INTRODUCTORY LESSON TWO – THE WRITTEN NARRATIVE
In our first study together, we looked at various attributes of love and how those qualities define God’s character; as well as His dealings with humanity and His relationship with each one of us. But now we need to talk a little bit about love from a different perspective; we’ve talked about God’s love for us, now let’s talk about our love for God; and what an authentic love for God really looks like.
You know, there are many definitions of love, and there are various kinds of love. Neel Burton M.D., in an article in Psychology Today (2016) reminds us of the seven ancient Greek words for love, and how those various kinds of love express themselves in our world today. Here’s the list:
1. Eros – is physical, sexual, or passionate desire, and is the type most akin to our modern construct of romantic love.
2. Phileo – friendship, affection, fondness, goodwill, or brotherly love. It represents relationships that are founded not only on mutual benefits, but also likeability, enjoyment, companionship, dependability, and trust.
3. Storge – or familial love, pertains to the love between parents and their children. More broadly, storge is the fondness born out of familiarity or dependency and, unlike eros or phileo, does not depend on our personal qualities.
4. Agape – is defined as “the unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” It is the concern we may feel for a complete stranger, or for children suffering in a distant land, or even for nature and the environment. Some Christian philosophers refer to agape as “charity,” or “benevolence.” In it’s highest and purist form, agape can be defined as “altruism” – doing something good for someone else, or sacrificing for someone else, without any thought whatsoever as to how it may benefit oneself. Unlike philia—friendship—or storge—family—agape does not depend on affiliation or familiarity.
5. Ludus – is playful, social, or uncommitted attraction. It the kind of friendships that children form on the playground, or that groups of teens may experience in high school social activities, or that co-workers may form in a friendly work environment. Ludus relationships are casual, undemanding, and uncomplicated—as far as the relationship itself goes. The focus is on fun, or shared experiences, but with no strings attached.
6. Pragma – pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s longer-term interests. It is the attraction between people who share certain personal qualities and compatibilities, or mutual interests, values, and shared goals. Pragma sometimes expresses itself in community involvement, dedication to one’s employer or company, or in love of country, or patriotism, or even adherence to a particular political party, social club, or church.
7. Philautia – is self-love, which can be healthy or unhealthy. A certain measure of healthy philautia is necessary in order to maintain our mental, emotional, and even our physical equilibrium. We all need a healthy dose of self-respect, and a positive self-identity. How can we ever “love our neighbor as we love ourselves,” if we do not love ourselves at all. However, unhealthy self-love leads to selfishness, self-indulgence, narcissism, and even hubris—an inflated sense of one’s own status, abilities, or accomplishments.
So here we have seven variations of the concept of love. Let me ask you, if you were to arrange these seven ideas of love in the order in which they are most prominent in today’s world, how would you arrange them? When you look around you, at your world today, what kind of love, what variation of love, seems to be most prominent, and which is the least prominent; how would you arrange them, one through seven? Now, you may agree or disagree with me, but I think I would arrange them this way – this is what I see going on in the world:
#1 philautia (self-love)
#2 eros (physical, sexual love)
#3 ludus (recreational relationships)
#4 pragma (practical love)
#5 storge (familial love)
#6 philia, or phileo (true friendship, fond affection)
#7 agape (unselfish concern for others, selfless goodwill, sacrificial love)
I know, that’s sad, isn’t it; that I would arrange them that way? That’s certainly not the order in which I would want to see them arranged. But I’m afraid that’s pretty much what I’m seeing in this old world these days. But, you know, Jesus told us it would be this way. Near the end of His life on earth, He gave us a rather scary prophecy, saying:
- “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, MOST PEOPLE’S LOVE WILL GROW COLD. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9-14, NASB)
Did you catch Jesus words there in the middle when He said, “most people’s LOVE will grow cold.” I believe the emerging preeminence of philautia (self-love), and a general disregard for agape (unselfish, sacrificial love) will herald the coming end of this world. In another scary passage of scripture in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes to the evangelist Timothy, who was ministering in the city of Ephesus, telling him:
- But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be LOVERS OF SELF, LOVERS OF MONEY, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, UNLOVING, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, LOVERS OF PLEASURE rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power…” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Here again, we see what life will be like on planet earth in the end times; and the very first thing Paul mentions is, philautia – men will be “lovers of self.” He also goes on to mention ludus – “lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God.” But that’s not so, or it doesn’t have to be so, for you and me. Let me share with you an incredibly powerful little passage of scripture, given by the Apostle Paul to the Christians living in the city of Corinth; he says,
- “For the LOVE OF CHRIST CONTROLS US, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might NO LONGER LIVE FOR THEMSELVES, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NASB).
