Love is a word that is thrown around in conversation like passes of a ball in a basketball game. It bounces off the lips, there is both giving and taking and we all want to score when it comes to love. The word ‘love’ has a lot of meaning. We can "love" a pizza, but we can also "love" our parents. On social media, we can express that we love what someone shares by using a heart emoji. Love can mean different things, at different times, to different people. Can we really know what love is?
In the ancient Greek language, there are four types of love. There is storge love which is love that is shared between family members like that experienced between a parent and child; eros love which is sexual love; phileo love which is brotherly love and there is agape love which is sacrificial love. This fourth kind of love is the love that God has for the world because love is who He is (1 John 4:8) and it is what He desires us to show towards Him and others.
What is sacrificial love?
The agape love of God is most perfectly seen in the cross that Jesus Christ bore. This cross has become the symbol within the Christian faith which represents the sacrificial love of God. A piece of wood used by Romans to crucify criminals is exactly where all of sinful humanity deserved to be for the punishment of their sins toward a holy God. Yet God in His love for us took our place as "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8 NIV). Through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we see a love unlike anything the world has ever known.
This agape love is what saves and restores humanity’s broken relationship with God. God is the one who initiates this restoration. In John 3:16 (NIV) it says, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." God gives Himself for the world in sacrificial love and welcomes the worst of sinners. As Jesus laid down His life, taking our sin upon Himself and nailing it on the cross, we are to look to Him who loved us so lavishly and we are to love others with this love that we have seen and experienced from Him. As theologian J.I. Packer says: "Our love is to express our gratitude for God’s gracious love to us, and to be modeled on it" (Concise Theology, pg. 156).
7 Ways to Practice Sacrificial Love
1. Look to Jesus as He is the greatest example of sacrificial love in both life and death
When it comes to living a life modeled on God’s gracious love to us, we can look at no other except Jesus. Jesus taught extensively on loving others and He practically lived that out in His life, death and resurrection. When we want to love others sacrificially, we look to Jesus. The life that Jesus lived was marked by serving others. This is beautifully captured in the washing of the disciples’ feet and was an opportunity for Him to demonstrate what He wanted His disciples to do for others. However, the greatest act of sacrificial love is seen on the cross where "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 NIV).
Although Jesus was with God from the beginning and loved by the Father (John 1:1), He did not count this equality as something to hold onto, but laid it down, made Himself nothing, became like a servant, took on the likeness of human flesh and humbled Himself in obedience to suffer the death a sinful humanity deserved (Philippians 2:6-8). If Jesus lived His life like this, we should seek to love others in the same way, counting others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). If we feel like grumbling and resentment comes welling up from the fountain of our hearts, then we look to the cross once again. There we find Jesus "who endured such opposition from sinners" and from this [we] "will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:3 NIV).
2. Sacrificial love modeled on Jesus is displayed in our family relationships
Family relationships are an example of where we can see sacrificial love working out on a daily basis. In the context of a Christian marriage, the husband shows how Jesus the bridegroom loves His bride, the church. In Ephesians 5:25, husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving himself up for her. When husbands love their wives, they are to do it sacrificially, just like Jesus laid down His life for us, His church and bride. They should love their wives as if it were their own body (Ephesians 5:28). The wife models submission to her husband, which is a reflection of our submission to Jesus, just like Jesus submits to His Father.
The parent/child relationship can also reflect this sacrificial love as parents offer up their lives to care for their children. When a mother or father loves their child and Jesus is at the center of their family, they are demonstrating a life of laying down their interests to point their children to the God who loves them. To quote J.I. Packer again: "This sacrificial love involves giving, spending, and impoverishing ourselves up to the limit for their well-being" (Concise Theology, pg. 156). This can describe the life of a spouse or a parent who strives to live a life of sacrificial love within their family.
3. Our sacrificial love is worship to God
As we offer our bodies to the Lord as living sacrifices, it is spiritual worship to Him (Romans 12:1). When we seek to love others as Jesus loved us, we are displaying that sacrificial love found at the cross of Calvary to the world. We are offering our lives to God because of all that He has done and continues to do in our lives and for His glory. Our sacrificial love for others is a response of worship and praise to Him who laid down His life for us. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
4. We love God by following and obeying Him
Obedience is a mark of our love for God. In John 14:21 (NIV) it says, "whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them." Practically, this means knowing Jesus personally, coming to the Father through Him and walking in the Spirit in our daily activities. Obedience to God will mean sacrifice to other things, but we can obey because He was obedient to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). We can expect to know even more of the Lord as we walk closely with Him and this will affect how we live our lives.
5. Count everything as a loss in comparison to knowing God
C.S. Lewis said "humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less," and as we seek to love others sacrificially, we are not devaluing ourselves, but thinking more of Jesus and others. By looking to Jesus, we know He said to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). We do not deny ourselves in our own strength, but by coming to Him and asking for His help. As we lay down our lives, we are in a position to sacrificially love others, rather than putting ourselves first.
A life following Jesus will mean a closer communion with Him which should then flow out to other people. We get to know Jesus by spending time with Him. Jesus spent time with His Father and now we can have that same closeness to the Father because of Jesus. He has made a way for us to come directly to the Father because of the cross. By the power of the Holy Spirit that is given to believers, we can enjoy close fellowship with the triune God which will impact how we love others.
6. Love and serve the body of Christ - the church
It is the mark of the believer to love one another, especially in the church which is the body of Christ. The body of believers is connected to Jesus who is the head of the whole body which is the church (Colossians 1:18). Jesus said that all people will know that we are His disciples if we have love for one another (John 13:35). Practically loving the body of Christ is the mark of being a disciple of Jesus.
There is so much that seems to divide the church which a watching world can see. Our love for Jesus and one another should set us apart. There is much that we need to come back to the cross in repentance for. However, we know the world is not going to always accept us, and we should remember that it hated Jesus before it hated us (John 15:18). We need to be people who lay down their lives for one another, serving one another and supporting each other. Can our brothers and sisters in the church experience this sacrificial love from us so that we can unite together out in the world?
7. Love those that are marginalized in society
Jesus loved those who were outsiders in society. He touched and healed those with diseases and sickness. He dined with tax collectors and sinners to the shock of the religious leaders of the day. He spoke to women and had good friendships with them. The agape love of God breaks down barriers, yet do we put up our own walls in who we choose to love? Do we show preferential treatment to different groups of people? Do we avoid those we feel uncomfortable with?
Jesus died for us when we were enemies against God whilst we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). All of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and there is not one who is righteous (Romans 3:10). Knowing all that Jesus did on the cross for us, how can we not live a life of sacrificial love, reaching out to the poor, the marginalized, the lost and those whom God loves and are made in His image?
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