|Volume 1||June 15, 2002||Issue 9|
In this issue we are continuing our study of the word "love" as it is used in the New Testament. If you've not been studying along with us through this series on "love," we strongly recommend that you go to the web site address shown at the bottom of page 4 and read issues 6, 7 and 8 before continuing with this issue.
Known By Our Love
The world abounds with numerous "tight-knit" and extremely close groups and organizations. Many of these groups are very loving and surely demonstrate that they care a great deal for those outside as well as inside their own organizations. Some, in fact might even be known for their generous and loving natures or perhaps even for the great love they show for others. Yet somehow, according to John 13:34 and 35, we as followers of Christ, are commanded to practice a unique form of love that makes us identifiable from others around us. Let's read it.
"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)
That unique love is of course, agape love. We have previously noted that emotions cannot be commanded and that agape love is not an emotion. Therefore, it can be commanded and obeyed. Let's begin this issue with a list of a few examples from the Scriptures where agape love is commanded and expected to be carried out by those who are dedicated to obedience to God. Space will not allow us to print all of these Scripture in their entirety, so please take the time to read each one before continuing. Keep in mind that all of them use the Greek word agape for "love."
Let's go back for a moment to John 13:34 and 35. Notice again, that this Scripture states that obedience to agape love is not an option! It is a command! Obedience to this command will require us to have greater concern for one's eternal well being than we have fear of being not liked by that individual. We can not show agape love for another if by our silence, we endorse or allow a person to continue in any practice that may harm his/her eternal well being. It is simply not possible. This may be a situation when phileo love becomes extremely important. The phileo relationship that we have established with an individual may allow us to have great influence with him/her. The resulting friendship may grow to the point where we can exercise agape love and teach the individual the way God would have them to live. Without phileo however, we probably will have very little if any, ability to demonstrate agape love. But a complete and total failure on our part to exercise agape love in a situation such as this, violates the command given to us in John 14. And if we justify our failure to practice agape we are not a disciple of Christ for He tells us that we are identified by this very trait.
It is very important that we consider the connection between practicing agape love and obedience to God, let's read John 14:15-24. Here are some of those verses.
"15If you love (agape) Me you will obey what I command. 21Whoever 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. 23...If anyone loves (agape) Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love (agape) him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24He who does not love (agape) Me will not obey My teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent Me." (John 14:15, 21, 23 and 24)
Jesus made it very clear that obedience to His commands is a product of practicing agape love. Since it is not an emotion, obedience to agape love may mean that we are commanded to do things we may not enjoy or take much pleasure in doing. (Remember our discussion of Jesus' death on the cross in issue 7). We might say that this is the "acid test" of agape love does a person obey the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ? It makes no difference how much we talk about "love." If we fail to obey the Word of God, it is nothing more than a satanic substitute for His plan. Obedience without agape love is possible, but agape love without obedience is, in practice, impossible. As we just read in John 14:15 genuine agape love will be exemplified through diligent obedience to the Word of God.
As a result of our study contrasting the difference between phileo and agape we now understand that love for God goes well beyond a mushy, superficial emotion. Agape love results in a vibrant lifestyle of serious dedication. So what does this dedication involve? First of all, since the Scriptures say "...if you (agape) me you will obey my commands..." it implies an attitude that has tremendous respect for the voice of God as it is revealed through the Scriptures. One of the crucial needs of our day is a reverence for the Scriptures. A disregard for the authority of the Bible is at the root of all problems in society and within the Church. Secondly, demonstrating agape love through diligent obedience implies a spirit of humility that recognizes our need for guidance from the Scriptures or the attitude that we must have toward God as we consider the message of the Bible. The Bereans attitude reflected this proper "...readiness of mind..." in Acts 17:11.
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." (KJV)
They were zealous to do the will of God and they understood that agape love of God required obedience to His Word. So they searched the Scriptures daily so that they could know what was required of them. Proverbs 19:2 states:
"It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way." (NIV)
The Bereans understood that without knowing what the Scriptures taught, obedience to them would have been impossible.
As we grow in our understanding of agape love and its use in a few Scriptures, we can now be aware that many of the Scriptures that use the word "love" do not mean some anemic sentimentality that completely overlooks wickedness and error as though such do not exist. We begin to understand that while God loves us, He will not tolerate rebellion to commands revealed through the Scriptures. Remember John 14:23 and 24.
"...If anyone loves (agape) me, he will obey my teaching....He who does not love (agape) me will not obey my teaching...." (NIV)
We began this series with a discussion of the fact that using the word "love" in our own culture doesn't always mean the same thing (issue 6). We have attempted to understand that the same is true when we see "love" used in the New Testament. So now that we are "armed" with a greater understanding of some of those Greek words used by the New Testament writers, let's look at some familiar Scriptures and see how being aware of these differences might change (or give us better insight to) our understanding of these passages.
The first Scripture we're going to look at is the story of the death of Lazarus. Open your Bible to John Chapter 11 and read verses 1 through 44.
In verse 3 of chapter 11, Martha and Mary sent a message to Jesus saying: "...he whom Thou loveth is sick." (KJV) The Greek word used in that verse is phileo. Then in verse 6 we read that Jesus did not go immediately to Bethany but rather "...stayed where He was for two more days." (TEV) Now considering how close Jesus was to Lazarus and his sisters (verse 35 says that "Jesus wept." because of Lazarus' death), it would cause us to question just why Christ would not have immediately rushed to their home to comfort Mary and Martha. Certainly we could say the reason was because Jesus knew that He had the ability to raise Lazarus from the dead which surely was true. But Mary and Martha didn't know that (verse 32). So it seemed that Jesus had very little interest in offering comfort at such a stressful time for them. Why would He have acted in what appeared to be such an uncaring manner? Perhaps our study of agape and phileo can give us some insight into the answer of that question. Let's read all of verses 5 and 6 again.
"Now Jesus loved (agape) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When He heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where He was." (KJV)
Notice here that the word used is agape. The message sent to Jesus by the sisters in verse 3 used the word phileo but since verse 5 uses the word agape, there must be some reason for the difference. We could quite possibly conclude that Jesus was more interested in the lesson of faith that He could teach to that family if they had to wait the two days. You see, the sisters wanted Jesus to respond to their needs on a phileo level while apparently Jesus had chosen to use the opportunity to teach a lesson concerning their eternal or more permanent welfare. Jesus chose to respond on an agape level. We can be more certain of this deeper message here by noting the use of the word "...therefore..." in the KJV (or "yet..." in the NIV and TEV) in verse 6. "...Jesus loved..." (v. 5) "...therefore..." (v. 6) He waited. His highest motivation was not their feelings but rather the greater good for the ones He loved (or agape-d) so much.
There are many Scriptures just like this story of Lazarus from which we can glean so much more if we discern whether agape or phileo is used. But since there isn't enough space left in this issue to start on another passage, we'll wait until issue 10 to look at a couple more and then begin a new topic with issue 11.
Since we began Diligence several months ago, we have had numerous positive comments and we thank each of you for your wonderful encouragement. It is obvious that in undertaking a project such as this, there is ample room for either disagreements or for us to be misunderstood about something we have written. If at any time, you believe that anything we are suggesting is incorrect, we ask that you care enough to contact us for further discussion of the questionable writings. While it may not be obvious, we are very concerned that what we teach in Diligence is Scriptural and accurate. We thank you for your continued interest and pray that we will all grow in knowledge and love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ as a result of these studies.