What Is Agape Love in the Bible?

Discover why agape is the highest form of love.

Agape love

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Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the highest of the four types of love in the Bible.

This Greek word, agápē (pronounced uh-GAH-pay), and variations of it are frequently found throughout the New Testament but rarely in non-Christian Greek literature. Agape love perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus Christ has for his Father and for his followers.

Agape Love

  • A simple way to summarize agape is God's perfect, unconditional love.
  • Jesus lived out agape love by sacrificing himself on the cross for the sins of the world.
  • Agape love is more than an emotion. It is a sentiment that demonstrates itself through actions.

Agape is the term that defines God's immeasurable, incomparable love for humankind. It is his ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing concern for lost and fallen people. God gives this love without condition, unreservedly to those who are undeserving and inferior to himself. 

"Agape love," says Anders Nygren, "Is unmotivated in the sense that it is not contingent on any value or worth in the object of love. It is spontaneous and heedless, for it does not determine beforehand whether love will be effective or appropriate in any particular case."

Agape Love Defined

One important aspect of agape love is that it extends beyond emotions. It's much more than a feeling or sentiment. Agape love is active. It demonstrates love through actions.

This well-known Bible verse is the perfect example of agape love expressed through actions. The all-encompassing love of God for the entire human race caused him to send his son, Jesus Christ, to die and, thus, save every person who would believe in him:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, ESV)

Another meaning of agape in the Bible was "love feast," a common meal in the early church expressing Christian brotherhood and fellowship:

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; (Jude 12, ESV)

A New Kind of Love

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same sacrificial way he loved them. This command was new because it demanded a new kind of love, a love like his own: agape love.

What would be the outcome of this kind of love? People would be able to recognize them as Jesus’ disciples because of their mutual love:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV)
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16, ESV)

Jesus and the Father are so "at one" that according to Jesus, whoever loves him will be loved by the Father and by Jesus, too. The idea is that any believer who initiates this relationship of love by showing obedience, Jesus and the Father simply respond. The oneness between Jesus and his followers is a mirror of the oneness between Jesus and his heavenly Father:

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:21, NIV)
I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:23, ESV)

The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthians to remember the importance of love. He used the term agape six times in his famous "love chapter" (see 1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 13). Paul wanted the believers to show love in everything they did. The apostle exalted love as the highest standard. Love for God and other people was to motivate everything they did:

Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14, ESV)

Paul taught believers to infuse their interpersonal relationships in the church with agape love so as to bind themselves "all together in perfect harmony" (Colossians 3:14). To the Galatians, he said, "For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love." (Galatians 5:13, NLT)

Agape love is not merely an attribute of God, it is his essence. God is fundamentally love. He alone loves in the completeness and perfection of love:

But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:8–10, NLT)

Other Types of Love in the Bible

  • Eros is the word for sensual or romantic love.
  • Philia means brotherly love or friendship.
  • Storge describes the love between family members.

Sources

  • Bloesch, D. G. (2006). God, the Almighty: power, wisdom, holiness, love (p. 145). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  • 1 Corinthians. (J. D. Barry & D. Mangum, Eds.) (1 Co 13:12). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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Zavada, Jack. "What Is Agape Love in the Bible?" Learn Religions, Jan. 4, 2021, learnreligions.com/agape-love-in-the-bible-700675. Zavada, Jack. (2021, January 4). What Is Agape Love in the Bible? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/agape-love-in-the-bible-700675 Zavada, Jack. "What Is Agape Love in the Bible?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/agape-love-in-the-bible-700675 (accessed October 17, 2021).