John 15:13, μείζονα ταύτης ἀγάπην οὐδεὶς ἒχει, ἳνα τις τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ θῆ ὑπὲρ φἰλων αὐτοῦ.
“No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life on behalf of his friends.”
What kind of love is this? The word Jesus uses is ἀγάπη (agape): the love of choice and self-sacrifice, ultimately culminated in Christ on the cross. This love is the love of God, and the love that ought to drive our love. Any love that falls short of agape is not true love. True love, then, is that which constantly chooses to love even to the point of self-sacrifice. It is a love of grace and mercy. Too often, human love focuses on romance and as a force that mysteriously persists as the synapse between two persons which they have no control over. So, they think, love should be easy and hard work should not be required. False, love is difficult; it is difficult to love someone, for to love someone requires that we consciously choose to never give up on them in suffering patience, truth, and dignity. The love fantasised about in our fictions of flimsy romance is not love; it is delusional, for reality never matches up with what we’ve dreamt up. Can romance and non-romantic intimacy (such as that shared between friends) be involved? Yes, which can also be perverted in our sin, and often is (e.g. homosexuality, adultery, polygamy, etc.).
A godly love is that which chooses to love spouse, stranger, parent, sibling, friend, and enemy even to the point of self-sacrifice. True love constantly chooses to love even to the point of suffering, whether it be sacrificing our desires for one’s needs (and not vice versa) or even sacrificing our own life. Thus, Christ on the cross is the greatest love of all—that He willingly chose to die for the sins of all despite our total depravity that put Him there. His love for us supersedes all love. Can we perfectly emulate this love? So long as we remain in our sinful flesh, we cannot (cf. Romans 7:15-20), yet His Spirit nevertheless gives us the capacity to emulate His love as our flesh and spirit battle against one another, being simultaneously saint and sinner. Whilst our love for one another may occasionally fail, Christ’s love for us is eternally contrasted with our love—His love never fails nor grows tired (cf. Psalm 25:6-7).
Though they fail on occasion, my parents choose to love me even to points of self-sacrifice, and I am a blessed son. My brother chooses to love me, though he fails on occasion, and I am a blessed brother. My friends, though they fail on occasion, chose to love me, and I am a blessed friend. Through a divine miracle, a woman may choose to love this poor sack of sin I am, though she will fail on occasion, and I will be a blessed husband.
On the other hand, there are also many who choose not to love me. My sister, in her aversion for my faith and my God and love for her sin, chooses not to love me and so rejects me constantly. Frequently, there are also friends who choose not to love me because I refuse to approve their sins as a citizen of God’s kingdom. And there are countless others who never make a choice to love me and be a friend because as soon as they hear “Christian” or “I believe in Jesus Christ,” they make me their enemy. The same applies to those who choose to hate when I defend the defenseless in the womb or when I, according to Scripture, call evil what they consider to be good. For them, a follower of Jesus Christ is only worthy of being their enemy; love is never an option. And, of course, there are plenty of times when I myself fail to love others with agape love.
This is all true for all genuine Christians, not those counterfeit Christians who claim the title but pick and choose what they like and don’t like as if Scripture is a bag of Trail Mix, breaking under the pressure of the wicked and their own evil desires. When others choose to hate us, does this mean we’re not blessed? Not at all. For as Christ has said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
In all things, for God’s children, God chooses to love us. For those in our lives who choose to love us, God has chosen to love us. For those in our lives who choose to hate us and reject us for His name’s sake, still God chooses to love us because their insults, persecutions, and false utterances are powerless against the love of God (cf. Romans 8:30-39). Since this is true, God chooses to love us by blessing us when we suffer for His name’s sake. What does this look like? Other than the gift of eternal life in spite of our afflictions and iniquities through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, I cannot imagine a greater blessing and decisive love.