This is the second part of the article on the importance of love, written for the Christianwriters.com blog chain. To see the other blogs in the chain, see the links in the sidebar.
The general Greek word for love is agape. Like our word love, agape has a wide range of meaning, from “niceness” (1Cor 4:21) to sacrificial love (John 3:16), and everything in between. Another Greek word used in the New Testament is phileo, translated brotherly love. This term is used sparingly, and refers to close friendships such as shared by family, especially the family of God.
In 1Corinthians 13 Paul uses agape, explaining how Christian love should manifest. This love is not necessarily a feeling. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus commanded us to love even our enemies. It is unusual that we should have the emotions of love toward a person who hates us or who we consider as our enemies. So love is also a choice, something we decide to do.
But love is not grudging. A recalcitrant child obeys their parents with bad attitude because they are forced to do something which they do not want to do. We may keep this Scripture and give good to our enemies, but if our attitude is like this child, then we are not operating in love. God loves a cheerful giver.
In Acts, we read about a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold some property to provide for the church. The problem is, they declared they gave all the proceeds to the church, when they had only given part. They were reluctant to part with all the money, but did not want to appear cheapskates to the rest of the church. They gave for their own glory rather than out of love. Their sin was not that they only gave part, but that they lied about it, and God called them on it and killed them on the spot.
We see this basic root sin all the time. Missionaries and churches promise to put your name on a brick of the new church or clinic if you donate a certain amount of money to their cause. A few years ago I visited a different local church which had just built a new sanctuary. There in the lobby on a table were the pictures of their largest building fund donors. While I do not know for sure their motives, it looked to me like they gave for their own recognition and glory (if it had been me, I would have refused that particular kind of honor). Matthew 6:1-4 says they received their reward in full with the earthly glory, but there is no eternal value to their giving.
Thus God calls us to walk in love toward our brothers in Christ, toward God, and even toward our enemies.
Jesus dictated several letters in Revelation 2 and 3. The first one was to a church which was diligent in works, but had forgotten love. They had the right doctrines and could recognize the false teachers and preachers. They labored in service to the Lord, but it was out of legal duty as a slave is bound to obey his master. They had the works, but their motivation was wrong.
We are not slaves forced to do God’s will whether we want to or not. We are children of God with a mighty inheritance. We should obey and do God’s will because we love Him and wish to honor Him for the things He has done for us. We should live right because we desire to keep the family name honorable out of love for fellow believers who also bear the name of Christ.
The church at Ephesus had persevered and labored for Christ, had not grown weary in doing good works, but they did not have a personal relationship with Christ. Jesus once said many will say to Him on judgment day, “Didn’t we do all these works in Your Name,” to whom Jesus will reply, “Depart from Me, you who worked inequity, I never knew you.” They thought they were doing God’s will, but they did not know the God for whom they labored.
Genuine, Christian agape brings unity. If we love each other, we will build each other up in the faith, exhort to stand firm for our Lord. Agape is an action word, something we do. I have heard some say if they felt more love they would give more or help others more or forgive more easily. Because they do not feel love toward the poor, the addict, the criminal, the one who sinned, or their enemy, that is the excuse not to show compassion for them. God says, “Love them, even as I loved you.”
Sometimes love must be sacrificial. Jesus said there is no greater love than laying your life down for another. Love is forgiving and redemptive. Romans declares how much God loves us, that while we were still sinners in rebellion against Him Christ died for our sakes. He chose to die at the hands of His enemies, at the hands of sinners, though it was in His power to call legions of angels to smite them. He died that we might see His great love and turn to Him for salvation.
We also are called to sacrificial love. Choose to act in love toward the unlovely, willingly and cheerfully – not reluctantly as a recalcitrant child. Then God will reward you with spiritual treasures. Then God will bring the feelings of compassion and love toward them.
It is like God’s instructions for defeating the devil: Submit to God (first), then resist the devil and he will flee. First comes obedience to God as an act of your will; First comes choosing love. Then God will empower us to love them.