. Sacrificial, selflessly serving others while expecting nothing in return. Yet doing so not in order to earn or gain the love of Christ or in an empty love for self-elevation. But only in a desire to act towards others in love, as we have received this love.
“If I speak in tongues of men and of angels but have not love I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-4
I pray to encompass this agape as greatly as my human flesh is able through the work only of the Holy Spirit. To lay down fully my pride, my self-sufficiency and pining for affirmation. How impossible this sounds, yet I long to love others in such a way that it costs me. To live for the advancement of the Kingdom alone until I am called home. I long to love and serve no matter the circumstance I find myself, to remove the lens from myself and my romanticized dreams. I long to throw off my entitlement for success and love others graciously. I long to be so empty of my own desires that if I meet disappointment, I can rejoice that it is once again God’s acting love towards me. I long to give of myself to others in a way that the gospel is proclaimed daily.
That is why, when challenged to find one word, it is agape. For it is agape that went to the cross and died my death, the love that suffered that I may live. I am standing alive in the death of Christ. It is through agape that I may crucify my misplaced affections in order to love God rightly. A love that allows me to see myself and others through his eyes, as well as his eternal plan over my romanticized agenda. It is this acting love that is daily sanctifying my life to be conformed to the image of Christ, and by this love we can act towards others in the way we have been called to walk.