Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2
When I first fell in love with my wife, I must admit that it was initially more of an infatuation. Instead of “I love you”, it was probably more of “I love how you make me feel”. Romantic love is an intensely emotional impulse that most of us have experienced, and which dominates our understanding of love. My young love for my wife was actually quite selfish. I was simply pursuing the thing that made me feel the best. This is a life problem for me – I’ve always pursued what I want, which is really just love of self. This emotionally-driven, self-seeking impulsiveness eventually led me to drug addiction, which involved behavior that was profoundly unloving towards my wife.
I absolutely do love my wife, but now, as I’ve found recovery and matured, the love I have for her has hopefully matured as well. I’ve had to learn that loving her means seeking that which is in her best interests, not just my own. Sometimes love means sacrificing my wants for her needs.
This comes a little closer to today’s passage and its definition of love. It is perhaps unfortunate that English has only one word for love. In the Greek, there are four words for love. Eros is romantic love, but today’s passage says that we are supposed to walk in agape love. This is the kind of love that God has for us.
Agape is the benevolent love that seeks good-will for others. God created us and, as our father, truly wants what’s best for us. He desires this so much that he came to Earth to live among us and sacrificed himself to save us. This is the kind of love that puts the needs of others above oneself.
This is the love which, as Christians, we’re supposed to practice. We’re meant to love those around us as God loved us, which means we’re asked to sacrifice our preferences for the needs of our neighbors, thus showing them God’s love. The problem for most of us, is that our concept of love is dominated by eros love, which is often driven by emotion and impulse. We equate love with a feeling and so, we allow our actions to be controlled by our emotions. In such a state, we’ll never do anything that we don’t feel like doing, which means we’ll never sacrifice our own desires for the needs of those around us.
In today’s passage though, Paul said that love isn’t just a feeling, it’s an action and a way of life. Agape love means we must act in the best interests of others, which sometimes means sacrificing our own preferences. We must do this whether we feel (emotionally) like it or not. God has loved us and saved us. Our only proper response is to be obedient, loving those around us – even when we don’t feel like it.