By David Roadcup
Cornerstones were critical in the architecture of the ancient world. A cornerstone was traditionally the first stone laid for a structure, with all other stones set in reference to it. Thus, a cornerstone determined the position of the entire structure. Cornerstones have been around for millennia. A poorly crafted or placed cornerstone can compromise an entire structure.
In the life of an elder or church leader, several critical cornerstones need to be identified, grown, and matured. Examples include these:
- A heart totally surrendered to Jesus Christ (Luke 9:23-24)
- An attitude of service, especially regarding successfully shepherding the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1; John 21:15-17)
- A commitment to striving daily to effectively reflect and represent our Commander, Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:13-16)
- A commitment to focusing our life, service, and ministry on love (Colossians 3:12-14)
POWERFUL AND IMPACTING LOVE
Scripture uses four Greek words for love: eros (extreme self-gratification), storge (love for family), filos (an emotional love for family and close friends), and agape (a devotion to the other’s good that comes from a decision of the human will, intellect, and spirit).
Agape is the most powerful and impacting type of love mentioned in Scripture. Agape is “the unconditional, self-giving love that seeks the highest good of the other person without asking anything in return.” Agape is a decision of the mind and intellect as opposed to an emotional response. Some commentators describe agape as “intellectual goodwill.” When we express agape to others, we do so from a spirit of discernment, understanding, and concern.
Agape love is more about thinking and correct actions than about how we feel.
Five identifiable tenets can help describe agape love as it should appear in our day-to-day “living in the trenches” life. Each tenet, or area, is important and a part of learning to apply agape love as leaders.
- Agape love looks for a need and meets it. Sensitivity to others, where they are and what they need, is a key part of loving others with agape. We are sensitive to what others might need at any given time. We allow ourselves to be inconvenienced when we are needed.
- Agape doesn’t count the cost. When we love with agape love, we do not ask ourselves, What is this going to cost me? We look past that and go the extra mile to help someone. Sacrifice is a part of agape love.
- Agape doesn’t seek something in return. We move and respond out of the purest of motives, not wanting or expecting anything in return for our acts of love and care. Agape has no strings attached.
- Agape doesn’t consider whether the person deserves the help. Our love is based solely on a person’s need. We overlook a person’s mistakes. We don’t keep a record of wrongs. We simply act, putting hands and feet on our love. In other words, genuine actions define our love for others.
- Agape always acts for the good of another. Agape guides our actions, even when someone might not see some of those actions (i.e., thoughtful discipline, instruction, advice, and correction) as loving. This “tough love” may achieve powerful results when done through prayer, authentic concern, and genuine spiritual discernment. The course we may take is best for someone’s ultimate good even though it may be hard. We are not blinded by our emotional love for others.
Jesus exhorted us to love with agape. In John 13 and 14, Jesus used the word agape to exhort us to “love one another” no fewer than six times. (Remember, if it’s repeated, it’s important!) Paul and Peter echoed this theme about loving with admonitions in 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; and 1 Peter 1:22.
AN ELDER’S LOVE
A church leader’s response is always important. So, how can an elder express agape to others?
1. Proactively reach out to others, especially in the church, and try to connect with them relationally.
2. Take time to carefully listen to a fellow believer and validate them as they overcome struggles or problems.
3. Forgive anyone who becomes harsh, insulting, or cruel. “Rise above” the circumstances. Do better, not by your own strength but by the strength and wisdom of the Lord living inside you. Work to remove bitterness, anger, and malice as you seek the highest good of the person who offended you. Love your enemies as Jesus taught.
4. Generously invest time and energy into important meetings to guide the church body.
5. Listen to others without interrupting.
6. Generously give financially above the tithe.
7. Just be there for people and remain present with them when needed.
8. Love people through hardships and mistakes.
9. Let people know you are proud of them, and cheer them on as you see them making progress.
10. Show extreme patience and forbearance to others, even when they are in the wrong.
11. Make hard decisions.
Agape love is not always easy, but it is Jesus’ method of loving.