I’m teaching a series of classes on love at my church and have discovered how very difficult it is to define God’s love. The two terms used in the Bible for God’s love are hesed and agape. Hesed is a Hebrew word found in the Old Testament. One of the definitions for hesed is unfailing love. I say one of because no one English word or phrase can fully define hesed.
The second term is the Greek term agape used in the New Testament. It is described as a self-sacrificing love. In trying to define this word, the only definition I felt even came close was the term God. In 1 John 4 verses 8 and 16 the Bible says that “God is love”. I realized that these two terms cannot be defined. What we know about God is what we know about hesed and agape.
Moses and the apostle Paul both said it was their determined purpose to know Him, to “progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with…” Him. (Exodus 33:13, Philippians 3:10; Amplified). The more deeply and intimately acquainted we become with Him, the more deeply and intimately acquainted we become with the true meaning for hesed and agape. For He is hesed/agape. He is love.
Through God’s word on love (hesed, agape) and His actions of love we begin to see the facets of this love like the facets of a gem. Hesed and agape are describing the same gem from different angles. They are both describing our God who is love (hesed, agape).
Let’s look at the facets of hesed. Hesed is translated as many different words in the Bible. The most common are goodness, kindness, faithfulness, mercy, loving-kindness, kindly, merciful, favour, good, goodliness, pity, and unfailing love. In my studies I also came across the term loyal love.
The facets of agape are found all over the New Testament, but one passage that is devoted to describing agape is 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter on love describes agape using these terms: patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilessness, and sincerity (Henry Drummond,The Greatest Thing in the World ).
Early one morning as I meditated on God’s love, God told me to look at the facets of love, as I just described, instead of trying to define it. But He went on to tell me to also look at the effects of this love on our nature found in Galatians 5:22-23, otherwise known as the fruit of the Spirit.
The Amplified Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit as “the work which His presence within accomplishes”. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness (meekness, humility), and self-control.
When I first read this passage, following my studies of hesed and agape, I was very surprised at how similar the fruit of the Spirit resembled the facets of Love Himself. The Bible says that we are being transformed into “His very own image” from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18, Amplified). In 1 John 3:2 it says that we will “resemble and be like Him” at His return (Amplified).
With Paul we have prayed from Ephesians 1:18 that the eyes of our hearts be flooded wth light, so that we can know and understand the hope to which He has called us, and how rich is His glorious inheritance in the saints (Amplified). We are called to look like Him. We are called to have His nature. We are called to love like He loves.
God knew exaclty what He was doing when He described the effects of His nature on ours as fruit. Fruit starts with a seed, that becomes a tree, that bears fruit that must ripen. Romans 5:5 says that God’s love (agape) “has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us” (Amplified). You have this love (hesed/agape) in you now, but it must be developed and allowed to grow. Just like you are born with the potential to develop into a physically strong person, you have been born-again with the potential to love like God loves.
Henry Drummond said, “The world is not a play-ground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love… What makes a man a good man? Practice” (The Greatest Thing in the World, 1891 ).
To develop the fruit, to grow in love you are going to have to practice loving like He loves.