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Vol.  9  No. 6 June 2007  Page 3
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D. Gene WestGiving the Word New Meaning

By D. Gene West

    In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Moses spoke these words to Israel on behalf of Yahweh, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” There is a word in this text that immediately catches our attention. The word is “love.” The command God gave the Israelites through his great spokesman Moses was, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” According to The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, this is a Hebrew verb ‘ahab, which is found more than two hundred times in the Old Testament. This word, again according the above dictionary, did not specify the object of the love, the degree or the kind (609). Coming into the New Testament, we find Jesus and the writers of that Book using the Greek word for this Hebrew one more than three hundred twenty times in all its forms. Any word that is used that often has to be an important word. The noun form of the word is easily recognized by most Christians today; it is “agape.”

    When Jesus was questioned by the lawyer in Matthew 22:36ff regarding which was the first and greatest commandment in the Law, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, using the Greek verb agapao. In so doing, he gave new meaning to the Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the word used to describe the love God has for his children, and has to such a degree that he was willing to send his only Son to the earth to die for us on the cross. As we can see from this unselfish and sacrificial act on the part of God, this is love of the highest order. When we attempt to love God as he has loved us, we are experiencing the most unselfish and sacrificial love known to God and man.

    This is love that goes beyond what we have for friends and family. Jesus commanded us to have this kind of love for our enemies. In Matthew 5:44, he said, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” To show the kind of love to an enemy that our God has shown to us gives new meaning to the word, does it not? Agape is the kind of love that is given without reservation and expects nothing in return. It always looks out for the best interest of others. God has given this kind of love to us, which is a higher and better love than any other kind known to man, and all he asks is for us to return this love to him through faithful obedience that he might reward us with a perfect home in a perfect heaven when this life is over.

    In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul spoke at length of agape, describing it so we could know the elements of it in order that we might practice it with our brethren and with our fellow man. He wrote by the Spirit’s inspiration, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” When we study these characteristics, we become very much aware of the fact that they call for a new way of thinking and acting. Agape is: longsuffering, kind, non-envious, has no desire to be looked up to, is humble, courteous, seeks the good of others, slow to anger, does not suspect evil, takes no pleasure in sin, finds pleasure only in truth, bears up under the worst of circumstances, believes the best in all matters, hopes for the best in all matters, endures all that it must, and never fails. Now that gives new meaning to the word, does it not? There is a sense in which it is almost superhuman, yet it is that mark of perfection for which we strive. Agape gives new meaning to the word love!

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