What is love? - If the God of the Bible is a loving God (1/3)

Bible verse used in the podcast

  • Matthew 22:37-40 ESV 
  • John 21:15-17 ESV 
  • Luke 22:31-34 ESV 
  • Matthew 26:51, Luke 22:49-50,John 18:10
  • Matthew 10:37-38 ESV 
  • Luke 14:25-27 ESV 

Interesting resources

Words for love
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love 
  • https://www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2013/12/28/the-ancient-greeks-6-words-for-love-and-why-knowing-them-can-change-your-life/ 
  • https://www.wellandgood.com/good-advice/greek-words-for-love/ 

What is love?

So first things first, what is love? Often in English, we have a problem when talking about love. You would say you love pizza, your dog, your wife, and your child. But the love you have for a pizza is not the same you have for your wife. Neither is the love you have for your child and your dog. Remember that Jesus didn’t speak English, he was speaking Greek. So to understand what love is and what he meant by it, is important.

  • ἀγάπη agápē [G26, G25 ?]
  • (The list would be too big to put here)

  • phileō φιλέω G5368 affectionate regard, friendship, usually "between equals" (brotherly love)
  • Matthew 10:37,23:6,26:48, Mark 14:44, Luke 20:46, 22:47, John 11:3, 11:36, 13:35, 12:25, 15:19, 16:27, 20:2, 21:13, 21:15, 21:16, 21:17, Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 16:22,  1 thessalonians 4:9, hebrew 13:1, 1 Peter 1:22, 2 Peter 1:7, Titus 3:15, Revelation 3:19, 22:15

  • φιλαδελφία fēlädelfē-ä G5360 Brotherly love. 
  • Rom 12:10, 1Th 4:9,  Heb 13:1, 1Pe 1:22, 2Pe 1:7

  • πρᾶγμα pragma G4229 Some people view this as an idea for love that is used often to denote commitment. Often something that is binding between people who have a mature relationship and work together. 
  • Matthew 18:19, Luke 1:1, Acts 5:4, Romans 16:2, 1 corinthians 6:1, 2 corinthians 7:11, 1 thessalonians 4:6, Hebrews 6:18,10:1,11:2

  • στοργή storgē G5387 tenderness, love, affection commonly felt by parents for child
  • Romans 12:10

  • ἔρως érōs love, mostly of sexual passion or intimate love

  • philos + auto + -ia  self love, love for one's own self

What is Agape?

The bible doesn’t always use the word agape (or agapao) when it says, love. This makes for an important distinction. Like, for instance, take this familiar passage in the bible:

37 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." 
Matthew 22:37-40 ESV

The word loved used both times here is agapao. The view of love here is to welcome someone in a loving way. Often this verse is quoted as being the golden rule, but many people get it wrong. Many people quote the golden rule has “do unto others as they do unto you.” This is not what Jesus says even if it sounds similar. On the one hand, if you do unto others as they do to you, if someone hits you, you should hit them back. If someone gives you a gift, you need to give them a gift back. It’s more of a balance system where everything is zero and no one owes anything or should back anything whether it is good or bad. Of course, that is not what Jesus is getting at.
 If you do unto others as you would like done unto you, then what the other person does, does not reflect your choices. If someone hits you, you don’t hit them back because they deserve it. You would not like to be harmed so you don’t do it back. You get someone a gift, not because you owe them, but because you would like someone to be thinking of you and go out of their way for you. 

Now, on the other hand, the word love comes from other words in the new testament as well. For instance, let’s take this passage. 

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 
John 21:15-17 ESV

In this passage, it seems rather strange that Jesus keeps asking the same question. But if you check the greek, he does something subtle that many translations don’t convey well. The first two times he says, do you agape me. The last time he says do you phileo me. Each time Peter says love, he uses the word phileo. But it isn't until the last time when Jesus switches this that something changes. See the first type of love is a general love, it’s a moral love that we should have. Not because of what the other person has done, but because that is what we should want from each other. But phileo is a different type of love. It’s the love of a strong bond. See the first two times Jesus is saying, do you love me in general, the last time he is asking of his commitment. 
Remember that earlier Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times. Peter insisted that he would not. 

31 "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." 33 Peter said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." 34 Jesus said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me." 
Luke 22:31-34 ESV

When you follow this all through, Peter even cuts off the ear of the high priest as if it was an act showing how loyal he was (Matthew 26:51, Luke 22:49-50,John 18:10). Just a few hours later he was confronted with reality and when the time came to put his commitment to the deed after Jesus was gone, he backed out. See here in Luke 22, when he asked Peter, do you love me, Jesus is about to be gone. Peter can’t just have a love when he’s around, he needs to have this love when Jesus is gone. Jesus gave him a chance to restore his agape love by forgiving him 3 times for denying him. But he is calling Peter to a greater phileo.

What is Phileo?

Now, on the other hand, we know that the word love is not enough to cover everything that Jesus says in the new testament. There is more to it than what English can provide. 

37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 
Matthew 10:37-38 ESV

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 
Luke 14:25-27 ESV

See in both cases this sounds extreme and harsh, I thought Jesus was all about loving your neighbor? Now he is saying we need to hate our own family? The massage in Luke is a bit challenging because of the word hate (G3404). It is more hated by comparison. See the idea is that compared to God, everyone else should be at the bottom of the list. It is not that you don’t like your family, but rather, because you love God so much, be it comparison it is as if he is 20 on a scale from 1 to 10 and everyone else is at -5. 
In the Matthew passage, the word love here is phileo. It is a loving commitment that two brothers would have for each other. The kind of loving bond you would have if you were closer than just family. It’s the type of love where if you had a choice of several people in the room, you would pick this person because of your loving bond for them. Some people might say, well that is so harsh, why do I have to pick God over my family? Many of us have been blessed to where we don’t have to face this issue. But not everyone can freely worship God openly. In some places in the world throughout different times in history, being a Christian is not accepted as much as we have it. Some people had to endure a culture where switching religions is an identity that means you are rejecting your own family. It means you have now declared yourself as an enemy to the state. It means that now the emperor’s soldiers can now legally take you to the colosseum and have you killed for entertainment. It is not that you reject your family after you become a Christian. You still agape them as you should. But you know that your ultimate love is in Jesus Christ. You know that you may still reach out and try to help them but you need to be careful because they may not have the best intentions for you.
I once heard this story that illustrates this more than anything. “One time a man went fishing and took his son and his son’s friend. As they were out on the water in a boat the waves started to pick up. The two children went overboard. The water was moving so fast that both children were going to be swept away and killed in seconds. The father knew that he had only moments to have one child. Either his son or his son’s friend. In a split decision, he reached into the water and saved her son’s friend.” Why would he do that? That is a terrible father, right? It turns out the father knew his son and knew that if his son died he would be in heaven. But he was not convinced about the friend. He knew that if the friend died he would most likely be in hell. For a Christian death is not final, when we die we will see Jesus and be united with our families. But for those who are not, that is a different story. The father looked at the greater picture knowing that he agaped his son, but he phileoed the greater will of what God has in faith that he will one day see his son.

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