Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Rules of Agape Love?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. —Philippians 2:3-4

When Shawna and I were engaged to be married. I was reading every marriage book that I could find. I wanted to be the best husband that I could be. So I read, I prayed about what I read, and I reread parts that stood out. And I read all of the right books, if you know what I mean.
One night I was sat confused about what I had just read from one of the most noted marriage authors. What he had said contradicted the advice of the book I had finished earlier in the week by another reputed Christian marriage counselor. I was getting stressed as I looked for the right methods of being a good husband. These books were laying out the rules for loving my wife-to-be, but the rules were different. I wanted to throw the books across the room.

Then I had a thought that changed everything, “If I value Shawna above myself, then we will probably have a pretty good marriage.” I had been reading these books from the wrong point of view. My focus was wrong. I was focused on how I could be a good husband, on how I could be a heroic man for my soon-to-be wife. That focus was causing me to miss the point entirely.

Now we have been married nearly 16 years and with that there have been some relational challenges. But every time we’ve had rough waters, I’ve found that I was not considering her more important than myself.

Isn’t this true of any relationship or any experience of community? There is no way to package up Phil 2:3-4 and boil it down to a set of universal principles that can be applied to any marriage. In fact, I have found that the way that I have considered Shawna more important than myself has varied through the years. It’s based on the law of love, the law of agape, which means self-sacrificial, other-oriented, choice-based love. When we are focused on ourselves, we miss the point of love because we are not seeing the other person. We are only looking at ourselves. Let’s look at this a little further so that we can get on the same page regarding this law of agape.
  • Other-oriented—which basically means turn our eyes to understand the other person. We allow them to be them without the need to fix them, teach them or to make them into anything but who God made them to be. We learn to listen to who they are and listen them into a new reality. We are not self-focused trying to get from the other person.
  • Self-sacrificial—By this I don’t mean self-depricating or self-loathing where a person puts others ahead of themselves because they view everyone else as being having more value than they have. It means that we love ourselves enough and see ourselves as having something to offer enough that we can sacrifice ourselves for the sake and the good of another person. 
  • Choice-based—Love like this cannot be forced or coerced. You cannot express agape because you feel that you must or because you are trying to be the right kind of Christian leader. It is something we freely choose to give another person.
This is the mind or attitude of Christ (Phil 2:5) which he displayed on the cross. This is how the Holy Spirit works in and through us today, changing us from the inside out so that we embody this kind of love for others. This is not about following some set of predetermined rules regarding what this love looks like. It’s “adopting this attitude” so that we can make room for the Spirit of God to shape us to be this kind of people.

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