Easily one of the most famous and well-known Bible verses is John 3:16. It has been called the ‘Gospel in a nutshell’ because it is considered a summary of the central doctrines of Christianity”.The word translated “love” in this verse is agape.

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

Agape received a broader usage under later Christian writers as the word that specifically denoted “Christian” love or “charity” (1 Corinthians 13:1–8), or even God himself (1 John 4:8, “God is Love”).

The term agape is rarely used in ancient manuscripts, but was used by the early Christians to refer to the self-sacrificing love of God for humanity, which they were committed to reciprocating and practicing towards God and among one another. When in 1 John 4:8 we read “God is love,” the Greek New Testament uses the word agape to describe God’s love.

Agape has been expounded on by many Christian writers in a specifically Christian context. C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, used agape to describe what he believed was the highest level of love known to humanity—a selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well-being of the other.

The Christian usage of the term agape comes almost directly from the Gospels’ accounts of the teachings of Jesus. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love (agape) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love (agape) your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Agape has a link to Kenosis, the concept of the ‘self-emptying’ of one’s own will and becoming entirely receptive to God and his perfect will. For example in Philippians 2:7, “Jesus made himself nothing. Agape love focuses on how you can meet the other person’s needs, it is a self sacrificial love.

We see this again in Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love (agape) your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love (agape) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? — Matthew 5:43-46 (NIV)

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