In a previous article I tried to show something of the distinctive quality of Christian love, that love which was so new that the first Christmas had to look round for a new word to convey the precious new truth. We saw then that the essence of agape is that it is a love for the completely unworthy.
When we read that God loves us we are not to understand this as signifying that God finds in us something that is very worthwhile, and that He loves us for this merit that He perceives in us. Rather He loves us despite the many imperfections that are all too plain in His sight. He loves us because it is His nature to love, because He is that sort of God.
Perhaps it is not too fanciful to see Creation and Revelation in the light of this fact. Many have tried to give a reason for God’s creating the universe, and especially for His creation of man, and I do not wish to add to the number. But may we not think that creation, and especially the creation of man, represents the outworking of God’s agape, of His passion for giving Himself in love? So is it with revelation. When He had made man, He might well have left him to work out his own salvation as best he might. But God did no such thing. From the very earliest days He spoke to men by His chosen servants, and a long line of prophets bear witness to God’s readiness to give His blessings to men, and His tender concern for their well-being. Finally He sent His Son, that so man’s salvation might be accomplished, and it is only on Calvary that we begin to understand what the Divine agape is.
Now when God’s great love comes to man in this way man is forced to a decision. In the words of Anders Nygren: “Just because agape consists in complete recklessness of giving, it demands unconditional self-giving. As a force that creates fellowship it pronounces an annihilating judgment on the self-seeking life, which refuses to let itself be refashioned after the pattern of agape and spurns the offered fellowship. The coming of agape decides a man’s destiny; the question for him is whether he will yield himself up to be transformed, or will resist, and so encounter agape only in the form of judgment on his life.”
When a man yields to this Divine agape he is transformed completely, and life takes on a completely new complexion. In the words of the great Apostle “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” This has many effects, but the one with which we are now concerned is that it creates the attitude of agape in the believer. In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love, because he first loved us.” In the A.V. “him” is inserted after “love,” but this is the reading of inferior manuscripts, and in my judgment distorts the thought. The writer is not saying that we love God because He first loved us, but that we can only love at all—that is love in the true sense, the sense of agape — because God’s agape has come to us, and refashioned us, so that we begin to see others as God sees them. Agape in God creates agape in man.
AGAPE IN THE EARLY CHURCH.
In “Quo Vadis,” Chilo is pictured as a thief, slanderer, and worse, and among other misdeeds he had sold the wife and daughter of Glaucus into slavery, and attempted to slay Glaucus himself. In the Neronian persecution Glaucus is one of the Christians who were daubed with pitch and set on fire in the Emperor’s gardens. Chilo was with Nero as he drove down the line, and when they came to Glaucus, the wind blowing the smoke away, Chilo recognised the sufferer. Overcome with remorse he cried, “Glaucus, in Christ’s name, forgive me!” There was a movement at the top of the pillar, and the martyr groaned “I forgive.” The author goes on to show how this display of Christian love was the means of converting Chilo, who in turn became a martyr for the faith.
It is, of course, only a story, but the writer has faithfully depicted the way in which the divine agape seized men in the early church so that they freely forgave their betrayers, and oftimes won them to the faith by the quality of Christian love that they displayed.
THE CHURCH TODAY.
In early days someone said “Behold how these Christians love one another,” but I fear there are not many people who say that about them today. They speak rather about the churches as places of bickering and petty strife, and while mostly their talk is without foundation we might well ask ourselves why we give grounds for such an impression. “Thy touch has still its ancient power” we sing, and the truth of these words forbids us to think that the exercise of the Christian agape is any less possible in the twentieth century than it was in the first.
We are often presented with plans for evangelism nowadays using the full range of modern techniques. But I wonder whether the most effective means of winning the lost is not simply that folk like you and me should show in our lives what Christian love means.
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, November 11 1954.
 The Authorised Version – i.e. the King James Version.
 “Quo Vadis” is a historical novel originally written in Polish by Henryk Sienkeiwicz in 1895 (and later popularized in various movie adaptations). It is set during the persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperor Nero.