|Volume 1||May 15, 2002||Issue 7|
In our last issue we began a study of the word "love" as it is used in the Scriptures more specifically, in the New Testament. We very briefly defined four Greek words used for "love" eros, storge, phileo and agape. If you recall, we also noted in the previous issue, that our focus would not be on eros or storge but rather on phileo and agape. While we have by no means completed our discussion of phileo, we will be taking a closer look at agape in this issue.
In order for us to understand more about love we must first look at how God defines it. Love without divine definition, could quite possibly be reduced to nothing more than sentimentalism. Satan would like nothing more than for us as Christians, to believe that a sentimental or "warm fuzzy feeling" kind of love is all there is to it. For then we might never want to risk offending anyone by telling them that they could be lost for eternity. But love as it is spoken of in the Bible, is so much more than that.
Usually, any mention of the word "love" and "Scriptures" in the same sentence automatically takes our mind to I Corinthians 13. That is without a doubt an extremely important discussion of love and how it should manifest itself in our lives. And we will eventually be taking a close look at that chapter in Corinthians. But for now let's begin with some other important Scriptures that will tell us exactly how God defines love. Incidentally, since the purpose of our study is to better understand the different Greek words for "love" used in the New Testament, we will list (in parenthesis) which Greek word was used by the writer each time the word "love" appears in the Scripture we are reading.
Let's begin with I John 4:8.
"Whoever does not love (agape) does not know God, for God is love (agape)." (TEV)
In this passage, God defines Himself as agape love.
Let's also look at John 17:26. In this particular reading, the nature of the love that God has toward His beloved Son is defined as agape love. (This reading is words of Jesus while praying to His Father).
"I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love (agape) you have for me may be in them." (NIV)
The word agape in Romans 5:8 indicates the nature of the love of God toward the human race.
"But God commendeth His love (agape) toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (KJV)
In John 14:21, multiple uses of agape indicate the nature of the love of God toward those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and obey His commands.
"Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves (agape) Me. He who loves (agape) Me will be loved (agape) by My Father, and I too will love (agape) him and show myself to him." (NIV)
John 13:34 and 35 reveals that agape love for one another is proof to the world of true discipleship.
"A new command I give you: Love (agape) one another. As I have loved (agape) you, so you must love (agape) one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love (agape) one another." (NIV)
The fruit of the Spirit displayed by the believer in Galatians 5:22 is agape love.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love (agape)...." (NIV)
In Matthew 5:44 we are commanded to "...love your enemies...." Again, the Greek word used in this passage is agape.
We will look at more Scriptures later in this study but this should give us a good introduction as to how God defines agape love and what it is that He expects of us in relationship to agape love.
As we continue this study, we will see clearly that there is a great difference in the manner in which agape love manifests itself in our lives as compared to the manner in which phileo love manifests itself in our lives.
However, before we read anymore Scriptures, let's spend some time looking at agape love in more detail so that we're better prepared to respond appropriately to its use in the Scriptures.
The warmth that is characteristic of phileo love is not a part of agape love. Of course, phileo and agape can [and often does] exist simultaneously. But unlike phileo, agape is not an impulse from the feelings and therefore does not always run with our natural inclinations. Contrary to popular understanding, the significanceof agape is not that it is unconditional love, but that it is primarily a love of the will rather than the emotions. The New Testament never speaks of God loving unbelieving human beings with emotional love or a love that expects something in return. But He loves with His will. (Examples: John 3:16, Romans 5:8) God can find nothing enjoyable about a sinner on whom His wrath still abides. (John 3:36) Yet, He loves by His will, for God is love.
Consider some everyday situations as they apply to the way we love. Is it right to say, "I can't speak to my husband or wife as I should because my feelings aren't in it?" Is it even worse to say, "I would be a hypocrite if I tried since I don't feel like it?" Did Jesus feel like dying? No! We know in fact that He prayed in the garden to not have to go through with the plan (Matthew 26:39 and 42). So was Jesus a hypocrite because He was doing something He didn't feel like doing? No! One can sincerely do things one does not feel like doing! We are to obey God regardless of our emotions. Agape love is not an emotion. God would never give a command that was impossible for His people to keep. When we read in Matthew 5:44 to "...love (our) enemies..." would it be possible for us to feel an emotional attachment to those whom we consider "enemies?" Probably not! So if agape involves (or is a result of) our emotions we would not be able to obey that command given to us by God. Emotions cannot be commanded. However, since agape is a love of the will rather than the emotions we are able to obey God's command just as Jesus was able to go through with His plan even though He didn't emotionally wish to do so.
Agape does not mean "affection" or "delighting to be with" as much as it means seeking the welfare of another regardless of whether one has affection for him/her or not. It is doing for another that which is best for him/her in light of eternity, no matter what the personal cost may be. That is what Jesus did when He went to the cross for all of us who accept Him as our Savior. He did not delight in doing it. He had no affection for doing it. He had no joy, no warm glow of enjoyment for dying, but He obeyed God. Phileo was not the driving force that caused Him to make such a sacrifice. In fact, as we said earlier, He was so distressed that He prayed that the Father would allow Him to not do it. Yet He prayed, "...not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39 NIV) This is agape love at its greatest!
Agape can be known only by the action it prompts. It is neither a love of complacency nor of affection. Agape should be practiced whether phileo is present or absent. We can obey agape love since it is not an emotion.
On occasion we may hear someone say, "If I didn't love you, I would have no need to say this to you...." Such a statement might indicate that one is quite possibly placing agape love for the individual to whom they are speaking above the phileo love that s/he probably also feels for that person. Exercising only phileo love would very likely prevent one from using such a phrase since any criticism or correction would appear to be unloving or even confrontational. Fear of offending, upsetting or putting the friendship at risk would be more important to a phileo driven person than taking the risk to do or say whatever might be best for that individual in light of eternity.
Perhaps an easy way to understand how phileo and agape love differ from each other in practice would be to relate them to the interaction between a parent and a child. If a young child runs into the street in front of an oncoming car, any loving parent will discipline that child to impress upon him/her the seriousness of that action. There is little doubt that the child will be upset with that parent for a brief period of time because of the discipline inflicted upon him/her. Fear of that reaction from the child however, does not deter the parent from future discipline of that child since the parent knows that discipline is necessary for the overall welfare of the child. In other words, a parent loves the child enough to "take the heat" of the moment. That is like agape love. Phileo love (without the presence of an agape type of love) might in the same situation, be so afraid of offending the child or putting the relationship with that child at risk, that fear is allowed to cloud good judgement causing the child to be at permanent risk in the future. Many parents struggle with this concept when the child is a teenager because they attempt to be more of a friend than a parent during those difficult years. Parents can certainly exercise tremendous phileo love for a teen but they must never forget that their first obligation to him/her is the long term well being of that teenager. That requires agape love (or "tough love" as it has sometimes been called). As the child matures however, s/he begins to understand that the discipline exercised by the parent was a demonstration of love rather a demonstration of the lack of it.
While this may be an over simplification of agape love, it does demonstrate that agape goes far past the "warm fuzzies" that we may like to feel in a given situation. Agape is far more concerned with the permanent ramifications that may result from a failure to exercise its use. If we don't have a workable understanding of the difference between agape and phileo love we often inadvertently utilize phileo love since it feels much more comfortable than does agape. That means we may often fail to exercise the kind of love that the Scriptures command us to exercise. That failure may give us an abundance of "warm fuzzy" feelings that we very much enjoy. However as Christians, we need to understand that the love in I John 4:8 is much different than that.
Since our space for this issue is exhausted, we will continue our discussion of love in the next issue.