Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
As students of the Bible, many Christians have come to understand three forms of love, forms that have no exact English words to describe them, so we tend to use the Greek words phileo, eros and agape. Phileo is the basis for positive and edifying relationships between all people, including those who do not have a faith relationship with God. It is the parentís love for a newborn child; it is the bond between close friends; it is the motivation behind the compassion that people have for one another. Phileo is a strong love that can motivate us to do great and wonderful things for one another. Eros is that emotional bond that develops between those who share physical intimacy. This form of love can also motivate us to do great and wonderful things for one another. Much art, music, and poetry has been created that celebrates the expression of both phileo and eros forms of love. This is the love that we see and hear of in the media: television, radio, newspapers, etc. Phileo and eros, though powerful and motivating, are worldly forms of love that are given to those whom we choose when we choose to do so.
The good works that are motivated by phileo and eros are often the same works that are motivated by agape love, that higher love that is given only by the Holy Spirit. Since we are all constantly bombarded by media messages concerning the expression of phileo and eros, Christians can become confused concerning the appropriate expressions of love, and the lost world cannot comprehend the true nature of agape love that is professed and demonstrated by the Church. Christians can come to express phileo love for one another while thinking that they are expressing agape, and through this error find themselves missing the mark of the high calling of Christ.
When an individual comes to faith in God, The Holy Sprit transforms both the heart and mind as one yields to the Holy Spirit and Godís Word, both working together to draw us into obedience to God and to bear spiritual fruit in our lives. The foundational fruit of that transformation is the lifting of love to a new and dramatic level, a level that clearly separates those who have placed their faith and trust in God, and those who have not. There are few messages to Christians that are of greater importance than that meant to bring about the understanding and expression of this higher love, Godís love. At the time of New Testament writing there was no word in the Greek language to express this higher form of love, so it was the apostolic writers who established the word, agape, to represent it.
John the Apostle probably stands out as the one who focused the greatest portion of his works on the subject of agape love, and the short letter of 1 John is an example. The book of 1 John is considered a "General Epistle" since it was not addressed to a specific person or congregation, and addressed theological issues that were priorities in the early church, without regard to a specific congregation. Because of its grammatical content and internal evidence, the writer of 1 John is considered without controversy to be the same writer who penned the Gospel of John and the Revelation. Johnís purpose for writing this letter is indicated in several verses:
1 John 1:4. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
1 John 2:1. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 2:12. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his nameís sake.
1 John 2:13. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
1 John 2:14. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
1 John 2:21. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
1 John 5:13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
So, why did John write this letter, and to whom did he write it?
We can see that John is writing to mature and faithful Christians and is doing so in order to affirm them, encourage them, and to remind them of the truth that they already know. The Christian church was in its infancy, without the advantage of much written theology to work with. The church originated with the testimony of the apostles, and while they were alive, those apostles continued to be the main source of doctrine. However, the combination of their absence from the congregations, and the absence of written guidance, led churches to become vulnerable to the false teachings of some very dynamic leaders.
1 John addresses heresies that were introduced by a group called the Gnostics. There were two groups of Gnostics, the Dosetics and the Cerinthians (not to be confused with Corinthians.) The Dosetics denied the humanity of Christ, seeing him as a mythical god much like the Greek gods. The Cerinthians accepted Jesus' humanity, and taught that he first received the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and gave it up on the Cross. This is the context from which John writes this epistle.
Faced with these heresies, John was also aware of a great strength of the Greek churches: they knew how to love one another. The expression of phileo (as well as eros) love was a fundamental building-stone in the foundation of their culture. We might be reminded that their love for ďphilosophyĒ is in itself the study of the expression of phileo love. It was from this existing understanding of love that John was able to share the gospel message, showing the Greeks a higher love that comes only from God.
1 John 3:1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
How great is God's love? Godís unconditional love for us is so great that he chose to adopt as His own dear children all who would turn to Him in faith. Consider some of the concepts of adoption. Several characteristics of natural adoption may be noted as they will apply to national and spiritual adoption.
- Adoption involves two parties: the adopter and the adoptee. Adoption is initiated by the decision of an adopter and is under his/her authority. The adoptee comes under the authority of the adopter.
- The adoptee is given the name of the adopter. The adoptee will always be identified with the adopter. The adoptee is made part of the family of the adopter.
- In most cultures, the adoptee takes part in the inheritance of the adopter. Under the laws of most governments, including the United States, the inheritance due to an adoptee cannot be revoked.
- Likewise, in most cultures, the adoptee cannot be cast out of the family. A father and mother can disown a natural child, but not one that has been legally adopted.
