|Volume 1||July 1, 2002||Issue 10|
The past several issues have involved a study of the different Greek words used for "love" in the New Testament. We certainly don't qualify as "scholars" of the Greek language, so we definitely don't understand nearly all that there is to know on this subject. We simply continue to grow as we have opportunity to consider God's Word and are sharing what we have learned with you, through Diligence.
As we conclude this subject, you may be asking one of two questions: 1) What is the point of this study? Or, 2) How many times have I mistakenly applied a definition for the word "love" that was probably not the writers intent? Obviously, It is our prayer that there has been something included in these issues that has challenged you to look a bit deeper into, or perhaps better understand the Word of God.
If you've been studying along with us, it should now be apparent that the most frequently used words for "love" in the New Testament are either phileo or agape (or some form of one of those). It should also be apparent that even though these two words are seldom totally absent of each other, they nevertheless have considerably different meanings when applied in our lives. Phileo is much more commonly used in our everyday language when we say the word "love" but agape goes well beyond our feelings and reaches the level of what is best for others in spite of the effect its application may have on us. If we were to define agape we might do so this way: agape is that kind of love which will do, and does do the best for the beloved regardless of the response or lack thereof from the object of that love. Another description that we might sometimes apply to agape love could be one stated by C.S. Lewis: "Love is sometimes as hard as nails." Dr. James Dobson has used the term "tough love."
We sometimes think that love means nothing more than to be sweet and syrupy. We might think that a definition of love is being really nice to everyone. There is indeed, an element of truth to that statement since being nice to others is certainly a part of being viewed by those around us as a "loving person" who is a representative of Christianity. One who goes through life with a scowl on their face all of the time is surely not behaving in a manner that is becoming to a child of God. We must however, as Christians guard against only (and always) applying a definition of love that selfishly protects our own ego and its desire to be liked by everyone. Such a selfish employment of "love" is not what God commands and it places those who are the object of that love at risk of being lost for eternity.
The love that God has for mankind is the love that was demonstrated when He gave His Son to be crucified for us in spite of our rebellious nature (John 3:16 and Romans 5:8). When we consider that God is agape (I John 4:8), it takes on a new dimension. God touches believers and non-believers. His will is that all mankind should be saved (II Peter 3:9). But in spite of God's love for us, He did not abolish hell (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5; Luke 16:23). Instead He provided a way to allow us to be saved from that eternal punishment (Romans 5:8 and 9 and John 3:16). This is truth. The harsh reality is that those who reject the fact that His love provided that way of salvation, will face judgment without its saving benefit. That is a harsh message. Yet it is a message that has been entrusted to those who believe and are obedient. How can we deliver a message that by its very nature includes the fact that those who reject it may face God's condemnation? Does simply delivering that message to a lost world make the messenger a negative, unloving individual? No! Delivering that message is in fact demonstrating agape love to that lost world.
