In English, the word love is comprehensive. It conveys an emotional fondness for ice cream, baseball, a child, and a spouse. In the Greek, the word love is used more precisely. There is eros love. There is philein love. There is agape love.
It is instructive that the word eros does not occur in the New Testament. Our English word erotic, comes from erotic because it is sensual word laden with sexual overtones. In Greek, eros love was associated with the demonic, and pagan rituals, involving temple prostitutions and orgies. There were feasts at these orgies to enhance the sensual pleasures. There was unbridled lust displayed. Plato and Aristotle tried to remove the concept of the demonic from eros, while keeping the sensual.
What is found in the New Testament is philein, and agape.
The world philein gives us the word Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.” In Greek, adelphos in Greek means “brother”; phlein, “love”. We understand that it is possible to have a good friend, and to be a good neighbor. That is philein love. This is a natural love.
The word, apage, has its foundation in the character of God. It is this type of love which is shed abroad in the hearts of those who love God. It is the love of 1 Corinthians 13. Agape love is the greatest love of all.
If a person does not have agape love, they are not born of God. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7, 8). A person who does not love the unlovely, a person who is not a loving kind to every individual the Lord puts in their path, should seriously question the root of their righteousness. It does not matter how many other people a person may help, if there a single person that is the object of abiding hatred and hostility, this gospel warning goes forth. Beware.
There is no room in the Christian life for acts, large and small, of retaliation, pettiness, manipulation, and unkind comments that are designed to bend a person’s will to a way that is not rooted in righteousness, and consistent with 1 Corinthians 13. The kind of love that God has is an authentic love. Lesser love can be feigned. It is the lesser love of the heart that leads to marriages without commitment or honor, or even friendship. A lesser love can be feigned in public, but exposed in private. Reader’s Digest had the story, told by Joe Wagner, about a love that was fake in public.
“I was attending a junior stock show when a grand-champion lamb, owned by a little girl, was being auctioned. As the bids reached five dollars per pound, the little girl, standing beside the lamb in the arena, began to cry. At ten dollars, the tears were streaming down her face and she clasped her arms tightly around the lamb’s neck. The higher the bids rose, the more she cried. Finally, a local businessman bought the lamb for more than $1000, but then announced that he was donating it to the little girl. The crowd applauded and cheered.
Months later, I was judging some statewide essays when I came across one from a girl who told about the time her grand-champion lamb had been auctioned. “The prices began to get so high during the bidding,” she wrote, “that I started to cry from happiness.” She continued with: “The man who bought the lamb for so much more than I ever dreamed I would get returned the lamb to me, and when I got home, Daddy barbecued the lamb–and it was really delicious.”
Each week in church, each day at work, each night in the home, in countless hearts there is a love that is dishonoring to the Lord, for there is no authentic care. Duty might demand certain behavior. Economic reality might hold some lives together. But there is no love of God being shed abroad in the heart. There is no confession of the hardness of one’s own heart. Teardrops may fall, but they are tears of self-pity and not tears of brokenness over sin in self. There is outrage, but it is only an anger of frustration at how unfair life is, and how mean-spirited others are.
God would have His people be different, and so He gives Christians a chance to receive, and then to show agape love, the love of God that surpasses human understanding because it is not based on the merit or conduct of another person. It is not based on an individual’s worthiness. It is based on the character of the person doing the loving. The principle is this: while we were yet sinners, Christ loved us, and died for us.
One of the most radical teachings of Christ is for His followers to love their enemies. An enemy might be in the Church, work place, or home. Nevertheless, the Royal Command comes to love one’s enemies. It is not an option.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25). Until a Christian man has done that, he has no basis to speak against her, or do anything to hurt, manipulate, or control her freedom.
“And the wife, see that she reverences her husband” (Eph. 5:33). Until a Christian woman shows proper respect to her husband, there is no basis for speaking against him.
What about the children? “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:1-3). Until a Christian child shows respect to mom and dad, they have no right to speak out against them, or defy their authority, as long as they are under their roof.
The commandment for every Christian to agape others continues from fathers to children, from employer to employee, and from employee to employer. No one is beyond the Royal Command.
To agape all others is the foundational principle that must be established in the heart, and consciously thought about if it is to be thoughtfully practiced. Christians cannot decide not to love. There is no escaping.
For example, if a man puts away his wife, and she moved next door, she would then be a neighbor, and the Lord says to love your neighbor! And if the woman moved to another state and the hatred in the man’s heart remained, she would then be an enemy, and the Royal command is what? Love your enemies! “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44).
There is only one course of action for a Christian, and that is to understand the nature of the gospel, to receive the love of God, and then to manifest that love to others by the power of the Holy Spirit. All that can happen when a person becomes serious about living out the ethics of the Christian life.
If there is a missing component in the modern Christianity, it is not taking seriously what it means to be a Christian. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light” (Rom. 13:12). To be a Christian means to be like Christ. That means to obey God the Father, and it is the will of the Father that His children agape others.
One day, if the Lord is merciful, there will be a spiritual illumination, and a Christian man will say, “I MUST agape my wife as Christ loved the Church.”
A Christian wife will say, “I MUST respect my husband, it is the will of the Lord.”
A Christian young person will say, “I MUST obey and honor my parents. It is a commandment with promise.”
A Christian worker will say, “I MUST do right at my job, and honor my employer.”
Christians are called upon to transcend normal behavior boundaries of the heart. Why? “That a Christian might be “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). To be “perfect” means to be complete, to be whole. It means to have integrity. The Lord wants His children to have integrity. He wants Christians to be loving people, even when others are not loving, or loveable. The Lord wants Christians to transcend the natural human feelings of hatred, and hostility, that marks mankind’s fallen nature. The essence of kingdom living is love.
After His resurrection, at the Sea of Tiberius, John had an important conversation with Simon Peter.
“So, when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
Jesus was asking Simon if he loved (agape) Jesus more than the other disciples, and more than his fishing business. And Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.
16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (agape) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest (phileo) thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest (phileo) thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (phileo) thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Some Bible scholars think that the love Peter expressed for the Lord (phileo) is a lesser love than the type of love (agape) Jesus initial inquired about. Others disagree, and say the two words are used as a synonymy in other writings by Peter. The larger point is that Jesus was asking Peter to love.
Christian husband, Jesus is asking you to love your wife, your family, and your friends. Jesus is asking you to love the unlovely.
Christian wife, Jesus is asking you to love your husband, your children, and all others.
Christian Church, Jesus is asking you to be a loving person to all others. To love Jesus is to love others. It is as simple, and as difficult as that.
Here is the question that Jesus is asking of you. Put your name in the place of Peter, and hear Jesus ask, “Do you love Me?” If you do, feed the sheep. Love others. Three times Simon Peter had been asked by the world, “Do you know the Man from Galilee?” and three times Simon had publicly repudiated Jesus. Three times Jesus asks Simon after His resurrection to reaffirm his personal faith in Him. Simon got the message, and was heartbroken. He would love Jesus, and He would love others. He would never again deny the Lord of glory.
When we are not loving to our wives, our husbands, our children, our family, our church, our friends, and our enemies, we repudiate Christ, and need to repent. Simon repented. Simon reaffirmed his love for Jesus. Simon heard Jesus say three times, “Feed my sheep.” A Christian wife is a sheep of the Shepherd. A Christian husband is a sheep of the Shepherd. A Christian child is a sheep of the Shepherd. Feed them all with love.