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Conditioning Love, by Phil Ware

    Most Christians are surprised to learn the truth. In fact, many will argue with you. Agape, the word the New Testament so often uses for Christian love, meant about the same thing in their day as our English word “love” means in our day. It wasn’t special. It wasn’t specific.

    “Agape means unconditional love!” Someone will respond. They’ve read a book or two about it. They’ve heard sermons about it. They’re sure of it. And they’re almost right.

    Agape sat there in the Greek language without a sharp, precise, and clear cut meaning. “I love my wife.” “I love a beautiful sunrise.” “I love the chariot races.” “I love to fish.” “I love pita bread.” That’s how agape could be used. It was a sloppy word for love. Just like our word. Then, the writers of the New Testament and the disciples of Jesus got a hold of it.

    John and Paul were leaders in articulating Christian love. They grabbed agape and gave it a new precision in two powerful ways. They defined agape by the work of God to redeem and save us. Then they emphasized that love was something a Christian did.

Love is much more than a season, or a feeling, or a state of being.
    God’s work in Jesus defines agape love. The Bible does not simply tell us that God loves us. Instead, we are always shown a demonstration of God’s love. God made clear that agape is something he does, not just feels! Rather than being unconditional love, agape is conditioning love. Agape changes things because it acts. It acts first. Agape acts sacrificially. Agape is God’s conditioning power that changes things by acting on situations redemptively.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (John 3:16)

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16)

“This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we could have life through him. In this is real love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

“God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)

    Christians are to have this kind of love for one another—granted, it is not by their own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit who pours love into our hearts (Romans 5:5) and by following the example of God who so generously loves us (1 John 3:17). As John puts it, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

    For Christians, agape love is something you do for another. Agape is conditioning love, because it chooses to act redemptively on behalf of another regardless of the outcome and because God has already loved us with such a love. Agape chooses to act redemptively because by acting, the situation is changed.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." (Ephesians 5:24)

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." (I John 3:18)

    Valentine’s Day rolls around once a year. There is much talk about love. Of course we know most of this is talk and has to do with romance and infatuation. Both of these are wonderful if channeled properly. But as believers, let’s use this time as a reminder that love for us is much more than a season, or a feeling, or a state of being. Love for us is the power to act and bless another and change their life with grace. It’s conditioning love and it's ours to share.


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