Christian love

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In America, Church leaders and members talk about the love of Christ as if it were a joyful impassioned feel good experience.? The words roll off the lips like a new-service headline: ?What we need is more love in the world,? or ?Christians need to demonstrate love with one another,? etc.?

Those two statements are very true ? however, the problem is; what do Christians think love means?? Whether Christians define love by society?s, or the Biblical prospective, will make all the difference when involved in discipline of: mind and soul, works and doctrine, interpretation by rationale or emotion.

Consider: A missionary is serving free food in a third world country.? Some local men push themselves to the front of the line and put out their pans for filling.? The missionary instructs the helpers to take the pans from the men and throw them to the ground ? far enough to force the men to leave the line to retrieve their valued utensils.? A discussion ensues concerning the event.? One Christian says that the missionary lacked love, and the other said it demonstrated love.? Which of the two is right?

In the Greek New Testament there are three words that describe types of love:? Agapao and Phileo.? Agapao is simply understood as the love that God prefers.? I have heard Christians define this by equilibrating; ?You don?t have to like me, but you must love me.?? However, in many of the acceptable modern descriptions, the overriding idea is that the love of God, or the God way of love is an emotional satisfying high.? Nothing could be farther from the truth!? Conversely, Phileo is literally understood as ?brotherly love,? and thought to mean, friendship.? This also misses the point – for Phileo is a tender kindness of affection and does implore a great amount of emotion. From this word we have within our English language the word, philanthropy.

What is fascinating about Phileo, when it is used with a compound suffix, the base word can define a moral or an immoral prerogative ? as in: Philotheos; a lover of God, Philxenos, loving strangers; verses Philarguros, lover of money, and Philidonos, loving pleasure. ?

This demonstrates linguistically that the Agapao, does not require emotive impetus for exercising, while Phileo is bound by emotional likes and dislikes.? What this means is that God?s preferred method for basic charity [Agapao], is an activity that is rooted in rational thought, and motivated by adherence to the moral desire of God, via obedience.? Brotherly love [Phileo] is effected by personal likes or dislikes, in order to operate, while charity [Agapao] need only require adherence to the will of God by obedience.

Vine?s Expository of New Testament Words [unabridged], defines ?love? [Apapao] in the following manner [pgs. 702-703]:

?Agape and agapao are used in the N.T. (a) to describe the attitude of God toward His Son, Jn.17:26; the human race, generally, Jn.3:16; Rom.5:8; and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly Jn.14:21;? (b)to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one toward another, Jn.13:34, and toward all men 1Thes.3:12; 1Cor.16:14; 2Pet.1:7;? (c) to express the essential nature of God, 1Jn.4:8?God?s love is seen in the gift of His Son?this is not the love of complacency or affection?it was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice?Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments, Jn.14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1Jn.2:5; 5:3; 2Jn.6.? Self will, that is self pleasing, is the negation of love of God?Phileo is never used in commands to men to love God??

The point to be made is; God is not interested, as of first value, in a person?s emotional response toward the commands of God, or God himself.? What he is interested in ? of primary importance ? is a person?s response to his commandments regardless of how the person feels about the commands, edicts, desires, and will.? One will not offend the Lord of Hosts, if the person believes the command will not produce a desired result or believes another way is better.? The only thing that matters is; will the person do the will of God.? There can be a negative emotion, but what counts is a positive response.? In essence the person responds out of respect, not joyful admiration. This concept is born out in the words of Peter.? Jesus had commanded Peter to go back into the deep waters and drop his net for a fish catch.? Peter responds with agapao:

?Master, we?ve worked all hard all night and haven?t caught anything.? But because you say so, I will let down the nets.?? [Lk.5:4, NIV]

Some real incite into God?s desire for obedience first, and how it worked in the life of Jesus, can be studied in the scripture relative to the disciples: John and Peter.? In John 13: the term, ?the beloved disciple? or ?the one whom Jesus loved,? is also found in Jn.19:26; 20:2; and 21:7, 20.? The word used here is ?agapao,? and means an intellectual act of charity toward the disciple John. ? Because John sat next to the Lord at the last supper, commentators overwhelmingly reason that Jesus loved this disciple best.? They reason he loved John, because John was a young man, perhaps a teenager, and so his youthful vigor, predilection toward belief of just about anything and his cheery can do attitude made him a premier focus of Jesus Christ personal affection.? But the scripture teaches just the opposite!

