Monday, March 25, 2013

The Significance of God's Love

My wife and I have been pondering the significance of and meaning of Love.  We are convinced that gaining a proper understanding of God's Love, and then walking in it is the most significant thing we can do.  We are also convinced that in mainstream Christianity, this is the one thing that is most often missing.

For some of us who have been Christians for a while, it is important to examine why we do what we do.  We need to be asking, "what is the point of what we are doing"?  Are our activities and effort rooted in the 2 greatest commandments: love for God and others, or rooted in selfishness?  Do we view life and relationships with a what's in it for me perspective, or are we living in love?

For some of us, our picture of love needs to be re-painted.  It is critical to avoid defining love in the context of our twisted culture.  The greatest type of Love described in the Bible is not eroticism, family love, or feelings of affection toward something, although some types of love may involve these things.  When the Bible says that God is love, what does that really mean?  We must be careful not to define God and love through the lens of our culture or the world. Much of the world's way of seeing love is based on sentiment.  Sentiment is defined as: marked or governed by feeling, sensibility, or emotional idealism.  Most of us define love as a feeling, based on past experiences, especially ideal experiences.  If someone makes us feel good, we may define that as love.  Although this is an aspect of love, it is not the whole enchilada.  And, it is easy for our experience of love to be twisted and distorted if the person seemingly expressing love toward us was doing it for selfish reasons.

Several different words for Love
My wife and I did a study of the Greek/Hebrew words for love and came up with some interesting observations.  Without going into great detail, I would like to share a few highlights. Most people who have read their bible are aware that there are several greek words for love while the English language only has one word for Love.  However, love can mean a lot of things depending on the context it is used in.  "I love pizza" means something quite different than "I love my children".  I want to center in on the greek word Agape primarily, but first give a brief description of the greek word Phileo. 

Phileo is a friendship affection for someone, mainly based on qualities that are considered loveable and likeable.  However, Agape is based primarily in the qualities of the giver, not the receiver.  Since Agape originates from God, who IS love, this would make sense.  Rather than loving us for what we can do for him, or because we possess certain lovable qualities, God loves us because of who HE IS.  Since Agape originates in who God is, nothing we can do will change his love for us.  God does Phileo us, and we also Phileo him as our Father and friend.  See this article: Does God love us with phileo love?

It is important to note that Agape sometimes contains the concept of Phileo and cannot be entirely separated from it.  When someone expresses Agape towards us, we are probably going to feel loved.   However, Agape love is primarily defined as an esteem, regard, and commitment to someone or something that then results in action.  Agape involves being so committed to something or someone that we give of ourselves sacrificially.  Interestingly, Agape is not just descriptive of God's love toward us, it is also used of those who loved darkness in John 3:19 - This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  These people loved darkness, which means they were wholeheartedly committed to darkness and this resulted in evil deeds.  Agapao is most beautifully seen in God's love toward us. John 3:16 describes God's love for the world, which compelled him to sacrificially give Jesus, his son for us. Jesus sacrificially gave of himself for us on the cross.  John 15:13 - Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  The giving of one's life is demonstrated by Jesus as the supreme act of Love. 

Agape is the word used in all these scriptures.
1. Matthew 22:37 - Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
2. 1 Corinthians 13
3. Revelation 12:11 - They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

The meaning in Revelation 12:11 is that they did not esteem their own lives so much as to hold on to them.  They released their lives up to God and allowed his greater love to replace their desire to hold onto their own lives.  This is what is meant by Jesus when he asks us to give up our lives for him.  We will either love our own life so much that we hold it back from God and others, or we will give our life to him so his love can flow in and pour out of us to others.

Agape love is the most important thing - 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Without love, we are nothing and we have nothing.  We can do loads of good works, but without God's love, all our accomplishments, efforts, programs, meetings, and interactions with others are meaningless and amount to NOTHING.  If "God is love" 1 John 4:8, it must be exceedingly important.

Love can only be fully understood and appreciated experientially.
It is interesting to learn about and study what Love means, but unless it is received and given away experientially, Love will remain shallow and incomprehensible to us.  "We love him because he first loved us". 1 John 4:19.  As we understand the nature of God's love in Jesus for us, and we come into a revelation of it for ourselves, we are changed and find that same love flowing out of us.  If we say we love someone, but there are no tangible actions or emotions expressed toward them, they will likely remain feeling un-loved. James 2:16

I have experienced this with my family, my wife expecially.  When she or my children bring a concern, feeling, or problem to me,  I sometimes start out by trying to say all the right words to comfort them like: "I know how you feel", "I understand", or "That must be difficult".  But these words sound hollow unless coupled with God's love.  Real love only ignites when I seek God's heart of love by listening without self-preservation, seeking to truly identify with and understand them.  At this moment, true compassion and empathy forms within me and my desire is to truly seek what is best for them rather than what is best for me.  There is a bridge of selfishness and pride that must be crossed over to embrace the other person right where they are at.  When love activates, it frees me from the desire to prove myself good or right, and it frees me from the desire to prove them wrong and seek to fix them intellectually and externally.

As we meditate upon and increase in revelation about the single greatest act of love in history, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we will gain insight into the true nature of Agape love.  This song powerfully communicates Jesus' amazing love for us.  Arms Wide Open

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