See How Those Christians ...?
by Rev. Larry Eddings | November 19, 2018One of the distinguishing marks of the early Christian community, recognizable by the pagan world, was that of love. Yes, the followers of Jesus in the First Century Church leaned early on what Jesus had taught his original disciples: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:34, 35]
That is the basic hallmark of Christian life and behavior – to love one another as Christ has loved us. However, it is one thing for us to know that we, as Christians, are to love one another, it is quite another thing for it to be so evident, that even the pagan world, as in those early days, notices and says, “See how those Christians love one another.”
The love about which Jesus speaks has greater meaning than that which we in the Western cultures [or any culture, for that matter] often interpret as love. We often think that it means to have a good feeling about someone or something. If it makes me feel good, or if they make me feel good, then it must be love that I feel.
The English language has only one word for love – love. There are three Greek words used in Scripture, for love: Familial; Eros, Agape.
Familial has to do with family love, the love that exists between parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and extended family. It is a caring, protecting and provisional love. It is designed by God for the good of the family. When expressed the way God intended it, the family is nourished and strengthened. When God’s design is disobeyed or ignored altogether, the family suffers through wrong actions like abuse, incest and a multiplicity of things that wreak havoc in the family structure. Consequently, the family suffers.
Eros has to do with self love, which can also be expressed in two ways. In a positive way, it is to have a good opinion and feeling about yourself, a good sense of self worth. In a negative way it has to do with erotica, or erotic feelings about self or others. This leads to inappropriate relationships such as lust and sexual immorality. It appears that much of life lived in the Western culture is lived at this level and understanding of the word ‘love.’ And, it also appears that certain segments of the Christian Church in all areas of the world understands and lives out ‘love’ at this level, approving of lifestyles that are Eros [erotic].
Sometimes the good feelings we may have for another person may not be love at all, but lust. When we look at another person with thoughts of “love,” it may really be lust – or Eros. The “good feelings” may cause a rapid heart beat - which could simply be the effects of an overactive adrenal gland or a personal desire, or need, for self-gratification, and have nothing to do with love. Love can wait. Lust must get as soon as possible.
When Jesus instructed his disciples to love one another as he loved them, he was talking about Agape. Agape is the highest form of love that is unconditional, sacrificial and pure. It is expressed for the ultimate good of the one toward whom it is directed. It is the kind of love that the apostle Paul wrote about to the church in Corinth. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” [I Corinthians 13:4-8a] Jesus’ quality of love for his disciples – and for all humankind, manifested all of these characteristics of Agape.
That’s the kind of Love Jesus was talking about with his disciples. It is the quality of love that is expected from all those who would commit to following his example. It may or may not have anything to do with good feelings, but it has everything to do with doing that which is right in God’s sight and that which is good for others. We are instructed in God’s Word to be “imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1, 2]
When Jesus instructed his disciples to “Love your enemies,” he was not talking about having a good feeling about them. He was talking about doing them no harm and to pray for them. That is Agape quality of love. That’s how Jesus treated his enemies, even as he hung on the cross. “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” That’s Agape love. We are to love at that level. Eros – and even Familial, falls far short of that quality of love.
Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the sinners do that. If we greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Even pagans do that?” [Matthew 5:46, 47] Even the pagan world knows how to familial and Eros, and practices both quite well. Believers are called to something higher!
“See how those Christians love one another!” Do we ever hear the pagan world declaring that about us, the followers of Jesus, in this contemporary world? Do our lives reflect the quality of love that makes the atheists, agnostics and outright opponents of the Lord to have to admit that even though they may not believe in him, there’s something about the lives of those who do believe in him that is totally different from the world around them. They have to take notice.
Jesus said, “This is how all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:35] Anything less is not worthy of bearing His Name!