We began our reflections on making disciples by focusing on our human needs. One of the deepest needs we identified was our need for love. This “needy” love is self-focused. It longs for a sense of worth and self-esteem, for being valued and important to others. We search for something that will enable us to fill our lives with meaning, purpose, and significance. The Greeks had a word for this kind of love—eros. We have focused that word in modern times on sexual love and desire; but its basic meaning relates to the instincts, impulses, and desires for self-preservation and advancing our own personal interests.
In relationships we begin to discover that we must balance our personal needs with the needs of others, so we modify our selfish needs by a mutual accommodation that allows each partner to give and to receive love. If the give-and-take is too out of balance, we cast off that relationship and search for another. The Greeks also had a word for this type of love—philia. This love involves the give-and-take that maintains and fosters ongoing relationships.
Christians often reflect on the significance of the love that God has shown toward us in Jesus Christ. We especially focus on the nature of that love expressed in a third biblical word that can be translated “love,” the Greek word agape (ah-gah’-pay). This kind of love focuses unselfishly on the beloved and on the interests and well-being of the one who is the object of that love. Agape achieves its highest expression in God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. When we reflect on the servant role that Jesus played and on the sacrifice he made on behalf of all humanity, we begin to understand how agape sharply contrasts with the kind of love that so often inhabits our human relationships.
Now here is the challenge. When Jesus calls for us to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39), he didn’t speak of a “needy” love or even an accommodating love. The word for love used in the Greatest Commandment is the verb form of the word agape. One of the greatest challenges we face in our discipleship is getting beyond our roles as recipients of grace and God’s unselfish love—where everything has been centered on us—to the place where we can love God and neighbor unselfishly, where our lives are focused on their benefit, where we are motivated by giving rather than receiving. Only the deepest experience with God’s love and grace can open the door for us to love with God’s kind of love and to act with God’s kind of grace.