By Larry White
This morning I would like to look at the subject of love.
There are four root words for LOVE in the Greek:
agape agaph (255 times in the New Testament) It means charity, concern, or care.
phileo filew (25 times) It means affection; where we get the words Philadelphia and philanthropist.
storge storgh (2 times) Used only in the negative, astorgos. Family love.
eros eroV (0 times) Erotic, passionate, sensual
I.) A definition of love is a study within itself.
1.) [W.E. Vine] "Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. Not the love of complacency, or affection... It was an exercise of the divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God himself."
2.) [I.S.B.E] "Love, whether used of God or man, is an earnest and anxious desire for, and an active and beneficent interest in, the well-being of the one loved."
3.) [Thayer] "affection, goodwill, love, benevolence
4.) [Wuest] "Agapao speaks of a love which is awakened by a sense of value in an object which causes one to prize it. It springs from an apprehension of the preciousness of an object. It is a love of esteem and approbation. The quality of this love is determined by the character of the one who loves, and that of the object loved."
5.) [Wm. Barclay] "Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live. Agape has supremely to do with the will."
By far the best definition of agape is the one the apostle Paul gives us in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians.
The background of this passage is that the Corinthians were all excited about the spiritual gifts they had, and they were laying undue stress and importance on the most outward and flamboyant gift of tongues, i.e. foreign languages. In doing this, they were forgetting what was most important in the life of a Christian and only thinking about temporary gifts.
So in 1Cor.12:31 Paul points them in the right direction which has to do with the cultivation of love.
And God has placed these in the assembly: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that powers, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all operators of powers? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with languages? Do all interpret?
But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
In the first three verses on chapter 13 he shows the surpassing importance and value of love. Without it the Christian's life is nothing.
Though I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all the mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Then in verse 4, he begins to describe the characteristics of love.
v4. Love suffers long: This means to be patient in bearing the offences and injuries of other people, even when they are repeated. Makroqumia, makro = long, thumia = heat. So it refers to the long waiting time in which someone refuses to give way to their heat. In modern terminology someone like this is said to be "cool", he is not hot-headed, he does not have a short fuse. Love has a long fuse.
Why is love like that?
Love wants what is best for the other person. Love, like God is redemptive. The person who loves will not cut someone off but will want them to be saved, even if it takes a long time. So to immediately strike out at someone when you are crossed is not loving.
Love is kind: This means full of goodness. It is the person who is animated by the constant need to be useful; it is the opposite of idle selfishness and comfortable self-pleasure. It is the disposition to put yourself at the service of others.
Why is love like that?
Because a loving person is not thinking of himself but is seeking the good of others. When we know that we are forgiven by God and that we are at peace with ourselves, then love becomes very easy, because we can forget about ourselves.
Love envies not: (ou zhloi) means to seethe or boil. Love is without selfish zeal. When we see someone who is better than us at something or has got something in riches or talents that we do not have, then love does not begrudge what they have, but is pleased that a child of God has it.
Why is love like that?
Because the person who loves is content with what God has given him and looks to God for what he needs. The person that loves has his total sufficiency from God.
Love vaunts not itself: It never becomes a braggart. Bragging is produced by an over-estimate of a person's importance or else a grave inferiority complex. Love will cure both of these. Divine love has a true sense of self-worth and also of the inestimable value of other souls.
Is not puffed up: The idea of inflation, trying to make ourselves bigger and bigger in other people's eyes. Love is not arrogant, it doesn't look down on anyone.
Why is love like that?
Because love will esteem the other as more important than himself. Love is redemptive and seeks to build others up.
v5. Does not behave itself unseemly: That is, not according to the proper form of things. If we do not love, then we could not care less how we threat others. Love is courteous and conducts itself in a discreet manner.
Again, because it is not thinking of itself, but doing what is best for another person. An unruly, ill-mannered, offensive person is not loving.
Seeks not her own: With this we cannot help but recall chapter 8, where Paul deals with the Corinthians' lack of regard for weaker members in the body when they were partaking of some liberty. True love is always unselfish, simply because it is not thinking primarily of itself but the good of others. Love wants other people saved. Love is redemptive.
You can see Paul's love for lost souls in
...just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own advantage, but the advantage of many, that they may be saved.
Is not easily provoked: The word in Greek is where we get our English term Paroxysm, "a sudden burst of rage." When we truly love someone, it takes a lot from that person to provoke us. This also goes along with the idea of selflessness, if we love others, we will think more about their welfare than about our pride being provoked.
Thinks no evil: Takes no account of the evil thing someone might do to us. A person who loves forgets to get even. They do not not store up an account of wrongs that they have suffered to pay them back someday. That is the same word that is used of God "not accounting to us our sins."
v6. Rejoices not in iniquity: A heart of love will be grieved by the actions of an evil-doer. Most men seem to really enjoy hearing about the evil thing some guy did - and they take delight in hearing that someone has got into trouble. This is not love.