- The experience of my own natural adoption made me proud of my name and my relationship to my adopted parents. Our response to spiritual adoption should be the same.
- As a child and youth, my remembrance of my life before adoption motivated me to strive to be obedient to my parents and to attempt to never disappoint them. Our response to spiritual adoption should be the same.
The word that John uses for the love that God lavishes upon is the Greek word, agape, a love that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, a love that Jesus and the apostles taught the faithful to share with one another. The importance of Godís love for us, and His call upon Christians to share that same love with others cannot be understated. Agape love is the foundational gift that upholds and forms the expression of all spiritual gifts.
It is important that Christians understand the difference between phileo love and agape love as they seek to be obedient to Godís call to love. Without this understanding one can be exercising only phileo love, thinking that they are sharing Godís love, and become satisfied with something that is far short of Godís purpose for our lives.
AGAPE LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL
What are some of the things that can cause us to lose God's love?
Romans 8:38-39. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is nothing in this world or in heaven that can cause us to lose Godís love. This is extremely important, particularly for those who struggle with sin in their lives. Many may testify that ďI am not good enough for God to love me,Ē or ďGod canít love a person as bad as me.Ē The truth is simply that God loves both the saint and the sinner alike and does not predicate that love based upon our behavior.
As we exercise agape love in our lives, it has that same unconditional characteristic. Whereas we can easily withhold phileo love from someone whom we do not like, agape love cannot be withheld. When we give a greater love to one person than we do to another, that love is not agape; it is phileo. Phileo empowers us to withhold love as we express our prejudice towards others. Agape love knows no such distinctions. Just as Godís love for us is unconditional, a true agape love that is expressed for others is likewise unconditional. We love because God loves us, despite all of our shortcomings and sins. In the same way we love others unconditionally, despite any of their shortcomings or sins.
AGAPE LOVE CANNOT BE EARNED
What did we do to deserve God's love?
Romans 5:8. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Since Godís love is without condition, He did His work in our lives while we were yet sinners. We cannot clean up our lives enough to stand before God without any sin, so it was necessary that God reach down through time and space to touch our hearts even when we were immersed in our sinful state. Without this grace, saving faith would be impossible.
When God created this universe, He loved it and all that is in it, declaring it good. Like the prodigal son, we have all sinned and gone astray while a loving Father waited for our return.
Likewise agape love is not given to others as a reward for their loveliness. People may earn our phileo love, but they can never earn agape. Agape is freely given to all based upon what God has done, and it is not based upon what the one receiving the agape love has done.
AGAPE LOVE IS TO BE SHARED.
Understanding this agape love that God has for us, we also understand that God intends that we share this same unconditional love with one another.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
The book of 1 John contains several comparisons of what is of God and what is not. First, we are called to love one another, not with phileo love, but with agape love. Why is this so important? It is this love that comes from God and rises far above the worldly phileo love that is so subjected to sin. John states that the presence of agape love in a person is a litmus test of their true salvation experience. Johnís purpose, based upon the previously quoted verses, is not to cause us to doubt our salvation. It is, rather, to assure us of that salvation and to open up our hearts to express God's love openly and freely.
However, if the agape love of God simply does not exist within us, according to John, the true experience of salvation has not yet happened. We may have been convinced that we trust God because we believe in Him, yet Satan believes in God. John describes Godís provision for salvation in verse 9. So, how does one come to a true and saving faith?
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
First, accepting salvation requires a decision to do so. The lost person must understand their lost state: each person is a sin-filled soul who is not worthy to enter the presence of a perfect and pure God. One must decide to remove themselves from the throne of their own life, and place Jesus there. The person must decide to acknowledge God as the authority in his/her life. Then, once the decision is made, the person may confess to God that he/she is a sinner who chooses to repent of that sin, and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This is the process by which Jesus serves as the ďpropitiationĒ for our sins. Once we have placed our faith in God, sin no longer has the power to separate us from Him. Still the price of that sin must be paid, the very price that Jesus paid when He went to the Cross of Calvary. Jesus bore the burden of the sin for all those who place their faith and trust in God. Consequently, it is only through the work of Jesus that people can be saved.
Once the decision for salvation is made, the Holy Spirit, seals that decision. Paul states his understanding of that security in his second letter to Timothy:
2 Tim 1:12. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
Some would teach a heresy that states that one can lose their salvation through the expression of any individual, or any number of sins. Some teach that salvation is lost for any sin that one has not subsequently repented of and sought forgiveness. However, the scriptural evidence is clear that salvation is secure, simply because sin no longer has the power to separate us from God. God keeps the commitment for us. The decision for faith was not a vow to stop sinning. The decision for faith was a commitment to repent from our sin, as we strive to live a life of obedience to the one to whom we have committed our lordship.
