During the time I am away, I will reposting older entries from the icrucified blog. The following post was an entry from July 22, 2008
The last post ended with a summary statement (my position) in agreement that followers of Jesus are commanded to love with agape love. I have also concluded that despite physical evidence in the contrary, if we are “filled” with God’s Holy Spirit, there is empowerment and provision to live out to the fullest a life evidenced with agape love.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” And then… “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)
I’m going to share some thoughts today regarding my position on love; this time with attention given to comparison and contrast. We’ve looked at, and hopefully agreed upon, our working definition for agape-style love and it is my plan to use this working definition as the “control” for the remainder of our exploration-examination-observation of this topic. Let me reiterate that I do not profess my observations and my opinions to be 100% conclusive, absolute, or definitive. I also do not claim my statements to be groundbreaking or fresh thinking. I am influenced by reading, my mentors, life conversations, and daily observation. There is a great possibility you may hear something you have heard before (from another source) in my writing and opinion. These are my thoughts and my present position on this topic. My mind is subject to change, but this is where I stand today. I don’t feel the evidence supporting my position is tenuous, so I doubt there will be a huge shift in my thinking, but I live “in process.” Ok, disclaimer done; feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts.
As mentioned, we’ve established a control group for this exploration of “love.” Agape love, I believe, is the standard for the Christian (Jesus Follower). While I believe that agape love is what we strive for, I don’t want to imply that we may never attain it in this life. If we embrace that thinking, we relegate the teachings of Jesus (and the apostolic letters) as limited or unattainable. Another repercussion if we follow that thinking is the continued allowance for excusing ourselves from accountability to agape love. At its most basic level the thinking resembles this thought; “Agape love is God-love and perfect in every sense. I am imperfect and subject to sin; I am a work in progress/process and prone to failure and consequently I may never attain the ability to love agape-style. Therefore, I live forgiven and excused, looking forward to ‘perfect love’ in some other existence.”
The other love I want to compare and contrast in this installment is phileo. My understanding (limited as it may be) of the Greek uses of love, places the definition and/or use of phileo as androgynous or amoral. It is, or can be, neutral. It can be good and might be bad. I think the determining factor in phileo love is the human wildcard. We should look at some examples. Let us go back to the chapter of love from 1 Corinthians.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
What is the apostle saying in these words? My paraphrase may not be completely accurate, but this is what I hear in these words:
People may think I’m eloquent, a really gifted speaker and conversationalist who can captivate an audience and hold their interest for hours. I may even have multiple educational degrees and heaps of letters following my name…heck, I may even be in big demand for national conferences, but if I don’t live with God-love (Agape love) I’m nothing more than hot-air and loud noise… Or suppose that I am able to expound upon the mysteries of God’s word and share insight from scripture that tickles the ear and heart of every listener…and my learning has received accolades; yes, I’m published too and sit atop the national bestseller lists… And suppose that I have huge, unwavering, earth-moving faith, the kind that not only moves mountains, but sees sick bodies healed and dead men raised… well, none of that matters. Really, none of my abilities or achievements means anything regardless and no matter my experience, ability, achievement or intelligence, if my love (phileo) is not transformed into the greater love (agape); yes, God-love, then it all means nothing. Or maybe I’m a doer. Yeah, I’m all about righting injustices and super-active on the social front…I go to Africa and dig wells, Russia to work in orphanages, volunteer in AIDS hospices, and serve domestically in the inner-cities to feed, clothe, and give shelter to the homeless and disenfranchised. I am even willing to give up my life, so others might live…universal justice means this much to me, but without God-love (agape) I have no reward and while it may mean something to those who benefit directly from my actions, it means nothing in the economy of eternity. Agape = everything and Phileo = nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 The Borden Special Paraphrased Dynamic Translation)
I believe Paul describes Phileo in this discourse. Most (if not all) of what is described in these few sentences is good, but Paul concludes that it is nothing without God-love. What is the point? Phileo love is imperfect, and in a fallen world no matter how “good” it may look, phileo love at its very best falls short of the mark.
