Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

I love cheeseburgers, especially cheeseburgers from 5 GUYS!  If you’ve had a 5 GUYS cheeseburger, you know what I’m talking about! And I love Toyotas … well … some Toyotas.  I had one Toyota Tundra pickup truck since 2004, and when I gave it to my son it had 275,000 miles on it.  Before that I had a Toyota Camry, and I put over 150,000 miles on it.  Before that I had a Toyota Corolla and l had it for a long time.  Last year I bought my 4th Toyota, another Tundra, and I’m hoping to keep it for at least 15 years.

I love my sons and stepsons … Brandon, Chris, Ryan and Daniel.  I love my daughters-in-law … Vita, Jess, and Beth!  (Beth is pregnant with twins!)  I love my grandchildren … Kirra, Kayden, Graham and Reese.  I love my brother and sisters, and I love and miss my parents who, along with my first wife, are now in heaven.

I love Becky, my wife.  We’ve been married for coming up on 15 years, and I thank God for her every day.  She is truly my best friend, my lover, and my companion for life.  Becky will tell you that she loves Star Wars movies, and her latest loves in the Star Wars list of characters are The Mandalorian and The Child.

And I love God.  I love the Father, the Son … Jesus … and the Holy Spirit.

It’s unfortunate, but the English language has limited itself to only one word – LOVE – to express or describe strong likes, various degrees of passion, good feelings for people as well as strong and good feelings for inanimate objects. As a result, the English word “LOVE” is overused, often abused, and has lost much of its value.

The Greeks got it right.  They came up with 4 (four) words for love, and these four words help us make sense of the various times the Bible talks about love … and that’s important because God has placed a premium on LOVE.  He is LOVE, He has commanded us to LOVE Him and each other, even our enemies, and the first Holy Spirit-born characteristic of a Christian is the first word on the list of the Fruit of the Spirit!  LOVE.

Understanding biblical LOVE, and how we are to live our lives now and in the future, is critically important. Today, and I suspect tomorrow and the days to come, our LOVE for God and our LOVE for each will best tested like never before.  Why?  Because we are living in “The Last Days,” and Satan knows his time is short.  The devil is going to pull out all the stops, he is going to pour out hatred, and he is going to try to pitch one believer against another.  He’s out to destroy the human family, and, in particular, his sights are fixed on the Family of God.

You don’t believe me?  Doubt me at your peril.

Let’s turn to the Word of God, and let’s start with 1 John 4:7-12: Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God.  Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.  But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His One and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him.  This is real love — not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God.  But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us.

John wrote these Holy Spirit-inspired words in Greek, and the Greek word for “LOVE” he used throughout this text is a form of “agapā.”  For example, what is translated “Dear Friends” is actually “agapātoi,” and that word actually means “beloved ones.” He continues this way:  “agapātoi agapōmen allālous” meaning “Beloved ones, may we be loving each other …” etc.

Let me just take you to the first two verses of this text and illustrate it this way:

Dear friends (agapātoi), let us continue to love one another (agapōmen allālous), for love (agapōn) comes from God.   Anyone who loves (agapā) is a child of God and knows God.   But anyone who does not love (agapōn) does not know God, for God is love (agapā).

There are four words for love in the ancient common Greek language.  They are agapā, storgā, philā, and erōs.

Agapā or agape is what has come to be known as a Greco-Christian word because when the First Century texts were being written, agapā was the word of choice for the highest form of love – the love that God has for human beings, and that human beings have for God.  Agapā, in a Christian context, means “unconditional, self-sacrificing love … the kind of love that will endure, no matter what the circumstances may be.”

You can appreciate that definition of apapā because it is the word used in John 3:16, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” God unconditionally loved the whole world for all time that He sacrificially gave the world His one and only begotten Son, Jesus, to redeem anyone and everyone from the curse of sin who believes in Him. Wow! Think on that for a moment.

The word agapā was rarely used by First Century Greeks, so the Christian community “grabbed” it and made it their own.  Christians defined this LOVE, agapā, as the unique love of God and the love that comes from God.

