Friday, February 18, 2011

Christianity Characterized in a Word

During this past week I have been studying Biblical love. Most people know 1 John 4:8 “God is love” and the fact that Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. In addition, many people are familiar with portions of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, also known as the great love chapter of the Bible, as it is often quoted during marriage ceremonies.

But what does Biblical love look like in action?

I believe one of the best examples in Scripture that pictures the type of love Jesus has for His children is found in the life of the Disciple John. He is referred to as the disciple Jesus loved and it is said of him that he loved Jesus. This of course begs the question - did the other disciples not love Jesus? Or did John simply love him more?

According to John MacArthur, when we read John’s gospel account, “we enter into the most sacred holy place of all, the holy of holies and we see God in person, God in flesh. And so the fourth gospel is the gospel of all gospels. It is the holy of holies of the New Testament. It is almost as if we ought to take off our shoes for we stand on holy ground as we approach this gospel because it presents in the most magnificent glory the deity of Jesus Christ. It talks about His humanity, it talks about His servant hood, it talks about His kingship, but it presents primarily His deity. It is behold your God that John is trying to get across.”

It would seem based on John’s writings that he had an intimate knowledge of Jesus unlike anyone else. Of course, John was the only disciple at the cross. Even Peter who when told that Jesus would suffer many things and be killed, bolded declared, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” (Matthew 16:22)  We also remember that when the Lord was carrying His cross to Calvary, Peter was busy denying Him three times.

But John was there, wasn’t he? He was at the cross as Jesus told him to take care of His mother. John, unlike the other disciples, was not fearful of losing his life or ashamed to be associated with Jesus because he loved him. Because he LOVED Him. Love compelled John to follow the Savior anywhere – even to the cross. And as a result of this great love, when John was isolated on the island of Patmos for his faith, cut off from civilization on that small, deserted island. Shut off from everyone. He was shut up to God and there received the most extensive revelation of future events ever shown to any writer in the New Testament.

Unfortunately in today’s word, love is associated with a feeling or an emotion. The Greek language, which is the language of the New Testament, uses two different words to describe and define love. The most commonly used Greek word translated “love” in the New Testament is “agape.” This love is represented by God's love for us. It is a non-partial, sacrificial love probably best exemplified by God's provision for our rebellion as found, by no coincidence, in the Gospel of John chapter three, verse 16, “For God so loved (agape) the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

In contrast, our love is usually conditional and based upon how other people behave toward us. The Greek word “phileo” defines this kind of love, often translated “brotherly love.” Phileo is an emotional kind of love. It is something that can be experienced by both believers and non-believers. This is in contrast to agape, which is love extended through the Holy Spirit and requires a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This kind of love gives and sacrifices expecting nothing back in return.

As we walk with the Lord and become conformed to His image, agape love should be apparent in our life. It is this type of love that makes the world sit up and take notice because it is only possessed by believers. It is agape love in action that magnifies the message of the gospel for it is the very center of it – God loving us while we were yet sinners! It is a statement we should never get over. It is a love we should never get over. And it should compel us to follow the Savior, as it did John, all the way to the cross.

"Every Christian would agree that a man's spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God." - C. S. Lewis

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