Give Yourself to Others …

Archive for September 2009

Okay, here’s where I am:  what does it mean to love?

I mean, let’s face it, love is so overused — used to mean so many different things — that it has become almost meaningless.  Can anyone dispute that?

In the New Testament, as well as the Greek language, there are several words which we translate as “love” in English.  Specifically, they are:

eros — the root word for erotic.  Obviously, a reference to the physical aspects of infatuation, sexual arousal, etc.

phileo — “brotherly love.”  This is the beginning of Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love) and philanthropy.  It is also used to describe the affection between friends.  So there is this sense of reciprocated care between two people.

agape — this is the word Jesus used in John 13 and 15, which I talked about last time.  He used it in a lot of other places as well.  It’s the word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 13.  The King James Version translated it “charity” in 1 Cor 13.  One of the best definitions I’ve run across is from Bill Clark:  giving yourself to others for their good, expecting nothing in return.”  I think you could also say “requiring nothing in return.”

That’s the way Jesus loved us.

Another point — note the different standards for love when Jesus cites the Old Testament:  Love your neighbor as yourself; compared to Jesus’ new command in John 13:  Love one another as I have loved you.

Have you ever taken note of people who seem to really dislike themselves?  Treat themselves pretty poorly?  Well, if we stick with the love your neighbor as yourself standard, if you’re one of the folks who don’t think much of themselves, you might treat others as poorly as your treat yourself.

However, then consider how the standard changes if you move to Jesus’ new command in John 13: Love one another as I have loved you. Wow, what a difference.  Now, it’s not how I treat myself that becomes the baseline, it’s how Jesus treated me.  While I don’t like the “advertising” connotations of “what would Jesus do”, it is the right question.

How do I love you the way Jesus loves you?

That is a standard to try to live by.

That’s what really matters!


Okay, so, I’ve gotten to the point that I’m focused on the two commands that Jesus described as the greatest commands in the Mosaical Law:  Love God … and love your neighbor as yourself.

I’m not sure exactly how long I contemplated the question of how those commands work themselves out in my life.  It seemed like a long time, but I didn’t try to keep track of the time.

Then, one days I was watching brief video presentation by one of my spiritual mentors, Landon Saunders.  He was talking about 1 John 4.  And, the light bulb lit up.  Here’s the important versions, beginning in 1 John 4:7 (NIV)

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

What struck me about this passage is that it seems to say, you can tell if someone loves God, by whether he loves his brother.  (I’m ignoring the question of who is my brother, for the moment.)  That seems much more understandable.  I can get my mind around that.  It seems very simple and clear.

The simplicity and clarity of this idea was reinforced when I read two section of the Gospel of John… 13:34 and 15:32.  First, John 13:34 (NIV), you can read the entire context by reading the whole chapter:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Wow.  Talk about simple and straight forward:  Love one another, the way Jesus loved us.  Could it be any simpler to grasp!  Not easy to do but anyone can get that message.

Just for emphasis, Jesus repeated himself in John 15, specifically, verses 9-17 (NIV)

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

Note the emphasis I added — almost identical to John 13:34.  Straight from the mouth of Jesus.

Here’s another interesting point, which I make for emphasis.  I looked up the Greek word for command, to see where else Jesus used the word.  The only place Jesus used the word command to describe his own words are here in John 13 and John 15.  Even several years after discovering this point, I’m a little cautious about making too much of it.  But I still think it is a telling point.

But now I’m faced with the other question I posed earlier — what does it really mean to love?  Six Greek words = One English word.  That doesn’t help much.  So, next time, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about that.

So, I started looking for the single premise from which everything else comes.  That may not seem like the right question for you, but it seemed right to me — and in fact, still does.

Eventually, I settled — likely to no one’s surprise on the following passage from Matthew 22:34-40 (quoted here from The Message)

The Most Important Command

34-36 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?”

37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

After all, we’ve got Jesus saying everything in God’s Law comes from these two commands.  It seems pretty clear.

One of my personal guidelines is that the simplest answer is generally the best answer.  Answers cannot always be simple, but those are still the best ones.  And this passage seems to fit that requirement.  Although I confess, I’m continually a little amazed how many believers seem to refute that these are the most important commands.  They both seem to, and often admit to, placing other, more detailed commands ahead of these.  But ultimately, each of us is accountable for what we individually believe — so, to each his, or her, own.

After finally settling on these, I began contemplating what they really mean.  They are such fundamental principles that they may be simple to quote, but they are very difficult to fully apply to life.

My contemplations resulted in two dilemmas, which I could not easily resolve:

  • What does it really mean to love God?

Now, I get it that my love for God should be all consuming — at least that’s how I understand the implications of the heart, soul, strength and mind references.  But what can I really do for God.  Sure, I can worship him, as I should.  But I also have no illusion that God does not need my love in order to be God.  God is not changed by my love for him.  Much more likely is that I am changed by my love for God.  So, I didn’t know exactly the implications of loving God so completely.

  • What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?

Some folks get preoccupied with the “who is my neighbor? question, but the story of the Samaritan, to me, pretty much clarified that, at the very least, my neighbor is anyone with whom I come into contact, anyone, anytime.

But the other question is what does it mean to love someone the way I love myself?  I mean, I know some people who really treat themselves poorly.  And what would this verse mean about how they treat others.  Surely, it’s not a basis to treat other poorly, just because I have a bad attitude about myself, or whatever.

So, I struggled with what the standard is for loving.

And a related question is the question of what is even means to love.  There are six different Greek words for love, but us English speakers are stuck with just one.  Got to find a better word for love, too.


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