In this passage, we see that, for the saved children of God, and for all who will be saved, there is a different motivation that drives us. Jesus steps into our world and completely reorganizes and reprioritizes our list of what we love and how we love. No longer are we driven by philautia (self-love), but rather, we are driven by His love. The love of Christ controls us, it compels us. Why? Because He died for us! And because He died for us, we no longer live for ourselves. We live for the One who died and rose again on our behalf. Most people, I’m afraid, will never come around to that kind of love, or to living like that. It’s not simply an emotion. Oh, surely, there are certain emotions involved, I mean, after all, He died for us. And we’re talking here about being compelled or driven by His love for us, certainly there are powerful emotions involved. But it is not simply an emotional thing. It is a commitment thing—a commitment borne of faith in Christ and thankfulness to God for all that has been done on our behalf. And until you have, by faith, stood face-to-face with the love of Christ, as He hung on that cross and died for you, you will never be compelled by the love of Christ to surrender your heart and life to Him. You will never experience saving love.
And what does authentic love, saving love, Christ driven love really look like? Well, it’s not always very easy, that’s for sure. In the Bible we read about a lawyer to stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying:
- “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28, NASB)
Well, if you’ve read the rest of the story, you know that this lawyer guy had a harder time actually putting love into practice than he did talking about it. But, think about what he said. Love the Lord your God with: all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, all your mind. Wow! If you don’t think that will take some effort amid the trials and temptations of this life, you’ve not thought about it very deeply.
Saving love, like saving faith, requires action; it requires that we surrender our hearts and lives to the will of God. Listen to some things Jesus had to say about this kind of love:
- A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NASB).
- “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” … “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him”… Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:15, 21, 23-24, NASB)
- Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you”… “This I command you, that you love one another.” (John 15:9-14, 17, NASB)
In these three passages, Jesus teaches that our love for God is demonstrated by our love for one another; and by our obedience to God’s commandments. When we surrender to the will of God and obey His commands, we’re showing our love for Him. When we find a way to love one another, even when it’s hard to love one another—ever try loving somebody who doesn’t love you, and who doesn’t want you to love them, it’s tough, it might be the hardest thing you’ve ever tried to do—but when we do that, we demonstrate our love for Him. Jesus also makes it clear that, when we refuse to submit to His will, when we refuse to obey His commands, when we refuse to love others like He loves them, we demonstrate that we have little or no love for Him. And, it’s our eternal life with God that hangs in the balance here. The Bible says:
- “…but just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9, NASB)
- “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NASB).
- “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5, NASB).
All three of these verses show us that loving God is a prerequisite to our having eternal life with God, and to our inheriting His blessings. God’s eternal blessings are for those who love Him. But this makes sense, doesn’t it? Because love, His love for us and our love for Him, is the very foundation of our life-giving relationship with Him. It isn’t simply about religion, or your religious practices and traditions. Practicing your religion isn’t going to bring you one step closer to God if your heart doesn’t belong to Him.
Let me ask you something, have you ever been on love’s “one way street?” By that I mean, you felt as though the love was all flowing just one direction; and it wasn’t toward you! You love someone, and so you want to be there for them, you want to do good things for them, you’re even willing to sacrifice your own wants and needs for them. But you never seem to get anything in return, not even a smile or a thank you. It becomes obvious that, if you are loved at all, you’re loved only for what you can do for someone else, what they can get from you; but they don’t love you for who you are. Actually, it’s not you they love, rather, they only love what they can get from you. Have you ever had that experience? If so, you know how much it hurts. You know what, God does, too. God gives and sustains our very lives. Beyond that, He has poured Himself out for us through the sacrificial gift of His only begotten Son. And yet, as Jesus once said: “…the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NASB). Our Lord’s heart must have been breaking as He breathed those words; knowing that He would soon be going to a cross to give His life for all humanity… yet also knowing that most would reject His gift of love.