"Jesus said unto him, 'Thou shalt (agape) the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt (agape) thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Matthew 22:37-40 (KJV)
To agape our neighbor as ourselves is a big order especially now that we understand it is much more than just being nice and kind to him/her. Loving our neighbor now has eternity in mind for him/her! As Christians, we have surely done whatever we deemed was necessary for our eternal salvation. So according to Matthew 22:39, we must be as concerned for the eternal welfare of our neighbor as we are for our own eternal welfare. Now, that takes on a whole new responsibility. If we have heard, believed, confessed, repented and been baptized for the remission of our sins so that we may have eternal life, how can we be obedient to this command and not tell our neighbor to follow that same path? Failure to do so would be disobedient to the command. Obedience to this command makes it impossible for us to "hedge" by accepting the world's perspective concerning love and salvation. For example, the world would have us accept many false beliefs such as: "Your way to God is just as good as my way to God. We just interpret the Bible differently." Or, "I love you too much to force my beliefs on you. I'll let you do what you believe is right for you." Or "There's no such thing as absolute truth. We all just see things differently." How can we possibly accept one of these lies and say that we love God? Remember that God is love! He is absolute. We can be sure that He always was and always will be (John 1:1 and 2; Psalm 72:5 and 17; Psalm 9:7 and 8). To reject absolute truth is to reject the love of God. Agape love will not let us let our neighbor go on believing that there are many ways to God and to eternal life. If there are many ways, why did we choose the route we did? Would we feel confident of our salvation if we had only believed that Jesus is the Son of God and yet had never been baptized for the remission of our sins? If we practice agape love we won't accept that there is no absolute truth because God is agape and His Word is absolute truth. So if we as Christians, believe that the Scriptures are God's Word revealed to us through inspired writers, how can they possibly be anything less than absolutely true? We know that the Scriptures tell us that there is only one way to God and that way is through our Lord and Savior who is Jesus Christ. (John 14:6; I Timothy 2:5 and 6; Ephesians 4:4-6)
We live in a world that for the most part only understands phileo and eros love. Replacing the agape love of God with phileo love reduces the power of those Scriptures using the word "agape." I Corinthians 13: 8 states
"Love (agape) never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. (NIV)
Then I Corinthians 13:13 states:
"And now these three remain: faith, hope and (agape). But the greatest of these is (agape)." (NIV)
Agape love is not always appreciated and accepted by the world or sometimes even by those within the brotherhood of believers but it is the love by which we are to be known (John 13:35). Agape love is the love that will always remain. Phileo is wonderful. It's comfortable. It's warm. It's very Christian. Brothers and sisters in Christ phileo each other (Hebrews 13:1). Christians phileo Jesus. God the Father phileos us because we phileo Jesus (John 16:27). Phileo is good! It's very, very good. But we must never let it overtake our emotions or our ego to the extent that we are not obedient to God's commands to agape one another. For, "...the greatest of these is (agape)."
There are many great Scriptures about love and how we are to apply it in our lives. One of those great Scriptures is of course Matthew 22:37-40. We've already discussed this Scripture but before we conclude the study lets consider one more point that is very important now that we know that there's a difference between agape and phileo and their use in the Scriptures. Notice that verse 40 states that "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Remember in issue # 9 we studied that John 14:15-24 makes it clear that agape love requires obedience. That Scripture states that "If you (agape) me you will obey what I command." Therefore, since agape is used in that verse, agape requires obedience. So the two commands given to us in Matthew 22 mean that our obedience to these commands will include being obedient to all other commands. The statement made by Jesus in this verse was in response to a question from a man attempting to "trick" Him into showing preference to one command over another. Jesus' answer indicated that God requires whole hearted agape (and therefore, obedience) to all of His commands. Whether they apply to God (the first commandment) or to others (the second), there is no order of importance other than putting God first. So Jesus' response did not say that there are only two commandments we must obey, but that those two if obeyed, encompass all of the others. (Note: For us today this is of course, not speaking of the Old Law or the Law of Moses. That Law was made obsolete by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross [Hebrews 8:6-13]. There are numerous commands [or "laws"] given to us throughout the New Testament that God expects us to obey).
Another great Scripture concerning love is I Corinthians 13. Since we are nearly out of space and are concluding our study with this issue, let us just leave you with an assignment for some "food for thought" about this beautiful passage of Scripture. Armed with our perspective of how agape and phileo differ from each other in the way we apply a given Scripture in our lives, read in detail, I Corinthians 13. As you read, consider how the fact that agape is the Greek word exclusively used for "love" in this Scripture. Will our understanding of agape and phileo change the perception we have of this Scripture? To give you an idea of what we mean, here's a few possibilities just to get you started.
We certainly do not mean any irreverence toward the Scriptures by this chart above. We only hope that it will demonstrate that there is a vast difference between applying agape and applying phileo in our lives. Godís enduring agape is that which will surpass everything because it is His very nature.