One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself. These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” Matthew 22:37-40
In Christian service we ought not be guided by our own interests and desires. Once the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we purposely begin to identify ourselves with the interests and purposes of Jesus, including His interest in other people. This is one of the greatest tests of our relationship with Jesus Christ. The delight of sacrifice is that I lay down my life for my friend, Jesus. I don’t throw my life away, but I willingly and deliberately lay it down for Him and His interests. And I do this for no cause or purpose of my own.
Paul understood about such agape love (Note 1): “O Israel, my people! O my Jewish brothers! How I long for you to come to Christ. My heart is heavy within me, and I grieve bitterly day and night because of you. Christ knows and the Holy Spirit knows that it is no mere pretense when I say that I would be willing to be forever cursed, cut off from Christ, if that would save you.” Romans 9:1-3
Had Paul lost his mind? Not at all. For someone who is in love, this is not an overstatement. And Paul was in love with Jesus Christ. And, thusly, with His purposes.
Note 1: Agape, from the Greek. The essence of agape love is not romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love. Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape is almost always used to describe the love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself: “God is love.” God does not merely love, He is love. Everything God does flows from His love. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve to be loved or because of any excellence we possess, but because it is His nature to love. Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s demonstration of agape love led to the sacrifice of His Son for those He loves; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Agape love does not come naturally to us. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love—that agape—can only come from its Source. This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children. Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another. See also 1 Corinthians 13.