I want to take a moment to share with you what I consider to be one of the greatest love stories ever told. This story comes from the Bible, and you can read all about it in detail in the book of Job. But, for the sake of time, I’m just going to quickly paraphrase this story for you.
It all begins in the spiritual realm when, as the Bible says, the sons of God all assembled together in the presence of the Lord. And Satan, also, was present for their gathering. God asked Satan where he had been and he told God, “oh, I’ve just been roaming to and fro over the earth.” God said, “Well then, I guess you’re familiar with my dedicated servant, Job.” And Satan responded, “Yeah, well, he only loves you because you bless him so much. Take away his blessings and he’ll curse you to your face.” But God is like, “no, I know this person’s heart; he serves Me because he loves Me.” So, God said to Satan, “go ahead, then, do your thing, strike my servant, see what happens; you can take away everything that he has, only do not touch his body.”
So that’s what Satan did… he took away all of Job’s wealth and every way that he had to make a living; he destroyed his home and all his physical possessions; he even killed every one of Job’s sons and daughters. Yes, other people actually died because of Satan’s great, heavenly challenge to love. They didn’t even know they were pawns on the chessboard and that they were dying for heavenly cause—although I’m sure they know it now, and are honored to have had that privilege—but they died so that heaven and earth, including you and me thousands of years later, could probe and, perhaps, manage to wrap our heads around the depths of committed love. Anyway, Job, of course, was devastated, heartbroken, but he remained true in his love for God.
Then, the Bible says that on another day all the angels came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came among them to present himself to the Lord. And God said to him, “So, what do think about my servant, Job, now?” And Satan said: “Skin for skin! A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face” (Job 2:4, NIV). And God said, “Oh, you think so? Okay then, you have permission to strike his flesh; only do not take his life.” So Satan went out and struck Job with one of the worst fleshly ravages you can imagine. Terrible sores, deeply embedded boils, covering his entire body like 3rd degree burns. Job had to go sit in the ashes of a fire and scrape his flesh with broken pieces of pottery to let out the gruesome puss and infection.
To make matters worse, his own wife gave up hope and told him, “Job, just curse God and die, already!” And then, his so-called “friends” began to show up. You know, we all have those kinds of friends who think they are so wise, and that they know so much. Actually, they were pretty good friends by earthly measure; the Bible says they came to sympathize with Job and to comfort him. They even sat with him for 7 days while he was out there in the ash heap scraping his sores with pottery. But then they began to challenge Job; and to present some very sophisticated arguments looking for a confession. “C’mon Job, what’d ya do? We know God is punishing you for some reason; so, out with it? What’d ya do to make God so mad at you?”
But Job stuck to his guns. He admitted nothing because, well, there was nothing to admit. He maintained and defended his integrity before his friends. But, when they were done, Job himself began to question God. Please understand, his love for God never failed. But, he did question God. “Why, O God, are you allowing all this to happen to me?” And, you know what, God didn’t tell him. God didn’t tell him, “Oh, Job, don’t cha know, you are part of a beautiful love story. You are being tested by Satan to prove to heaven and earth, and future generations for thousands of years to come, what authentic love for God really looks like.” No, God didn’t tell him all that. All God related to Job was, “Hey, I’m God, you’re not!”
God took full responsibility, even though Satan did it, for all that happened to Job. Then He graphically reminded Job that He is the Creator, the giver and sustainer of life. And that He is in control. He wanted Job to know, “I’ve got this!” And Job’s response? Humility, acknowledgement of God’s greatness and power, trust, and an ever deepening commitment to, dependence upon, and love for — God!
Satan lost that battle, big time!!!
So, people claim to love the Lord… “Oh, I love Jesus” they say. But then they live however they want to. They live for the world; the live for earthly treasure; they live for worldly pleasure. They look, and talk, and act like every other secular humanist out there. They live, pretty much, just for themselves, giving back little or nothing to others, or to the Lord; sacrificing nothing. But, you know what, while God will never, ever stop loving us, still, He isn’t going to force Himself on people who despise Him, or who want little or nothing to do with Him. He’s not going to push you into a relationship that you don’t want. And, as these passages of scripture that we’ve looked at today tell us, a life-giving relationship with God, and God’s eternal blessings, are for those who love Him and who want that kind of a relationship with Him. My hope and my prayer for you is that you have opened your heart to the One who loves you most of all; and that you and I are both learning to love Him back by the way we choose to live our lives.
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