Faith Conversations: ‘Agape’ brings depth to oft-used word, love
By Roxane B. Salonen
So what, then, is love? “God’s word, agape love, gives us a far better understanding of what love is and should be,” she says.
Seibold and several other area pastors have witnessed agape love through both personal experience and in the lives of their flock.
The Rev. Matthew St. John, of Bethel Church, didn’t come to fully appreciate agape love until his mother-in-law, Lila, developed Alzheimer’s disease. As the illness progressed, she and her husband, Thurl, moved in with the St. Johns, and for years the family watched Thurl tenderly care for his bride, who, on the worst days, had become a stranger.
“I watched this unfold right across the hall from us. They were married for 56 years, and her dad told me one time, ‘I will do anything for her. I made a covenant to her, and I will serve her until the day she dies,’ ” St. John says. “It was the sweetest, most precious thing.”
But it was far from easy, which made it all the more special. “That was agape love to me, and it was Jesus portrayed right before my eyes.”
Agape, according to St. John, is about having a preference or regard for someone else by intention. “It’s an ‘other-centered’ dynamic.”
And it’s in contrast to another word sometimes confused with love: lust.
“When you look in our world today and see things like the movie ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ that’s not love. There’s nothing dignifying in that,” he says. “Lust is about what I can get, and love is about what I can give.”
The Rev. David Motta of Calvary United Methodist Church says though he was raised in the faith, in adolescence, he went astray for a time, selling booze to minors and tempting his fate with marijuana. Eventually, he got caught.
“My parents showed me agape love by loving me anyway,” he says. “Not by accepting what I was doing, but by saying, ‘Dave, you’re going to have to face the music with the law, but we’re going to love you even so.’ That meant something to me, and it made the gospel come alive to me.”
Motta says our world is hungry for that kind of love – the kind that isn’t conditional. “It’s not, I love you if you do this, or I love you because you’re pretty, or whatever,” he says. “No, it’s just I love you, period.”
But it must be accompanied by truth, otherwise it becomes hypocrisy, he says. “You can love people, even when they’re wrong.”
His daughter Elise recently went to Washington, D.C., to march at the Capitol in protest of abortion. “As they were marching, it was a wonderful way of responding to people who disagree without compromising,” he says. “ ‘Yes, we’re the pro-life generation, but we’re not going to be mean to people who disagree.’ ”
Recently, when in the presence of someone considering suicide, Motta discovered a new form of agape love, through the simple act of listening.
“Thank God he didn’t succeed, but what do you say?” Motta says. “Words don’t mean a whole lot in those situations, but just showing up, trying to listen a little bit, that’s a powerful expression of agape love.”
Seibold says she’s witnessed agape love through a woman in the community who makes quilts for people who are homebound – without sharing her identity.
“She gets their names, finds out what their need is, and makes a quilt for them,” Seibold says.
“She gives of her time, energy and creativity and expects absolutely nothing in return.”
The act of parenting also demonstrates agape, she says. “You give of your time, sleep, food and money, just to raise another human being, and that’s really a self-giving love, too.”
Sometimes, she says, we even see it on the national scene, such as in the story of former Ravens NFL football player Ma’ake Kemoeatu, who retired so he could give his younger brother his kidney.
“And I think of other stories that touch our hearts. We hear about the school shootings and the teachers who give their lives to protect the kids they teach,” she says. “That’s an extreme example of a self-giving love – the kind that Jesus demonstrates.”
Though each pastor mentions various Scripture passages demonstrating agape love, they all zero in on one in particular, John 3:16, which begins, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”
“This is how we know what love is,” Motta says. “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for each other. And it seems here that love is an action. God’s love is doing. It’s a decision to love even when we don’t really think people deserve it.”