Rediscovering Agape: Lessons in Love from The Sermon on the Mount

Last month marked the beginning of a new period at the School of the Bible. Some of the courses offered this time include the Letter to the Romans, the Letters of James and 1 Peter, and The Art of Preaching. I have twenty students in my course on The Sermon on the Mount. About half of these are church members, and the rest are from the community. I cannot recall the last time I taught this subject. I am refreshed by revisiting Jesus’ longest sermon (Matthew 5—7).

Lately, I have been saddened by some of the marriages ending in divorce at the downtown congregation where I serve as a shepherd. Jesus addresses divorce in this text (Matthew 5:31-32). The reason these church members give for ending their marriages is the same one heard from those outside the church: “I don’t love them anymore.” This statement shows that they do not understand what God means when He commands us to love, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

The word God uses for love is “agape.” It is not just one of the four ancient Greek words for love; it is a concept central to faith. Unlike eros (romantic, sexual love), philia (deep friendship), and storge (family love), agape is not based on a feeling or an emotion. It is a decision of the will. That decision is to do good, regardless of the circumstances. It is characterized by its unconditional, selfless, and sacrificial nature. Agape love does not depend on the merit of the person but is an unconditional benevolence in obedience to God’s will. This is the love that motivated God to send His Son to die for sinners, most of whom will not accept Him.