There are three kinds of love that we commonly talk about (even though they are not in the Bible this way).
1. Unconditional Love- Unfortunately we often confuse unconditional love with agape love. God’s love is ‘unconditional’ in that it is available to every human being, but that is not how ‘unconditional’ love is usually defined. When people tell others that they are to love ‘unconditionally’ typically they are telling the other person to act like a doormat. They are to put up with whatever someone does and not say, or do, anything that might upset them. This is not how God loves us, and not how He tells us to love others. In the Bible we are clearly told to do justice, to warn people when they are doing things that are destructive (sinful) and to avoid people who refuse to repent. We do this to protect the innocent (which is sometimes ourselves) as well as to cause them to see that their actions are not good. These are loving gestures. ‘Unconditional love’ causes there to be no consequences for their actions. It is showing partiality, or ‘favoritism’ since the rights of the person who misbehaves on a regular basis are placed above the rights of the person who has done nothing wrong since the innocent person is being asked to just shut up and take it. Shutting up and taking it is not love, and is not Biblical. Sure, there are times to turn the other cheek and to show mercy, but there are also times when justice must be done. (Remember, Jesus also overturned some tables, hit people with his coat and called the Pharisees some not so nice names. He will also come back to finish the war between good and evil and judge, condemning those who would not repent.) Loving people ‘unconditionally’ (not saying anything no matter what they do) is not Biblical, but it is common Christian advice. By loving in this way, we are telling God that we ‘love’ better than He does, since we ‘judge’ no one. Not good.
2. Conditional Love- This love is when a person will only be your friend if you do what they want and agree with everything they believe. While we do not often label it, it is the type of love most often exhibited in our society today. You believe in gay marriage, our relationship just got strained. You vote Republican, while your friend is a Democrat, then you will not be hearing from that person quite as often. Conditional love is controlling. It forces the other person to reconsider sharing their thoughts for fear you will not like them anymore. It causes people to conform. Everyone must keep their house as clean as Martha Steward, breastfeed their babies (which is a great thing, but not something to end a friendship over), wear suits and dresses to church (or not) etc. Why? Why is it so important that we agree on every little thing? Why can’t we sit down and discuss current issues and respect the other person even when they have a different opinion. Why can’t we admit that God made us all unique, and that we will do things in different ways for different reason, and that is okay? By loving in this manner, we are telling God that His love is too freely given, and we can do better by limiting who we put up with.
3. Agape Love- This is the love of God, but often it is defined in ways that are not completely ‘godly.’ Why? Because we like some aspects of God better than others. And at times we wish to apply only certain aspects of God to any given situation. When we want mercy (so we, or people we like, can avoid consequences) we preach a merciful and loving God. When there is a behavior we detest, fear or do not identify with, we want the God of judgment. Rarely do we balance the two. God is a God of mercy. He would like to see us come to Him without much prodding and punishment. But, He is also a God of justice. He knows that if He does not punish sin things will only get worse. So how do we balance the two? We must remember that God’s ultimate goal is for all people to be in a relationship with Him. Where mercy furthers the relationship and leads to repentance, then mercy should be shown. When punishment and harsh words will wake the person up and cause them to realize their mistakes and turn to God for help, then that is the godly solution. Agape love requires wisdom and a knowledge of the situation and the person. (You will find that very little of the Bible can be lived without close relationships.) The person may not always like your decisions when you love them this way, but you are always working towards what is best for them. (Think: parent/child relationships- when you punish a toddler they do not understand or like it, but it is for their own good.) This does not mean that you know it all, are better than them, or even more mature than they are. Loving someone with an attitude where you feel superior and are condescending does not help the situation. God, as Jesus, became a friend and servant to many, never taking the status He deserved. You must make decisions on how you will deal with other people’s actions in your life. Even ignoring things is a decision. Keep in mind though, that in making these decisions you are just doing what every human being does. Do not start thinking that you are the ‘better’ person, or soon it will be you, and your less than humble attitude that other people will be making tough decisions about!