When you think of love, what comes to mind?

Maybe you think of romantic love, like that between a man and a woman. This is the kind of love our culture is obsessed with, with millions of books and songs and movies dedicated to the subject.

Or maybe you think about the love a parent has for a child. There are few things sweeter than deep parental love. Or maybe you picture the love that exists between two very close friends.

In the Bible, we find another type of love that we don’t often think about: agape love.

When we understand the meaning of agape love, it changes the way we understand God and transforms our relationships with others.

What Is Agape Love?

“Agape” is one of four Greek words for love found in the New Testament that is usually translated as “love”. Like every word, it has different meanings depending on the context it’s used. Sometimes it’s used to describe ordinary, human love.

For example, in Matthew 5:43, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’”

In this instance, Jesus is using the word “agape” to describe worldly love that is only given to people you like. There is nothing extraordinary about the love Jesus is describing here. No one is shocked if you love those you like and hate your enemies.

In other cases, however, the Bible uses “agape” to describe a very different, supernatural kind of love. In Romans 5:8 we read, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Here, “agape” is used to describe the nature of God’s love toward us. It is a sacrificial, self-giving love. It is love that pursued our good at God’s expense. It is undeserved love poured out on sinners.

Notice that God’s love is not dependent on the recipient. He poured out His abundant love on us even when we were still sinners. He didn’t wait for us to get our lives together. He didn’t tell us to get cleaned up first. No, He sacrificially loved us even when we had absolutely nothing to offer Him.

God’s love is completely different than the world’s love. The world says, “I’ll love you if you are worth loving.” God says, “I love you even when you’re at your worst.” The world says, “I’ll love you if you love me.” God says, “I love you unconditionally.”

We are called to give the same “agape” love to others. God’s amazing love has been given to us, and we have the privilege of giving that love to others. In fact, love is supposed to be the defining characteristic of Christian relationships. In John 13:35, Jesus said to His disciples, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When we sacrificially love others, we are showing the watching world what God is like. This is why love is so very important for Christians. When people look at our lives, they should see God.

What does it look like when we show “agape” love to other Christians? In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we read the following:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

These verses help us understand what Christ-like love actually looks like. Speaking about these verses, pastor Adrian Rogers says that our love should be:

  • Steadfast
  • Serving
  • Sincere
  • Self-effacing
  • Self-restraining
  • Self-denying
  • Serene
  • Sacrificial
  • Sympathetic
  • Suffering

Notice that “agape” love isn’t primarily a feeling. Feelings are unreliable, often coming and going very quickly. Christ-like love is primarily an action. Yes, feelings are certainly involved, but they are not the foundation. The foundation of true love is a commitment to the good of the other person.

If you build your relationships on feelings, they won’t survive over the long run. Feelings aren’t enough to keep you going when things get difficult. A stronger, much more sure foundation is needed.

Examples of Agape Love

The greatest example of “agape” love is, of course, God’s love for us. God could have simply told us that He loves us and that would be enough. He’s God, after all. If He says it, it’s true.

But God proved His love for us by sending Jesus to save us from our sins. God took decisive action to show the height, depth, and breadth of His love.

In John 3:16 it famously says,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

It cost God a great deal to save us from our sins. He gave up His precious, beloved, only begotten Son so that we could have everlasting life. It’s one thing to say that you love a person. It’s something else altogether to sacrifice something you deeply love for them.

The hymn “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” says:

"How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure"

We cannot doubt the love of God. The cross demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are deeply, incredibly loved by God.

1 John 3:16 puts it this way:

“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

The early church was committed to showing the world the incredible love of God that they had received. They cared for orphans and widows when no one else would. They gave to the poor when the rest of society rejected the impoverished. The sick were healed and the lame were made to walk.

The world couldn’t ignore this kind of love. In the face of intense opposition, Christianity spread to all corners of the world. Nothing can stand before the unstoppable love of God.

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Growing In Agape Love

So how can we grow in “agape” love? How can we love more sacrificially? We must do three things.

First, we must regularly, consistently think about, rejoice in, and thank God for His love toward us. If we’re not convinced that God loves us with an overflowing, unmatchable love, we will never be able to love others as God does. If we doubt that God loves us, we won’t overflow with love toward others.

The more we soak in the love of God, the more we’ll be compelled to give that same love toward others.

Second, we must ask God to empower us to love others. It’s no secret that it can be pretty hard to love others at times. We struggle with selfishness and self-centeredness. People do things that bother us and even sin against us at times. There are times when the easiest thing to do is pull back and not care about anyone else.

In Galatians 5, we’re told that love is the fruit of the Spirit. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to love others as God has loved us. We need to regularly ask God to give us supernatural strength to love.

Third, we must take action. We can’t wait until we feel like loving. If we do that, we’ll never love like God loves. “Agape” love is action-oriented. We must do loving things, like serving and giving forgiving. We probably won’t feel like doing these things in the moment, but true, Christ-like love isn’t rooted in feelings. Real love always seeks the good of the other person.

The World Is Desperate For Love

Every person desperately wants to be loved. So many problems people experience are the result of trying to find love somewhere other than God.

We have been given the greatest love of all. We are welcomed and loved by God, forgiven of all our sins and adopted into His family. We know what true, “agape” love really is.

Let’s seek to show the world this love that we’ve experienced.

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