Saturday, February 23, 2019

What Is Love?

As we in the United States celebrate National Heart Month and are still basking in the glow of Valentine’s Day, it is appropriate to consider what love truly is. We use the term very loosely, as in “I love chocolate!” Great songs, poems, and books have been written about love, but what do the writers mean by love? There are three Greek words describing love: eros, phileo, and agape.

Eros refers to erotic or sexual love and is seldom used in the Bible, but this type of love is often exploited in songs, movies, and TV of today. In isolation, eros is not really love at all, because it is a form of lust that demeans its object as merely an end to satisfy one’s own needs. It often borders on hate, as we see when lust led Amnon to rape his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13). When he had what he wanted, he hated her even more intensely than he had once desired her (v. 15).

Yet when eros is accompanied by love within the marriage relationship as God designed it, it forges an unbreakable, exclusive bond between man and wife, causing them to become one flesh (Genesis 2:21-25; Mark 10:6-9). This type of romantic and physical marital love is beautifully depicted in the Song of Solomon. Many regard this poem as an allegory describing the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22-32).

Phileo appears often in the Bible, referring to brotherly love. It is the root word of “Philadelphia,” meaning brotherly love. Many of our human relationships, such as those between brothers and sisters in Christ, schoolmates, or other friends or family, are based on phileo. Despite our sin nature, this type of affection comes fairly naturally to most of us because we find the resulting relationships to be rewarding. Often we form such relationships with like-minded people with whom we have much in common, and we enjoy their company because they think and act like we do.

Even unsaved people have natural affection for their family and friends. However, Scripture warns that in the End Times, that affection will grow cold, and men will love pleasure more than they love God or one another (2 Timothy 3:1-3). We see this today when mothers abort or abandon their children for convenience or fathers slaughter their family, because they have no love even for their own flesh and blood.

The expectation in relationships governed by phileo is that we will help one another, encouraging each other (2 Corinthians 1:4), praying for one another (James 5:16), bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and exchanging gifts or uplifting messages. Friends may often provide substantial help when needed, such as errands, moving, home maintenance, food or medicine when one is sick, or even a job opportunity or financial assistance.

I know of someone in our former church, a mother in her forties, who is an amazing example of this type of brotherly love. Her close friend and sister in Christ recently married a diabetic, and several months later, he developed kidney failure that became so severe that he needed a kidney transplant. His wife was not a good match to be an organ donor, but her friend was, and she gave her kidney so that her brother in Christ would live and so that her sister in Christ would not lose her husband! Praise the Lord, all are doing well!

But even when the giving becomes lopsided because one is going through tougher times than the other, the unspoken assumption is “You scratch my back – I’ll scratch yours,” or “I’ve always been there for her, so she’ll always be there for me.” If we are honest with ourselves, we may realize that some of these relationships are actually more like a contractual partnership than a true friendship, and we may begin to resent the “friend” who takes much more than she gives.

The truest form of love described in the Bible is agape, or self-sacrificing love that gives freely and completely while expecting nothing in return. Sacrificial, anonymous giving may be motivated by agape, provided it is not done to bolster one’s ego, pride, or self-righteousness.

The apostle Paul warned that even if we give away all our possessions to feed the poor, and even give our own body to be burned, it does us no good unless we do it out of sacrificial love, translated as charity (1 Corinthians 13:3).  When we face Jesus Christ at the judgment seat for believers, even magnanimous deeds like these will burn up in the fire of judgment (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) unless they were motivated by true love for God and for one another.

Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), even though they would destroy us if they had the chance, much less thank us. (Praying for our enemies to be exiled to Siberia doesn’t count!). Jesus told us that the greatest form of love, which He exemplifies, is to lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13).

Many people would take a bullet to spare the life of their child or wife, because they love that person more than they value their own life. Many soldiers end up sacrificing their life to protect their fellow troops or country. But in these examples, the sacrifice is usually impulsive rather than premeditated, and protects a person or idea of great worth to the person making the sacrifice.

