Sunday, March 1, 2015

Understanding the Love God Wants Us to Have For Others

In the English language, we generally use one word to express "love." We LOVE our parents, we LOVE coffee, we LOVE our friends and we LOVE a movie or TV show.

But this was not so with other cultures, and was not true of the ancient Roman world that translated our Master Jesus' words into common Greek.

There were at least six terms to express "Love" known to Greek-speakers, and a few of these ended up in the Gospel texts.

One of these, Philia or Philos, is the form of love that exists between friends. We recognize it most clearly, perhaps, in the word "Philadelphia," the city of brotherly love. And that's a good definition for it.

This word represents a friendly bond of shared interests, and in mutual likes and dislikes, and it can depend solely on these common interests or grow into a friendship that is very deep and long-lasting, and a positive bond of affection. Jesus says, "I call you friends." (John 15:15)

Eros is the Greek word for erotic, sexual and possessive love. It's based on lust and desire, and as such, is fickle and can be fleeting and lost quickly. Flames that burn brightest often burn quickest, and give off more heat and light. Even pagan Greeks of the time were said to fear such a love, because it was often uncontrollable and dangerous.

Agape love is the pure love of God - the love that people mean when they talk of "selfless" love. This is the love God has toward us and the love we are meant to give to our neighbors, to God, and even to our enemies. In Latin, Agape was translated "Caritas" from which we get our word "Charity."

We are called upon by Jesus to have this Agape - this Godly concern and selfless care for others. In fact, this is an obligation of charity we have towards ALL other people.

When Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?" (Luke 6:32) the Greek word we use to translate "love" is rooted in "Agape."

When he says we are to "love one another. As I loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34) he also speaks of "agape." The same with "If you keep my commands, you will remain in my AGAPE, just as obey the commands of the Father and remain in His AGAPE." (John 15:10)

The same root word is used when Jesus says we are to LOVE our God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. (Luke 10:27)

Once we understand Agape love - the love of God wishes us to have towards him and others - all other kinds of love are affected.

Jesus calls on us to have LOVE towards both God and our neighbors, , even our enemies (Matt. 5:44.) This is Agape - pure, self-sacrificing and "others-centered" rather than self-centered or self-loving.

In fact, Jesus ties love of friends and Agape together, saying "Greater love [Agape] has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends [Philon]." (John 15:13)

When we have an appropriate understanding of love, it affects everything. And a false understanding of love actually becomes dangerous.

Love of "things" is tempered by the appropriate love we're supposed to have towards them. Eros, or sexual love, become tamed by tenderness and is affected by it.

When Jesus says we may ask ANYTHING of God in prayer, we must understand that love of money and love of things should not enter into that prayer, because that is a greed for material possessions, not a pure love and the balanced understanding of "things" that God wishes us to have.

To know that we are to seek from God only spiritual things that don't rot or fade away, we know we can ONLY ask in prayer out of a pure Love for others and for THEIR spiritual well-being (and for our own spiritual completeness) rather than for material riches that aren't helpful to the advancement of God's Kingdom.

If we call Jesus our friend and Master, we will do all that he asks us to do. He calls us to love and care for others without reservation, selflessly, and in all purity.

Let us go and do as he calls us to do.

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