Theme: The Nature of Love
In this week’s lessons we learn how Jesus perfectly carries out the biblical understanding of love, and how we, as his disciples, are called to show that same kind of love to others.
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13
As I look at these items at the beginning of this chapterr, I think they characterize the major types of Christian ministry today, even the types of ministry present in a single Christian congregation. When Paul talks about tongues and prophecy, is he not speaking of what we generally call a charismatic type of service? When he speaks of mysteries, knowledge, and faith, is he not speaking there of what we might speak of as a Presbyterian or formal teaching service? When he talks about giving all he possesses to feed the poor, is he not talking about what we would generally characterize as the social gospel, the kind of thing that is also present in many small, sharing types of churches? If he is, then it seems to me that he is saying you can be charismatic, Reformed, or generous in all you do, and still not be born again. So he says, “See to the condition of your heart. Seek God and the reality of knowing God, while God may be found.”
The second section of the chapter deals with love’s nature. In the Greek language there are three main words for love. C.S. Lewis wrote a book in which he added another word, but generally speaking the common words for love are: eroo, from which we get our word “erotic”; phileo from which we get the word “philanthropic”; and agapao, which refers to the divine love. All three types of love are known to the biblical writers.
But it is interesting that when the Bible writes about love, it uses only two of these words. It uses agapao, that is the love God has for the world. Here we think of John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It also speaks about phileo, noting that we are to love the brethren. But it does not speak about eroo. This is because sexual love had become so debased in the culture of the Roman world that it is as if God the Holy Spirit said, “Look, I do not even want that word in my book. There is a true kind of sexual love, but it has become so perverted in the world that I do not even want the word for it in the Bible.”
But notice this corresponding and equally interesting fact. In the classical Greek world, the words eroo and phileo were used, but not the word agapao. Both worlds held in common the idea of family love, phileo. But the Bible did not use the word eroo, and the secular world did not use agapao. Apparently, it knew nothing about divine love. That is also what has happened in our culture. We have such a preoccupation with sexual love in our culture that it is almost impossible to have love mean anything but sexual intimacy. Our world has lost the glory of the love of God. So it shifts over to the other side, and everything becomes distorted by the sexual. This is a tragedy because, as a result the world does not know how to love. Its love is distorted. The world does not love God. It does not love others. It cannot even love itself. Even in sexual matters, the world does not know how to love. It thinks only of “what the relationship will do for me.” If it does not satisfy the individual, the other person is discarded.
Our chapter says that the way to discover what love is, is not by starting at the bottom (with eroo and perhaps getting as far as phileo), but by starting with agapao, the love of God. It is only when we get that right that we learn how the other loves fit in.
What characteristics tend to mark certain denominations or individual churches with which you are familiar? What might they need to add to these they already have?
What three main types of love are found in the Greek language?
Which word does the Bible not use, and why?
Which word did classical Greek not use, and why?
Reflection: How does our own culture understand love? How does it define all three forms? How does it rank them in order of importance?