Read John 13:34-35 and Matthew 22:36-40
In our American culture, the word “love” is broadly used in reference to intimate sexual romance (eros), to close family, church, community friendships (phileo); or to what foods or things we enjoy. The Greek language was much richer, offering three different words to define “love,” making it a much less nebulous concept – eros, phileo, agape.
Jesus chooses the Greek word “agape” in the scriptures noted above, to define the love that his disciples are to have for one another; a love that is habitually unconditional, sacrificial, service oriented and outwardly focused.
The reality of “agape” love is that it rises above the fickle nature of feelings and is, instead, much more an act of the will. Choosing to love with “agape” love often means doing hard things such as forgiving, returning good for evil, serving and denying one’s own desires in providing for the needs of another.
It was after Jesus had eaten his last meal with his disciples, and after he had washed their feet and told them he would soon be leaving them, that he instructed them in regards to their continuing relationships with one another; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35).
A few days earlier, one of the Pharisees, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus said that there are two commandments that top the list. The first and greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. … And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” He then added, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Throughout his three-year teaching, healing ministry, Jesus consistently spoke of the need to love God and others, and he daily modeled that compassionate, sacrificial love to his disciples and followers. And now, just a few hours before his arrest and crucifixion, he restates, as a command, their need to love each other — no exceptions, no excuses, and no conditions.
And just in case they may think about trivializing the meaning of love, he raises the bar to its highest level and gives them a very challenging definition of “agape” love: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
In other words, the measure of love we share with others must reflect nothing less than the measure of love we have been given by God through Jesus. What has come to us from God must appropriately flow through us to all others!
Also, our acts of loving all others will be what sets us apart from the world and authenticates our declaration of being a Christian. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The only distinguishing mark ever given in Scripture regarding who is a Christian is their ability to love in the same manner as Jesus loves.
Harry Stack Sullivan writes in his book, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry, “When the satisfaction, security, and development of another person become as significant to you as your own satisfaction, security, and development, love exists.” This is a good definition of Christian love.
In his devotional book, A Daily Walk Through Romans, Myron Augsburger comments on 12:9, saying, “There is a cost in love, for when you love someone, their experience is shared with you, their problems become your problems. Love is far deeper than tolerance; it calls for repentance while tolerance doesn’t require change. Love does not select. Love shares totally with the person. When we love we identify honestly, openly, fully. Paul states his admonition simply but profoundly: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.”
Josh McDowell writes in the August, 1999, issue of Focus on the Family Magazine: Tolerance says, ‘You must approve of what I do.’ Love responds, ‘I must do something harder: I will love you, even when your behavior offends me.’ Tolerance says, ‘You must agree with me.’ Love responds, ‘I must do something harder: I will tell you the truth, because I am convinced the truth will set you free.’ Tolerance says, ‘You must allow me to have my way.’ Love responds, ‘I must do something harder: I will plead with you to follow the right way, because I believe you are worth the risk.’ Tolerance seeks to be inoffensive; love takes risks. Tolerance glorifies division; love seeks unity. Tolerance costs nothing; love costs everything.”
For Jesus, Paul and the other apostles, followers of Jesus will daily live a lifestyle of loving others. Love is to be at the core of our relationships with fellow believers, and at the same time it determines our attitude and behavior towards all people, including enemies. Love is the only identification we carry, authenticating our claim of being Christian.
“Healing Rays of Righteousness” – October 17, 2018