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Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Great Love Chapter

Ever read 1 Corinthians 13? In the Christian realm it's considered the great love chapter. It's quoted at funerals, weddings, and touted ad nauseum from pulpits since its inception. The "love" chapter, by which all Christians everywhere are measured. If we're living like Christ commands, we are to use this chapter's writ as our plumbline. So, we, in sincerity, struggle to be nice to everyone. We give due diligence to our words--we aren't to offend anybody either. We strive to navigate every single minute of every single day with a Christlike smile. We share only the good, pleasant passages in the Bible because we don't want to be unChristlike and say mean things or make people uncomfortable. And we do it based on this "love" chapter.

In the first place, we confound the teaching of this chapter by diluting what love actually means. We love our dog, we love chocolate, we love sunshine, we love money, we love status, we love relatives, children, and spouses. We love a good sale, we love entertainment. And always, this love means that there's something in it for me.

There are only two types of love mentioned in the Bible: Phileo and Agape. Phileo is a love based on emotion and returned affection (there's something in it for me). This love is based on how others behave toward us, on people liking me back. This is the convoluted convenient love most of us think 1 Corinthians 13 is speaking of.

It isn't.

Agape is a spiritual love that transcends phileo (and all other types of love), it is unconditional (I love whether or not I get anything out of it), it is not dependent on the other loving me back; it is extended through the spirit rather than emotion. In fact, agape isn't based on emotion at all. It's loving because the subject (you and me) needs it. Agape, then, is the object not us; agape is the point. We don't deserve this love but we do need it. This is the love of John 3:16. For God so agaped the world that He gave His only Son... Yet, we view this verse in particular as oozing with sentimentality and gushing with emotion. Jesus came because He was prompted by His overwhelming emotion to save me. Really? Setting aside the fact that the Bible uses agape in this verse, let's examine this gushy nonsense further.

If God sending His Son was based on emotional love (Phileo) as we understand it, we need to look at the object of His love (again,you and me). We were rank sinners bent on hating God's very guts. We lived any way we felt like and didn't ask anyone's permission. God was an intrusion to our fun-getting, our freedom, our overwhelming self-centeredness. We worshiped other gods: food, sex, gambling, work, drugs, alcohol, status, and the reigning king--money. We soundly rejected all things holy and God Himself. Yet, agape moved Him to send His Son to die for this crummy bunch of no-accounts. Thank God that it wasn't based on our loving Him back.

So, now we come to 1 Corinthians 13. It is agape here, too. This love will say hard things to people because they need to hear them said. This love will do as God directs regardless of whether anyone likes you or approves of you. This love will sacrifice whether or not people appreciate it. This love will endure ill-treatment, neglect, and being ignored. This love does not gloat when others are brought low (even if they deserve it). This love will not drink wine in front of a weaker brother or sister if it will cause them to stumble in their walk. This love seeks to please God first no matter what the cost. This love is not the watered down, meaningless, feel-good counterfeit we so accept today.

Go ahead, phileo your dog, kids, spouses, friends, and cars. But also, agape your family, co-workers, spouses, fellow Christians, and strangers. This is what the world is craving. The cheap imitation does not suffice.

The overwhelming number of instances of "love" in the New Testament is agape. For further study and citations of which love the scripture is using in which verses, here's an excellent link.

1 comment:

Jean Fischer said...

Interesting and thought-provoking post, Debbi. Thank you.

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