Agape Love

Posted on August 15, 2020


“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”  G. K. Chesterton


I remember when “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles was a hit.  I was just a kid at the time.  Though I liked the song, I didn’t know what a “cambami love” was.  Whatever it was, Paul seemed pretty enamored with it.

The melody comes in handy for lots of things.  When you are cooking dinner, it can be “basmati rice” or making a sandwich, it is “Havarti cheese.”  If you are writing a blog about marriage, it becomes “agape[1] love.”  Try it out.  Sing like nobody’s listening.  A-Ga-Pay lu-uv, lu-uv.  A-ga-pay lu-uv.


I need to preface this next point with a bit of an embarrassing confession.  I used to read a lot of Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon novels.  I remember one[2] by the former wherein an early plot point was that the hero (or anti-hero) who spoke English formed a business relationship in which the contractual agreement was written in Dutch.  After he proved successful, he discovered to his great distress that he had been duped by his partner as the contract was substantially different than what he understood he had agreed to.  There is risk in signing an agreement in a language you don’t understand.

In all likelihood, you have done something similar.  At your wedding, the friend or relative who just missed the cut to be in the wedding party (or perhaps it was the pastor) got up and read from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, 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.  Love never fails.

Then you said some vows where you promised to love each other.

Here’s the thing.  That passage wasn’t written in English.  It was written in Greek.  Only you know what you meant when you said you would love your partner.  Love has many meanings in English.  The longer I live, the harder it is to define what we mean by saying we love someone.  The word in the Greek was agape.  In Greek there were different words for erotic love (eros), brotherly love (phileo), and familial love (storge).  This is none of those.  Agape is about an unmerited, self-giving love.  It is not something you feel.  It is something you do.  It is on behalf of the one being loved.  It is love in action.

When Jesus said in John 15, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” the word was agape.  When Paul wrote in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” it was agape.

Stay with me here.  When you said those vows, you did not promise to have warm feelings toward your mate (phileo), you promised unmerited, self-sacrificing love (agape).  There was no, “I will love you if…” escape clause.  Surprise.


  1. What do you get when you cross G. K. Chesterton with Chumbwamba with Super Chicken with Brene Brown?
  2. I don’t know either, but let’s try to figure it out.

Chesteron asserted that the Christian ideal had been found difficult and left untried.  Chumbawamba avowed, “I get knocked down, but I get up again.”  Super Chicken claimed, “You knew the job was tough when you took it.”  And Brene Brown cited that “We can do hard things.”

I can’t say that human beings are fully capable of living out agape love.  We can get close.  We should try.  And we have Holy Spirit to help us.  When we fail, we need to own it and try again.  And it is a tough job.  This will not be accomplished with the occasional grand gesture.  It gets done with the day to day acts and statements that convey “You are valuable to me.  I care about you.”  It is in your tone of voice.  It is even in the way you think about your mate.  If the occasional grand gesture is not aligned with your daily treatment of your partner, the daily treatment has the greater credibility.  That’s what’s real.

If I didn’t believe people were capable of making positive changes in their lives, I would be in a different line of work.[3]  If any of this is feeling convicting, I want to assure you that you can make positive changes to agape your mate.  You won’t do it perfectly, but you can keep trying.  It’s worth it, and besides, it’s what you promised (even if you didn’t know it).

[1] It is from the Greek and is pronounced a-ga-pe, not a-gape.  Now you can sing along.

[2] I think it was Master of the Game but the novels start to blend together in my memory after a while.

[3] In truth, I would be retired.