The limitations of the English language at times diminish our understanding of scriptural concepts. For instance, there is only one word for love in English, but the New Testament uses two different Greek words. One of them, phileo, refers to brotherly concern and affection, but the more powerful term agape signifies a sacrificial commitment to another’s satisfaction, security, and development. This is the kind of love that God has for us—and that the Holy Spirit produces in and through believers.
Perhaps the best way to understand agape is to see what it looks like. In His parable of the prodigal son, Jesus describes a father’s sacrificial love for his wayward son. When the young man demanded an early inheritance, the father didn’t deny his request, though he knew it would lead only to bitterness. So despite personal and financial sacrifice, he gave the son his share. Then the father waited patiently while the prodigal learned a difficult lesson.
No doubt that was a trying time for the father because a good dad wants to protect his children from mistakes and the resulting consequences. But a wise man also knows that some hard truths must be learned through painful experience. At times the best thing we can do is trust the Lord to reach defiant hearts.
But agape love doesn’t just let go; it also forgives and restores. When the prodigal son returned home humbled and contrite, his father reached out to receive him and restore him to the family—just our heavenly Father does for us.
Bible in One Year: Numbers 17-19