John 3:16 New International Version (NIV)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
For as long as I’ve known this verse, I’ve known of the concept of agape or unconditional love. Yet, never have I delved into this word myself. It is at the crux of not only this verse, but the season of Christmas that is upon us.
The biggest surprise is that nowhere in the definition of agapao is the term ‘unconditional’ listed. The word in Greek means ‘I love, wish well, take pleasure in, long for; the love of reason or esteem.’ Properly it means to prefer, and is thought to be a socially or moral love. The attribution of having no conditions comes from inference, based on the things God does for us based on this love. For instance, giving his only son.
I love the Greek for the word gave, didomi which also means offer, it reminds me that a gift by it’s nature must also be accepted. God offered his monogenes, quite literally the only one of his genus/class/species. The only one. Are there any only’s in your life, and how would you feel giving those away?
The promise comes next, anyone who believes or is persuaded will not apollumi which means to destroy or lose. However, by putting the ap at the beginning, it makes this a stronger type of destruction, a permanent destruction. We will not be permanently destroyed but instead have aionios zoe. The word aion means an age or lifetime, adding the ios means an age that never ends, thus eternal. While zoe does mean life, it is a physical and spiritual form of life. John did not use the word psuche which also means life, but a means our spirit or breath, or an individual personality. Zoe is more generic, like when we say, “Now that person is really living!”, meaning a full, animated, zestful life.
At first glance, this love seems conditional, because belief is required to get eternal life. Look again, God’s gift of his only son was not conditioned based. His preference or agapeo is present independent of our belief. The deed’s been done; Jesus was born. The conditions have nothing to do with the love, but are the framework necessary to lead to greater understanding, life changing decisions, and ultimate wholeness.
This Christmas as I ponder the gift of God with us, I want to also reflect on agapeo. Do I make my love for others dependent on them meeting the conditions I set, or are the conditions just a framework for overall wellness and I love despite them being met?