The final habit that Peter urges believers to add to their lives is what the apostle Paul called the highest and the greatest: love. The English word love has many different meanings. Many people think of love as a feeling, but that isn’t primarily what Peter has in mind. The Greek word he uses is agape, which has to do with an unselfish concern for the well-being of another. Often when we think of love, it is easy to think of those that we care most about, such as our family and friends. Agape love, however, is that love which reaches out to those whom we would consider to be the most unlovable. It is here where true love is put to the test, the love that enables us, as C. S. Lewis wrote, “to love what is not naturally lovable; lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering.”
Jesus pointed out that love for our own is natural and thus is not praiseworthy: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Mat. 5:46). The love that Peter calls us to add to our lives, however, is love that reaches out to all people and seeks to draw them into the love of God himself. The apostle Paul described this love in 1 Cor. 13:4-8 when he wrote that “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.”
If it is difficult to think of loving those for whom we do not naturally have any feeling or affection, or those whom we may even find repulsive, it is always good to remember that God’s love reached out for us even while we were His enemies. God did not love us because of our loveliness or because we were easy to love; on the contrary, we have all sinned against Him and rejected His kindness, mercy and love. Yet in spite of that, God’s love continued to reach out to us to draw us into relationship with Himself (Eph. 2:4-7), and it is that which He desires for all people. So ultimately the love of God compels us outward into the world, to draw others in to the love that God has for everyone, to seek and save that which was lost.
There is a high cost to this kind of love. Often in relationships we want to keep a safe distance and avoid being hurt by others. But loving sinful people is a guaranteed recipe for being hurt. Jesus himself set the example for us by allowing himself to be mocked, beaten, and finally killed in order to demonstrate the way of love. It is the way of self-sacrifice, the way of death, but ultimately it is also the only path to life. Such love is only supernatural. We cannot generate it from ourselves, it must come from God as we make the conscious choice to allow Him to love others through us, remembering that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
One practice to help us develop this love is the discipline of giving. When we give to others, we sacrifice something of value in order to help them. Jesus exhorted his followers to give, but also to make sure to do so with no motive to be seen by others as generous (Matt. 6:2-4). This same verse also contains a promise, that God will see and reward us. This doesn’t mean that we should expect that if we give financially, that God will reward us financially. Instead, as Paul prayed for the believers in Ephesians, the highest reward is to know the love of Christ and to be filled with all of the fullness of God (Eph. 3:17-19).