AGAPE LOVE IS THE BASIC NATURE OF THE FAITHFUL
Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
In verse 11, John repeats what he stated in 3:1, that since we are loved of God, we also love one another. How do we show such love? 1 Corinthians 13 is sometimes used to illustrate the love between a bride and groom, but such use is actually not the focus of that passage. 1 Corinthians 13 provides a point-by-point description of the difference between the expression of true agape love and sin-immersed phileo love. Agape love is always expressed in patience, kindness, without envy, without boasting, without pride or rudeness, it is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs, not delighting in evil, rejoicing with the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering and never failing in these. Phileo love can fail in all of these areas.
Note that phileo love can inspire us to do these same things, but agape love makes these things a basic part of our nature. A person of the world demonstrates such acts of phileo love by choice. A Christian demonstrates acts of agape love because it is the fruit of their nature. What causes the Christian to fail to act this way? How can a faithful Christian be impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, bearing grudges, delighting in evil, failing to protect, trust or hope? This will happen when we take our focus off of Jesus, take our focus off of the truth of Godís Word and rely on phileo love to motivate our relationships.
AGAPE LOVE MAKES US COMPLETE
Without God in us, we are still incomplete, unfulfilled, and imperfect. It is through God's love that this void is filled.
Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
By placing His Holy Spirit, the person of His love in us, we are finally made complete. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word "perfect" to describe our condition. In old English, the word perfect was used to mean without flaw. However, it was also used to mean "complete" and "fulfilled." This is the meaning here. God's love in us is a perfect fruit living in an imperfect soul, fulfilling the purpose that God has for us.
What will be the state of a Christian on the Day of Judgment? When God looks upon a person of faith He will see the reflection of His own agape love in their heart. The presence of the Holy Spirit in that heart serves as the seal of that individualís decision for faith, described in the metaphor of Revelation 20 as a name forever written in the Lambís book of Life.
What will be the state of a lost person on the Day of Judgment? The presence of only phileo love in the heart of the lost does not reflect Godís love. Instead, by living a life that rejected faith in God, the individual will be only continue that rejection as they are forever cast from His presence, and from the comforting and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.
As scary as this scenario may sound, people of faith have nothing to fear. They will be able to stand before God, not on our own righteousness, but by the propitiation of Jesus as our advocate, our lawyer, and our Paraclete.
Should a Christian fear death? It is certainly reasonable to fear the event that is so frequently characterized by suffering, and to regret the impact on our death on others. Still, we have no reason to fear the judgment, regardless of the sins we have committed in our time. The lost will always fear punishment, never knowing for sure if they have been ďgood enough.Ē People of faith have no need to have such fears. John writes of the final judgment when the sins and deeds of all will be exposed. Every idle word we have stated will be revisited. However, those who have placed their faith in God, those whose hearts are filled with Godís agape love, will find that they have been forgiven, and will not be condemned for their sins.
AGAPE LOVE IS COMMANDED OF GOD
We love him, because he first loved us. 20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Why do we love one another with an agape love? God first loved us with that form of love, and put it into our hearts with the presence of the Holy Spirit. John reminds us that we are now to be fully characterized by God's agape love. What should we do if we are harboring a grudge? We must first acknowledge that this attitude is not one agape love, but is an expression of the sinfully conditional phileo form of love.
If we find that we are characterized by a critical and condemning spirit, if we find that we are quick to complain and bicker, if we find that we can easily withdraw our love from any individual, we have uncovered an important need in our lives: to replace that phileo love that has for so long disguised itself as agape, seek forgiveness, and repent by making a recommitment to God to shed the limitations of phileo love, and fully appropriate for ourselves the expression of agape love towards one another.
If we have lived our Christian life on the power of phileo love, shedding its hypocrisy can be difficult. Phileo love establishes a pattern of self-desires, self-will, and hypocrisy that will be hard to break. However, with God, all things are possible. The Christian can take this need to God in prayer, asking for a better understanding of the appropriate expression of agape love.
Once we have shed ourselves of the prejudices and limitations of phileo love, and appropriate for ourselves a heart that is fully expressing agape love, there will be no limit to the way that God can use our gifts for the purposes of the kingdom. There is no limit to the way that God can use us to touch one another with acts of love and charity that serve to strengthen our relationships with one another, encourage one another, and develop a closer relationship with God.
Why would we choose the phileo love of this world? We have been commanded to replace the worldly phileo that characterized our heart before salvation with Godís agape love that will form the basis of our nature when we are fully submitted to the Lord. Let us, even at this time, make a new commitment to love God and love one another in the way that He has called us to do.