Sunday, June 12, 2011

How Do You Love Him?

The Greek words used for love in the Bible include philia, or brotherly love (Romans 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7). connoting friendship; and agape, or self-sacrificing love, of which the best example is Jesus suffering and dying on the cross to pay all our sin debt in full. Phileo means to have an affection, sentiment, kindly feeling, or fondness based in the heart toward another person. Philia is based on a natural emotional response toward another, whereas agape is based on the will, volitionally doing what is best for another even when he is unloveable. Thank God that He shows agape toward us even though we are sinners with wicked hearts (Jer. 17:9; Rom. 5:8).

Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament contrasts many aspects of philia and agape. Philia is a natural, emotional response of the heart, but agape is learned through studying God’s Word and following Christ’s example, and applied through the will. Philia is discriminatory and conditional, shown toward those who please us, bring us delight, or do nice things for us. Agape is non-discriminatory and unconditional, shown toward everyone because we consider them to be precious in God’s sight and esteemed more highly than we value ourselves.

Philia is bound to fail, as it occurs because of what someone does or because of what he is like. Ultimately those conditions change and people displease us. But agape never fails (1 Cor. 13:8), as it occurs in spite of what people do or what they are like.

The difference between philia and agape is seen in John 21:15-17, when the resurrected Jesus calls aside Peter, who is filled with remorse over denying Christ 3 times, just as Jesus as predicted he would. To reconcile Peter to Himself, Jesus asks Peter 3 times, “Do you love Me?” Twice the word Jesus uses is “agapeo,” but when Peter says that he loves Christ, he uses the word “phileo,” which implies a lesser intensity and commitment than the self-sacrificing agape love Jesus has shown to all of us.

It is as if a wife asks her husband, “Do you love me so much that you would risk your life to save mine?” and he answers, “Well, you know I have warm, fuzzy feelings for you when you serve me breakfast in bed.” Each time Peter avoided the real issue of what Christ asked him, Jesus gently explained what agape love means, by saying “Feed my sheep.” Jesus wanted Peter to put his own needs behind those of the lost sheep he had to bring to Christ. Ultimately, Peter did just that, making the ultimate sacrifice of dying a martyr’s death and being crucified upside down (John 21:18).

Friendship often starts with philia, as an emotional response to someone who shares a common sense of purpose and belief system. It is natural to like people who think and feel the same way we do on important issues. But true friendship occurs when philia lead to self-sacrificing, unconditional agape love. We see this in the family of God, where new believers in Christ join the church, or body of other born-again Christians who share the common experience of having turned away from, or repented of, their sins, and of having turned toward Christ as their Savior (Rom.12:10). You gain new Christian friends when you are saved, and, conversely, if you are a friend to someone who is lost, you may lead that person to trust Christ as her Savior.

Through studying God’s Word, prayer, worship, and Christian fellowship, new believers become progressively changed, or sanctified, to become more like Christ. Philia, or natural affection they feel toward other believers, then becomes more like the self-sacrificing love of Christ as they begin to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). As we are progressively sanctified and conformed to His image, our natural emotional response to fellow Christians can mature into agape love as His indwelling Holy Spirit lets us to love unconditionally and sacrificially, not only other believers but also the unsaved.

1 Peter 1:22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.

Love in Him,

Laurie Collett

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