Sunday, August 25, 2019

Loving without Agenda

One of my mentors in the workplace used to open certain meetings with the phrase: “Everyone has an agenda. Let’s not have any hidden agendas here.” He would then find out what people were hoping to get out an initiative, why they were participating in the meeting, and how we could possibly all work together toward a common end. I believe this is a great way to get people working together, and while I imitate my former mentor in helping others to collaborate, this is not the way we should love others. Our love should reflect God’s love and be without selfish agenda. Now it’s true that everyone has an agenda, and it’s good to strive toward worthy goals, but when it comes to loving others our agenda is simply to love. 

But what is love? In English, we only have one word for love. We use it to describe how we feel about our spouse, parents, children, pets, toys, food, activities, etc. In many cases, we use the word love to describe what we lust after. Lust is the desire to get something; it feeds a desire. It isn’t necessarily sexual. Lust continues to want with an ever increasing, never fulfilled appetite. Love is different, though. It’s a decision to give. Love is truly divine.
Agape - The Divine Love of God
Unlike English, the Greek language of the New Testament had more descriptive words for love. When Jesus asked Peter 3 times if Peter loved him, Peter always responded with a lesser form of love than what Jesus used. He loved Jesus as brothers love each other. The brotherly love that Peter had is a powerful love. It’s a bond that is far reaching, but it was still a lesser form of love than the word Jesus used. Jesus used the word “Agape”. The first two times that Jesus asked about Peter’s love, Jesus used the word Agape. “Peter, do you agape me?”. Peter essentially answered with: “Lord, You know I love you like a brother!”  Each time, Jesus responded to Peter’s reply with a command: “Feed My sheep.” The third time Jesus came  down to Peter’s level, using the word for brotherly love that Peter used. The subsequent command was the same: “Feed My sheep.” So why do you think Peter avoided responding with Agape?

Agape is so much more than the brotherly love that Peter was able to commit to. It is a love so pure, formed of a decision to do what is in the best interest of others, regardless of whether the beloved wants it or if the lover feels like doing it. It is self-sacrificial, putting the needs of others before oneself. It is the love of God, demonstrated by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the Father sacrificing His only Son out of a decision to love people undeserving of His love: us, even when we didn’t want or deserve His love. There was no selfishness in the decision to love. If no one responded to His act of love, He would have done it anyway. Philosophers and skeptics may argue over how God’s foreknowledge of the outcome was guided by a selfish agenda for companionship, but they’re wrong. Jesus didn’t know the outcome, and while He was fully God, He was also fully human, complete with our limitations. He simply trusted in the Father for the outcome. It wasn’t without suffering and it wasn’t effortless. Remember His emotional struggle in the garden before He was handed over for His tribulation. He still trusted in the Father for a favorable outcome, knowing only the sacrifice He would make. He knew that He was called to make the ultimate sacrifice: no greater love has any man than to lay down his life for a friend. (John 15:13)

As followers of Christ who are called to represent His Kingdom, we are called to Agape love. If we suffer for doing what God approves of, then like Jesus, we trust it’s going to result in our heavenly reward. He taught us that principle in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). We don’t love others so that they will respond with Church attendance, cleaned up lives, a sinner’s prayer, or evangelistic contribution. We love others without any agenda, just as Jesus does today. If you are an Evangelical and the last two sentences bother you, please keep reading! 
Is there an agenda to making disciples? 
Ultimately, we were created with a pure, selfless agenda: to love and be loved. Each of us longs to be known, fully known, and loved despite our many flaws. While we can reflect God’s divine agape to some degree, only God can love with full, intense and eternal knowledge, extending from before our birth into the infinite beyond. Yet somehow as we bathe in His purest love, we are transformed to reflect His agape more fully, to love as He loves because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

Now here’s the tricky part: we are called to love without agenda, and yet we are commissioned to make disciples. (Matt 28:19) Is there an agenda to making disciples? At first glance, these appear to be mutually exclusive, right? But consider this: can our agenda for others’ sake be driven by love and obedience without treating each person as a project? Can we create plans to facilitate discipleship without any expectation of any individual’s response? In other words, make plans that give us opportunity to disciple without any expectation for how any given person will respond to that opportunity, choosing to love people because they were made in God’s image, made to be loved? 

Maybe Peter had an inkling of what Jesus was really asking, and like you or I he inwardly fought the idea of loving like God, knowing that it meant dying to oneself. We look at saintly examples of God’s agape and place them on a pedestal without daring to think we are also called imitate Christ’s love. We say: “I’m no Mother Theresa…” knowing that we are called to love like she did, but fighting the call because of our selfishness. The reality is that God’s love (Agape) does what is in the other’s best interest, and that is the food for Jesus’ sheep. It’s served with solid Biblical teaching that explains this divine mystery of purest love. 

Love is the only agenda in a relationship regardless of our commission to develop others. I don’t reflect that highest love as I should, but spending time with Him on an intentional daily basis, I can see His love grow in me. With intentionality, we walk a task-oriented path where our agenda to be available for mentoring others is congruent with our love for each person regardless of their response. Church with any relational agenda other than loving has decimated Christianity in America. It does not represent Christ or His teaching well, even if it was done with great intentions. Rather, when we introduce others to Jesus, it’s out of excitement for my friends to know each other, knowing that they will be enriched by their relationship with Jesus just as I have been. We are ambassadors of His grace (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing Him as best we can through our on-going relationship with Him. We are Children of God (CoG), a CoG in the framework He builds daily, unique to the time and place where God has positioned us. We are a babe in His arms, a CoG in His plan, and yet a representative of His agape love. 
Lord, help us each to join You in the work You are doing today,
loving everyone we meet as a representative of Your Kingdom.
copyright ©2019 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)