John was near to the Lord because he was the comelier part of the group ? or as the NIV puts it in Paul?s first epistle to the Corinthians:

??those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.? [1Cor.12:22-23]

If Jesus had ?loved? John for his youthful intrigue and openness to try anything once, the scripture would have used the word ?phileo? ? for then it would have expressed that Jesus had a personal affection for John?s youth and vigor.

As a young man, John was prone to quick temper, without good judgment, probably talked a lot about things that were unnecessary, and as young men go, become quickly tired of banal discipline. He was called a ?Son of Thunder? [Mk.3:17].? His counterpart can be found in the person of Mark [AKA, John Mark] of the book of Acts 15:36-41.? Mark was young and not personally liked by Paul, because Mark had returned home early, while on a missionary journey.? Paul had no ?agapao? for Mark.? But Paul has an eventual change of heart. Finding the attitude of Jesus, we read that Paul has Mark with him – as stated in his letter to the Colossians [3:10].? Further, Paul writes in his old age, while in prison, ?Get mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry? [2Tim.4:11].

Now we can view the dialog between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17.? In this section, Jesus returns after his resurrection, to confront his feeble disciples.? Peter is in his boat fishing.? The Lord shows up on the seashore cooking fish.? Peter recognizes his Christ and is so enthusiastic at his Lord?s appearance that he dives into the water naked. ? Up on shore, Jesus asks Peter three times, ?Do you love me.?? The love Jesus asks about is agapao ? the love of discipline and deliberate decision.? Peter responds three times, ?Yes Lord, you know that I ?love? you.? The word used by Paul is ?phileo? ? an affirmation of deep admiration and choice of likability.

What is developing in this passage?? A reflection on Peter?s disagreements with Jesus would help understand the sea shore interaction.? Peter had chided Jesus for his snub of the Pharisees, [Mt.15:12] and he chastised the Lord when he said that Christ should not die [Mt.16:21-23].

Jesus is saying to Peter, [paraphrased]; ?Peter do you respect me enough to do my will? Can you disregard your own view that I may be making a mistake?? Will you take the helm and teach the new disciples even though everyone knows that you denied me?? Can you do it in the face of the loss of your own life, even when you cannot understand why persecution is necessary?? If you can, it proves you love [agapao] me.?

Peter was making his claim to fealty and obedience based upon his like and personal affection for Jesus, and Jesus was saying, all that is necessary is your simple obedience.

What then are we to suppose in light of this understanding.

  1. God only demands simple obedience to ensure fealty.
  2. God expects a positive emotional change of heart after we have completed his will.? This is because when we have fulfilled the will of the Lord completely he finds joy in us.? His joy in us becomes a joy we share [see my article: ?The Joy of the Lord, to Whom Does it Belong.?
  3. Doing the love of Jesus, is usually mundane, and can lead to persecution.
  4. Doing the love of Jesus, is not about getting an emotional high, or completing activities we like.
  5. The effectual love of God is grounded in simple obedience.


Who has not read Rev.2:1-7, the Church at Ephesus.? Jesus Christ chastens his church for lacking the ?first love? [agapao], yet they proved their affection for Christ by just about every standard doing a church would be involved in.? Some Commentators say it was a lack of evangelism, some say it was some hidden fact, that we can never know, but the answer follows what Christ has already revealed in the Gospels.

Has not Jesus told us the new commandment: ?to love one another as he loves us [Jn.13:34]?

Has not Jesus said that the greatest among all is the servant of the rest [Mk.10:43]?

Has not Jesus said that if we complete his basic commands, among them to ?wash the feet? [simile] of our brothers?? [Jn.15:1-11]?

Then this is the answer to the Revelation riddle of the Church at Ephesus.? The church did all things well.? They did them for Jesus.? The left no stone unturned to be the complete church ? except for one.? They failed to be servants of their brothers.? It was the ?first thing? that Jesus taught them at the last supper.? It was told them to remember the first things.

Their joy would be complete if Christ found their works complete.

Paul puts it another way:

?Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way? [1Cor.12:31, KJV]? LOVE [agapao]! [1Cor.13:1-13]

The Ephesians needed to have agapao, and so do we.

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