Why is love like that?
Because, like God, love is grieved that someone got into trouble and has to be punished. Love would rather see the opposite -
But rejoices with the truth: It is as if Truth, like Love, is here personified and when truth prevails in anyway, then truth rejoices, and love is there rejoicing along with it. When truth is triumphant, then love rejoices.
v7. Bears all things: The word is stego, to cover. So it would be better to understand this as love wanting to cover-up the faults of others. In (9:12) it is translated "suffer all things". Love would rather suffer the wrong of another and excuse it, if that would help the other person in anyway or help the congregation. Peter says in 1Pet.4:8 "And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins."
Believes all things: Love refuses to yield to suspicions about someone. The flesh is ready to believe anything bad about a brother. Love does the opposite, it is confident to the last and thinks the best of someone. Love will excuse you and speak well of you and put the best construction on whatever you say.
Then finally, when a person has removed all doubt concerning his evil deeds, then love will still hope.
Love hopes all things: Love will always expect you to come around someday and be right again. Love is not pessimistic. It is the optimism of the grace of God. That even though sin and ungodliness seem to have prevailed for now, love will still hope for the final victory, and in doing that it will hold out to the end.
Love endures all things: upomonh, means "to hold on under [a burden]". It is the idea of brave and courageous perseverance. Keep on keeping on. Love never gives up. It will hold out under pain and injury and still hold on.
v8. Love never fails: It will remain throughout all eternity and be exercised in heaven forever. True love does not cease. It does not stop loving.
Summary: Paul does not describe love to us as performing great and wonderful deeds, but rather he shows us what the inner heart of love looks like when it is in the middle of an evil and sinful world. It is not a picture of ideal surroundings where brethren embrace and kiss us - but in a hard atmosphere of a faulty church with weak and needy brethren. That is where love brings out its positive power and value.
II.) Now, defining love is one thing, but what if I do not have this kind of love in my heart? How do I go about producing or getting this love?
Paul, in the next chapter (14:1) tells us to "follow after love." That means to pursue it. Consciously seek to add love to your walk as a Christian, make that your goal.
(Well, I've tried and failed. I just have a tough time being like the person in 1Cor.13. The flesh always gets the better of me.)
And that is a good assessment, the flesh hinders us, because love is the fruit of the spirit. You cannot go about producing love by walking according to the flesh, under your own will power or by practicing a religion that is fundamentally carnal in its nature. It is like Jack Skellington in the movie "Nightmare Before Christmas" trying to make the people of Hallowe'en Land understand what Christmas is like. They cannot understand with the nature they have. It always becomes "Santie Claws". We have to live in the spirit to produce spiritual fruit. Christians are partakers of a divine nature.
Christianity is not an external religion imposed upon us from the outside by rules and regulations. Christianity is something that comes from the inside and bears fruit on the outside. It is a matter of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter. Our religion is not from man, but from God.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
I say then: Walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Verses 19-21 Verse 24 Verses 13-18 Flesh Crucified
Spirit Hatred Love Bite & devour as yourself
So the cross has something to do with it. When we, by faith, die with Jesus and crucify our old self, and we rise with Jesus, by faith in the working of God who gives us a new spiritual life in likeness to Christ's resurrected life, then we can walk as he walked in the spirit and have the fruit of love in our lives. God is the source of love - give him your life without regard to the consequences. Draw near to him in humility and he will fill your heart with love.
As Paul says, "Since you live in the spirit, let us keep in line with the Spirit. But faith is the main ingredient there. We have to believe we live in the spirit.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the Sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
By faith we put on the new man. Believe you live in the spirit. A simple shortcut might be to stop thinking of yourself as a mere human, and so also stop thinking of other people as mere humans.
If you, by faith, walk in the reality of the new spiritual man; if you really believe and count as a fact what the scriptures tell you about your new powerful spiritual life in Christ, and let that knowledge change you, and according to that knowledge act like a divine child of God, then by thus walking in the spirit, the Spirit of God will produce the fruit of love in your life through your faith.
"The bond of perfection." Love is the thing that binds together all that we are as Christians and makes us complete and mature and brings us to our intended goal.
Our goal is to be like God and live with him. 1Jno.4:16 says, "God is love; and he that abides in love abides in God and God in him." That is our completeness, our maturity; that is our perfection.
Let us all make the effort by faith to reach that goal and have fervent love among ourselves.
If you have never given your life to God - that is what he is waiting for.
If you have never obeyed the gospel:
- Faith in the sacrifice of Jesus' blood to wash you clean.
- Repentance of any sin in your life.
- Immersion into Christ's death. Baptism.
God will forgive all your sins and make you a son, giving you his Holy Spirit and filling your life with hope and love.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. September 30, 1984)