In contrast, true agape, like that shown by Jesus Christ, sacrifices while fully aware of the cost (Matthew 16:21) and of the absence of reward. It commits to the sacrifice well in advance (Isaiah 50:6-7), and benefits those who hate rather than love the one who dies. He sacrificed Himself for His enemies (Romans 5:6-10), so that all who are saved by trusting in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) can have eternal life!

Next week, we’ll explore the concept that a better question than “What is love?” may be “Who is Love?” and that the answer is Jesus Christ!

© 2019 Laurie Collett


Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Weakest Member

Photo by LuisFi 2010

On a day at sea during our recent cruise to Cuba, I attended a complimentary “spa pampering party,” replete with beauty tips and an opportunity to try different facial products. One of the imparted nuggets of wisdom was to always use your ring finger to apply cream, lotion or serum to the eyelids and under-eye area. Because the ring finger is the weakest finger, it is best suited for touching this delicate skin without damaging it by causing undue pressure or friction.

It reminded me of the “five-finger prayer,” which we can use as a prayer guide to remember to pray for different groups of people. The thumb, which is closest to our body in most natural positions of the hand, represents our family, friends, and those closest to us. The index finger, also known as the pointer, symbolizes those who point us toward the truth of God’s Word, i.e. the pastors and teachers. The middle finger, being the tallest, reminds us to pray for government leaders, officials, and others in authority over us.

The ring finger, being the weakest, reflects those who are weakest among us because of physical or emotional frailty or financial need, or those who are spiritually lost because they have not yet trusted Christ as their Savior by believing that He died to pay for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) so that all who trust Him may have eternal life (John 3:16).

And finally, the fifth or little finger reminds to pray for ourselves last, because to have the servant mind and heart of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:1-8), we must put our own needs behind those of others. Doing this also puts our own problems in perspective and shows us that our own trials are not as severe as those of many of our brethren. It reminds us that our leading responsibility in prayer is to bear one another’s burdens,
love one another (1 John 3:11; Romans 12:9-10,16), and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-4).

Thinking about the ring finger being the weakest, and therefore paradoxically best equipped for the specific task of handling fragile skin, I began to reflect on whether the weakest members in the church body might also be uniquely suited for a particular purpose. Perhaps because of their weakness, they are in the best position to offer compassion, consolation and comfort to those who are also hurting (2 Corinthians 1:4-6), whether from illness, trials, or loss of fellowship with God or fellow believers because of unconfessed or willful sin.

Two examples come to mind from my own experience. The first was a physically disabled man who could not speak because of a severe facial deformity. Yet he was a model of faithfulness, attending church every time the doors were open, and making it a point to offer a comforting hug or holding up his hands folded in prayer for anyone with a prayer request or special need. I wonder how many with lesser physical problems were inspired to greater service because of his faithful service and willingness to use whatever abilities God had given him to His glory?

The second example was a brash, unpolished, impulsive man who suffered from post-traumatic stress, history of substance abuse, and physical injuries. He was a “loose cannon” when I first met him, and yet he underwent a rapid transformation once he came to know the Lord. He eagerly helped out in any church activity in which he was needed, even making his own ministry opportunities to answer unrecognized needs. Ultimately his personality changed and he became polite and self-restrained, yet he used his zeal to lead others to the Lord, especially those who had problems similar to his own.

The apostle Paul stresses the importance of each member in the church (Romans 12:4-8), or body of Christ, just as each part of our physical body is indispensable (1 Corinthians 12). God designed us in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27) to be fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We all appreciate our eyes, ears, mouth and limbs, but do we recognize the importance of our little toe or our appendix? All it takes is for either of these to be injured or inflamed for us to be painfully aware of their presence (Proverbs 25:19). Medical science is now confirming the purpose of body parts like the tonsils, which ward off disease, even though these used to be removed routinely.

Similarly, the body of Christ should give thanks for, encourage, and welcome even the weakest member, for God designed each of us from before the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10) with a plan to glorify Him!     

© 2019 Laurie Collett