While I go through life looking, listening, and taking mental notes, I notice incongruity or what I think is incongruity. I must speak from my own perspective here. I am basing my next comments on what I witness inside the family of those calling themselves Christians. Incongruity? Oh yes… Most Christians profess to have “Jesus living inside them.” This is a euphemism for accepting, acknowledging, and receiving the salvific redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Some people may even equate “Jesus living inside them/their heart” as being “filled with the Holy Spirit;” the Holy Spirit…the Third Person of the Trinity, a member of the Triune Godhead…living, dwelling, in the heart of men. Incongruous? I don’t think it has to be, but let me share my observations. (Before I go further, I must confess my own weaknesses and shortcomings. Because I observe incongruity does not equate to my attainment of perfection. I am not perfect. I fall short; by God’s grace, I press on to grow in knowledge and make every effort to practice love Agape-style). Incongruity; oh yes…enough with the qualifying you say? Listen; “Love is patient and kind. Love 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 never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever!” If love is patient and kind…why are we snarky and impatient? Maybe we don’t exhibit our impatience with one another (inside the Christian family) openly, but do we privately in our inner thoughts? How about our patience and kindness with those outside of our immediate “church family,” are we patient and kind with them? Love does not demand its own way…neither do Christians. It has been my experience that the equivalent version of Christians demanding their own way is to (a) leave the church (b) exercise some version of “silent treatment” or (c) undertake some type of slander and/or gossip campaign. Love is not irritable and keeps no record of being wronged…why then do we have so many “Christians” struggling with issues of unforgiveness and emotions that are so easily offended? Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance…why then, do Christians suffer almost the same percentage of failed marriages…why is our faith shaken when tragedy looms…why are there church splits and “Christians” abandoning the faith over “disagreements” and “differences?” The answer, I believe, is that we are operating under false premise. We, the Church, assume our operations are undergirded with agape love, but the evidence of our history reads more accurately as phileo love.
I found a small comparative chart (I don’t remember where, but it is not my own work) that I thought illustrated the differences between “earthly love” and “godly love.”
Some contrasts between agape and phileo are as follows:
|Because of||In spite of|
Phileo love can do many “good” things; it is capable of motivating people to do marvelously kind works, create beautiful and timeless works of art, and sometimes incredible acts of selflessness. However, phileo love will still find it difficult to forgive under some circumstances. Phileo love may allow for breaking points in a person where they “must find me time.” Phileo love will sometimes feel the “need to be heard.” Occasionally, phileo love may feel wronged, slighted or underappreciated. Phileo love will fail…evidenced by spouses “falling out of love” with one another. Interestingly enough, this list resembles what we see in many of the dramas we follow in the media and on TV…and sadly, in our churches too. This is where I come back to the point made earlier regarding my mention of incongruity. Agape love as defined by our 1 Corinthians passage does not resemble in the slightest this phileo love. Is my conclusion that Christians do not exhibit phileo love? Not in the least; we Christians are also sinners saved by grace and we too suffer from the frailties of the physical man. We are weakened by emotional and physical stresses of life…we crack…we break; I know I do. Once more, I must stress that I’m not pushing perfection (although I believe that is the goal and what we should strive for). I am simply putting it out there that our failure to love as Christ loved should be the exception rather than the rule. We should not be so quick to accept defeat or excuse our shortcomings.
I need to bring this post to a close… What do I suspect as the problem and what do I propose as the solution?
The problem: We have not renounced sin or our former self. Oh, we give this verb al-intellectual affirmation, but we have not really done so within our heart. Let us examine this portion of scripture from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:14-21)
The solution: Die to self. Crucify self. Be born again. Follow the way of Jesus. More from Galatians:
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:22-25)
There are those in our church circles that say that living in perfect love is impossible on this side of heaven. If that is so, it makes the teaching of the Bible to be a lie. It is no wonder that the world mocks our duplicity. I’m reminded of a jab thrown by the apostle Paul toward the Roman Jews; “You know what he (GOD) wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth. Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.” (Romans 2:18-24)
Can we live congruent with the teachings of our Lord? I think so…I believe it with all my heart. I think about this God-love and the way of living that comes with it…I know it is difficult in the sense of being “pressed from every side.” I have one question though in the midst of the difficulty of incorporating this agape love and the reality of living it…
Which is more difficult; for me to believe that a dead man can be raised to life, or that my self-centered heart could be changed to love without condition?
In Part 5 we’ll take a look at that repercussions and consequences of not living in agape love.