The Love of Christ
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15)
Our western culture seems to have assigned the word “love” to the deep feelings and emotions we have towards others, or the passions and sensuality associated with our sexual attractions and activity. The Greek word used in the passage above is “agape”, meaning “affection, good will, benevolence, love, brotherly love”. In the context of how it is used in the Scriptures, I believe its meaning is more about our nature than simply our feelings. Agape is the Greek word used and translated as love in the section of Scripture in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul defines love:
“Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; love never fails. ….But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Also, agape/love is used in reference to the nature of God in 1 John 4:8, 16:
“….the one who does not love does not know God, for God is love……We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
In the light of these scriptures, I think it is accurate to say that love is best defined as the very nature of God. As Christians, this love has been exemplified in Christ, and we are being transformed, taking on His very nature. So love is much more than our emotions and feelings, but it encompasses the way that we think, the way that we perceive things, and the core of our personality: our inner nature.
Love also implies more than just feelings but also action. If our inner nature changes, then the result will be that our actions will change also. If we take on the nature of Christ, and walk in love, we will fulfill the whole law. We will become holy and righteous by nature. The law will be written on our hearts. This is the true righteousness of God.
Looking back at 2 Cor. 5: 14: “The love (agape) of Christ controls us….” The word “control” here is also translated in other versions of the Bible as “compels or constrains”. The Greek word is “synecho” and means “to hold together with constraints, to compress, or to press on every side” , indicating that this love nature of Christ, that we have taken on, influences our actions. We are compelled or constrained to act according to love because it is our nature.
The next portion of verse 14 shows us how we have been changed to take on Christ’s nature: “…because we are convinced that one died for all, therefore all have died.” Jesus died to this physical world. His physical body is gone, but He now has a spiritual body and is a part of the spiritual world. His death made it possible for us to join Him in His death. We “consider” ourselves as dead to this world, in the hope of eternal life in the spiritual world with Him. His death was for us, making it possible for us to be acceptable, or reconciling us, to God the Father, paying a redemption for our past sins and offenses, and becoming the physical, historical evidence that eternal life with a spiritual body is possible, proven by His resurrection and ascension into heaven. He appeared in His spiritual body to many of the Christians, who became witnesses and attested to His resurrection in the scriptures.
Christ’s love controls us (or we have been changed and now have an inner nature of love just like Jesus that influences the way we act) because we are convinced (or because we have come to the conclusion and truly believe) that Christ died for us all (Jesus’ death made it available for us to “die” with Christ, leaving this world and joining Him in the spiritual world) therefore, we all have died (or we have considered ourselves dead to this world).
Identifying with His death and setting our faith and hope in the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of heaven is what transforms our inner nature. Having our minds set on spiritual things makes us spiritual in nature; whereas, having had our minds set on the physical flesh made us carnal in nature.
2 Cor. 5, verse 15 continues thus: “And He died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” This world system is really about us. It’s about our pleasures, our successes, our pride, our accomplishments, our reputation, our happiness, our well being. When we die to this world system, we then begin to live for the spiritual things. We set our attention and affections on the things above where Christ is. We store up our riches in heaven, where they are eternal and incorruptible. Our aim is to please God. Jesus is our Lord, since He is the Lord in the spiritual world in the kingdom heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. We await His return. We await the fulfillment of the promise, our inheritance as children of God. This changed focus towards the spiritual things and changed attitude towards our lives is what changes our nature to one of godly, spiritual love.
Our faith is focused on the patient endurance of our journey through this world, as temporary residents, waiting for the promise to come. This faith is what is reckoned, or accounted, to us by God as righteousness, as Abraham’s faith was to him. Faith in the hope of eternal life with Jesus in heaven is what transforms our nature and enables us to truly walk in “agape” love.
The next few verses in 2 Corinthians 5 further establish the importance of this change in nature from fleshly to spiritual (verses 16-19):
“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
Some Christians today place an unwarranted emphasis on the understanding of how much God loves us. They even encapsulate the Gospel message into the statement “God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you”, thinking that if people would only get a full understanding of how much God loves them it would transform their lives. They see this vision of God’s love as a transforming motivation in a Christian’s life. I don’t see this focus on understanding how much God loves you being supported in the Scriptures, but rather see it as rooted in secular thinking about love. We must follow the direction of the Scriptures and align our faith with what we are instructed to focus on, that is, the promises of eternal life as offered through the cross of Christ. Our faith should not have its focus on believing how much God loves us, or believing how much we are forgiven, but rather it should focus on the hope of glory.
My experience, as well as what I have heard from other Christians, is that when difficult times are encountered during our lives, if we are focused on how much God loves us, we become confused. We ask “If God loves me so much, why is He allowing me to suffer, and why has He abandoned me?” But if our focus is on the eternal glory that awaits us, we can say as the Apostle Paul did in 2 Corinthians 4:17:
“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Also, having a deep understanding of how much God loves us does not cause us to become spiritual. It does not deal with our flesh; it does not deliver us from our carnal nature.
Our emotions are powerful things. We should recognize the extent of God’s love for us and appreciate the love that Jesus had for us to endure the cross, allow our emotions to respond in love towards God, but the focus of our faith should only be placed on the hope of the promise of eternal life. Our faith should cause us to be dead to the things of this world and alive to the spiritual things of heaven. This type of faith will produce in us godly love.