This is going to be a two-parter. The first part will be a lot more like what I usually write. The second part will be a lot more complex, and I’ve had to pray about whether or not I should even publish it, but so far, the answer I’ve gotten is to publish it. So, enjoy this first part, and heed the second part.
There are few things more important in life than love. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean romantic love, though this definitely can be an important part of your life. The intent of this post isn’t to get into the different meanings of the various forms of love in the Greek, but it’s essential to understand that there are three different kinds of love in the Greek language: Agape; Eros; and Philos. That romantic love is, as can probably be guessed, eros. Philos is the love you have for your brother. Maybe the easiest way to keep this straight is to think about the city of Philadelphia. As we’ve said, ” Philos is one of the words used in Greek for ‘love’. Adelphos is the Greek word for brotherly. This is why Philadelphia is sometimes called the city of brotherly love, even if this description is a tad bit excessive when it comes to Philly. Finally, agape is the benevolent love that God has for us. There’s the overview; let’s move on to whatever comes next.
The first time love is mentioned in the bible is in chapter 22 of Genesis, when God tells Abraham to take his son “who he loves” to be sacrificed. There’s a different rabbit trail that could be gone down, which deals with how Abraham’s willingness to give up his own son, even though he had great love for him, is pointing toward that John 3:16 moment where, because of His great love for the world He created, The Father was willing to give up His own Son in order that the world might be saved. I think it should be pointed out that when we think about John 3:16, we don’t often put Abraham in the mix. We think of God as an impersonal being who just did what He had to do, and we forget that Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac was meant to show us a piece of the story of the life of Jesus. As much as we can imagine it was difficult and painful for Abraham, it’s worth imagining that God felt that, as well. In fact, when the Septuagint – which is the Greek version of the Old Testament which was completed around 200 years before the time of Jesus, and is the version of the Hebrew Scriptures that the Apostolic Fathers used when quoting the Old Testament in the books of the New Testament – records the account of Abraham and Isaac, it uses the word agape, and not one of the other forms of love.
Why, then, is it important to know the differences between these different loves?
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If, as disciples of our Master, Yeshua, the world around us is supposed to be able to tell that we are disciples of his by the love we show for one another, it’s probably important to know which kind of love it is we’re supposed to be showing. You’ve probably already guessed that the word for love used in this verse isn’t eros, though that would make for a much more absurdly funny (and hedonistic) Christianity. So, the question is, are we supposed to be known by our philos for one another, or our agape for one another? Are we supposed to be known for our brotherly love or our self-sacrificing, godly love? I could just tell you, or you could just look it up real quick, but I want to point out something else Jesus said a few minutes after He told his disciples that they will be known by their love for one another:
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)
This verse probably makes it pretty obvious, but the kind of love we’re supposed to be known by is our agape love for one another. So, the next obvious question would have to be, who is ‘one another’? Are we just talking about other Christians, or are we talking about everyone?
I want to start out by saying that even if we’re talking about just the Christians, this is not an easy task. There are Christians who are doing terrible things, some of them even (erroneously) doing terrible things in the name of the Lord. So even if this command from Jesus just means that we need to love our fellow Christians so much that those in the world around us can see that we’re different because of the love that we’re showing for them, this is not going to be an easy commandment to follow. But – what if it’s the other one? What if, when Jesus says that we’re supposed to be able to be known as His disciples by the way we show love, He means to everyone?
When, in Luke 10:25-37, Jesus was approached by a man who was an expert in the Torah and asked how one inherits eternal life, He responded by asking this expert in the law what the law has to say about it. When this man answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 (love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself), Jesus said that the man was correct. In this, we can see that to love YHWH is to love your neighbor because all people were created as image-bearers of YHWH. But, here’s the part that I think is pertinent to what we’re talking about; when the expert in the law heard Jesus agree with him, he automatically tried to limit who would be considered his ‘neighbor’. So, Jesus, seeing what he was doing, told the parable of the Good Samaritan, where He makes it abundantly clear that all people, even the person you hate, is your neighbor.
When we question whether we’re supposed to be known by our love to everyone and attempt to argue that we’re only supposed to be known by our love for fellow believers, we’re doing the same thing the expert in the law did when he questioned who his neighbor was. And Jesus has an answer for that (Luke 10:30-37).
This is why, when I read the command of Jesus to love one another in order to be known as one of His disciples, I read it to mean that we’re supposed to love everyone, and not just other Christians. I’ll not be the one potentially putting a muzzle on the love we’re supposed to show our neighbor. I don’t want anyone to be able to question whether I’m a disciple of King Jesus. If I want to shout from the rooftops that I am a disciple of King Jesus, He says that we do that by loving those around us. Sure, post it on your Facebook wall, but that’s not the command of Jesus; the command of Jesus is to self-sacrificially love those around you, even unto death.