There’s a series of verses often used at weddings to describe the kind of love the bride and the groom HOPE to model in their marriage.   Maybe you’ve heard, “Love (agapā) is patient and kind.  Love (agapā) is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.  It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.   Love (agapā) never gives up…”. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7a NLT)

The lead-in to those beautiful words, 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love (agapā), I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love (agapā), I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love (agapā), I gain nothing.”

This love … this AGAPĀ … is the LOVE we must have for one another and for God Himself if we are to live our lives as citizens of the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter how gifted we may be. If we are not unconditionally, sacrificially loving people while we are exercising our gifts, we’re just noisy and selfish. As a result, we gain nothing.

AGAPĀ, AGAPĀ, AGAPĀ!

Make it a point to read 1 John 4 with your family, your friends, your fellow believers.  When you do, focus some attention on verses 20 and 21. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?   And He has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”

STORGĀ means “affection” and it covers a variety of loves, but especially family love … the love kids have for Mom and Dad, and their siblings.  

C. S. Lewis wrote that STORGĀ is familiarity and affection for buddies at college, soldiers and sailors as they serve together, a ship’s crew, etc.  It’s “…the normal day-to-day of life, is the majority of the love we experience, even if we don’t label it.”

PHILĀ is friendship or brotherly love.   This level of friendship seems to be the “…the happiest and most fully human of all loves,” says Lewis, “the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”  

Why?   Because it’s time consuming for one thing.  And this kind of love, this philā, usually centers around having something in common. But to the First Century Greeks, philā was the noblest kind of love because it resembles heaven, where our lives are intertwined.  It’s not as powerful as agapā, or as selfless, but it’s close!

After the crucifixion and the resurrection, after Peter had denied he even knew Jesus, Jesus came to Peter and asked him, “Peter, do you agapas Me?” Peter answered, “Lord, I am very fond of you.”  Peter used the word “philō” to describe his love for the Lord.  He was being totally transparent and real.  He wanted to say that he loved Jesus with agapā, but he knew he couldn’t because he hadn’t been willing to sacrifice for Jesus unconditionally.

Jesus asked Peter the same question again, and Peter answered the same way. But when Jesus asked Peter the question the third time, the Lord changed the “love” word. Peter was so sorrowful and repentant. Jesus knew his heart and knew that Peter was looking BACK on his failure and denials. But our Lord graciously asked Peter, “Do you phileis Me?” (Peter, are you truly fond of Me?)

Peter, still broken, answered, “Lord you know all things.  You know that I philō You.” Simon Peter was confessing his weakness and his love for Christ, love that was just a step below agapā, and Jesus was restoring, forgiving and recommissioning Peter. Beautiful!

I am not going to go into ERŌS at this time … that sexual/physical, fickle, romantic, and passionate kind of love … the love a man has for his wife that often leads to sexual intercourse.  That’s for another time.   And one day I hope to tell you what happens when ERŌS meets AGAPĀ in a marriage.  When sexual love meets unconditional love.  It’s amazing … but that’s for another time.

I want to conclude by referring to C. S. Lewis again, and I’ll quote from him.  He wrote that “Family love, friendship love, and romantic love are each the training ground for agapā to grow. We are made to AGAPĀ, and we are in want of it.  If we play it safe, we are not living out the Gospel.”  

Lewis reminds us that with agapā love, “There is no safe investment.   To AGAPĀ at all is to be vulnerable.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and trepidations of love is Hell.  If we think that perhaps AGAPĀ is not worth the sorrow and pain, then we are more pagan than Christian.”

Only God can awaken this kind of love in us … this unconditional, self-sacrificing kind of love that we long for, and that when we are receiving it and giving it, we find our hearts and minds are fully connected to the living God.

Tough times are coming.  Our love for each other, and our love for a lost a broken world is going to be tested.  

God’s great love for this world commanded us to “go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them everything Jesus taught us.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)

God’s great love is looking for partners and partnership. He is looking for and hoping for us to come alongside Him and live our love for Him by reaching out to people who may not know Him, and declare, “For God so loved (agapāsen) the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

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