[The dog ate my homework, but it wouldn’t stay down. :)]
I love spaghetti.
I love my wife.
I love my child.
I love my country.
You know, the Greeks had different words for “love”, while English has one word with a vast number of synonyms. Love is often elevated as the ideal, but if we don’t know what it is, then how do we know if we match up to the ideal?
Yesterday morning, I read an excellent blog article by UCG’s Mike Bennett on the Forward to the Kingdom! blog. In the article “By This All Will Know…”, he wrote:
But though many of these things [keeping the Sabbath, obeying and bearing fruit] are visible to our neighbors, what was the one thing that Jesus Christ said would be the way “all will know that you are My disciples”?
Love. “If you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
But don’t all groups, from animists to atheists, have love for their own members? How does God’s Church stand out in this?
An excellent question, if you ask me! At its foundation, though, is the question “What is love?” Yet, when asked what constitutes love, you too often get the reply “keeping the commandments”. I would suggest to you that people who rotely spout that off are thinking one dimensionally. No, the commandments stem from love; they are the expression of it.
Put another way: What are the 2 greatest commandments? I think you know the answer. All others come from those 2.
What did Paul say about doing all sorts of great things but not having love? Wouldn’t keeping the commandments, at least in the letter, qualify for his list as well?
Godly love was considered so important that a special Greek word was used to describe it. You have heard it: “agape”. It wasn’t a common word. In fact, some preachers used to teach that the NT writers made it up because it was so rarely used! According to Wikipedia, Thomas Jay Oord defined it as: "an intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which has generated ill-being."
It was used to describe a love so great, yet so humble, so unselfish, that a person of the Godhead would die for a bunch of selfish, sinful, despicable pieces of animated dirt!
The Greeks probably had it right in the regard of different categories of what might be better classified as either “affection” or “desire”. They distinguished between love of fellow human beings and erotic love with different words.
I wanted to say I love chocolate as much as the next person, but I’ve noticed that there are times I can turn it away. There are some that really love chocolate. That’s OK, because I love spaghetti. I might just eat some of that leftover spaghetti for breakfast this morning. However, this is a worldly love. It is based upon the desire for pleasure (in this case, pleasure of the taste buds).
Now, some might put sexual pleasure as a love of that type, but within the proper confines it doesn’t have to be strictly that way. I can be romantic with my wife, for instance, and while it is pleasurable, it is also about pleasing someone else. It is this romantic type of love, and the perversion of it, that make so many movies, plays and romance novels. The problem is that people don’t put this type of love in its proper context, and it is often confused with the seeking of pleasure.
Going down a different path, I love my child. There is a bond between members of the same family that is the glue that keeps them together. It is often seen as a more “pure” type of love, and yet how different is this type of love than what you often see in the animal kingdom? The “extended self” theory would hold that by viewing your family members as an extension of self, loving and protecting them is really just loving and protecting self. While this seems crassly cynical, I think it applies in some cases. Just watch the news and think about how some people might really think that way. Having said this, it would appear that since God is building a family, it comes about as close to Godly love as one can get. In spite of the evening news, it is more normal for a parent to want to lay down their life for their child than to harm it.
I love my country. Of course, I don’t always love what my country does, perhaps even less than I sometimes don’t love what certain family members do. If you buy into the extended self theory, though, even this far too often boils down to an “us vs. them” mentality that causes strife and wars all over the world.
Yet, each of these are rooted in desire. So, the obvious question is: Is desire wrong? No, not in and of themselves. Even temptations are desires, and temptation is not a sin. It is the giving in of temptation that is sin. Therefore, desires are not in and of themselves sin. Part of human life is about fulfilling desires in a Godly manner. By putting our desires into context, we more closely align ourselves with God’s will in our lives.
4Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. (Psalm 37:4, King James Version)
In reality, God wants us to desire Him!
11O LORD, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king’s cupbearer. (Nehemiah 1:11, King James Version)
And, even God Himself desires!
14If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
15Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands. (Job 14:14-15, King James Version)
5Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.
6For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:5-6, King James Version)
Not only that, but God Himself experiences pleasure.
10Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: (Isaiah 46:10, King James Version)
21Bless ye the LORD, all ye his hosts; ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure. (Psalm 103:21, King James Version)
9Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: (Ephesians 1:9, King James Version)
Notice, though that it is an unselfish type of pleasure (a “good pleasure”), quite unlike many normal human pleasures! It is God’s pleasure to give!
32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32, King James Version)
OK, so keeping the commandments, all of them and not just 9 out of 10, is important. However, let us also remember to keep them in spirit and not just the letter. That spirit is a spirit of love! Remember, God is a spirit, and God is love. Therefore, His Spirit is full of love!
Too many factions within the Churches of God seem to decry the “emotionalism” of some religions on the one hand and drain any real emotion out of their worship services, but they turn around and charge others with a lack of zeal. This is a hypocritical view of worship designed to do nothing less than justify their superior attitude. Jesus said to love God with “all thy heart” (“the vigour and sense of physical life”, the seat of emotions) and “all thy mind” (the “faculty of understanding”), not just one or the other. We are to even love God with “all thy soul”, meaning “the breath of life”, i.e., even our daily life processes.
God wants a balance. Religion based upon emotionalism guarantees a rollercoaster ride, seeing as we cannot artificially keep our emotions elevated at a constant rate. If nothing else, life throws too much at us. However, religion based only upon facts, evidence or “the truth” and nothing else is perhaps even more hollow. I would even suggest to you that Mr Spock of Star Trek, if he existed, would not make it into the Kingdom.
So, while I “love” many things, it helps to keep it all straight to remember that “love” is a rather ambiguous word. Loving God is most important, but there is a type of love for my wife, my child and my country. And, now I’m hungry, so I’m going to eat that spaghetti that I love for breakfast now. Everyone have a blessed day!