O Lord, our strength and our redeemer, I pray the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts will be acceptable to you. Amen
When we mention love and what we love, we get all kinds of reactions. I love my spouse; I love my children, grandchildren; I love my sister; I love my home; I love my job; I love my church—so many different things. Different kinds of love. One other: I love food!
I am reminded of a lady who started a new diet. One of her faults was that she loved Krispy Kreme doughnuts. If that red light was on when she went by, she would pull in and get some. So, to avoid the temptation, she changed her rout to work. After a couple of weeks, she had convinced herself that the temptation was behind her and she could change her rout back to the way it was before. But the closer she got to the bakery the more she was tempted. As she got closer, she could see the red light was on. She felt this was no accident, so she prayed … “Lord, it’s up to You. If You want me to have any of those delicious warm glazed doughnuts create a parking place for me right in front of the bakery.” And sure enough, on the eighth time around the block, there it was! God is so good!
Paul wrote about love many times in his letters to the various churches he started and even to this one in Rome that he did not start. In today’s short selection, the word love is used five times. Each time it is translated from the Greek word agapeo.
People today are accustomed to thinking of love as a feeling. That is not necessarily the case with agape love. Agape is love because of what it does, not because of how it feels. Jesus so loved (agape) us that he gave his life for us. He did not want to die, but he loved, so he did what his Father required. A mother who loves a sick baby will stay up all night long caring for it, which is not something she wants to do, but is a true act of agape love.
The point is that agape love is not simply an impulse generated from feelings. Agape is an exercise of the will, it is a choice we do deliberately. This is why God can and does command us to love our enemies. He is not necessarily telling us to “have a good feeling” for our enemies , but to act in a loving way toward them. Agape love is related to obedience and commitment, and not necessarily feeling and emotion. It would be like the policeman arresting an individual for a hideous crime without attempting to harm the offender in any way.
The word phileo means to have a special interest in someone or something. For example, in our world today we say we love things we strongly like: I love ice cream; I love Krispy Kreme doughnuts. But that was not it meant originally. It meant a strong relationship between two people. It would be the kind of love between two friends. The conversation between Jesus and Peter after he was raised from the dead can better be understood when we understand the two kinds of love going on:
Jesus: Simon…do you love (agape) me more than these [fish?]
Peter: Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you…love (agape) me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (phileo) me?
Peter: (Grieved) Lord,…you know that I love (phileo) you.
In our English translation we see how using the simple word “love” has obscured the meaning of their conversation. Why did Jesus use agape and Peter use phileo? Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him with the love of God, a love that may require sacrifice. After all, Jesus had just gone through horrendous torture for Peter’s sake (and ours), something he did not want to do but did anyway because of his agape love. The mother who stayed up all night with her sick child sacrificed the rest she needed for the next day.
Very quickly, Eros is the Greek word for romantic or passionate love between two people. The Greek word eros does not appear in the biblical text.
The fourth kind of love is storge. It is the kind of love between parents and children, or between brothers and sisters and even between spouses.
Paul is writing to the Romans about the importance of agape love, the love that brings about keeping God’s commands without even thinking about it. With agape love, we do things and we make a choice doing them, but without thinking about the commandments. We make a conscience decision to help our neighbor. There are those who say they love (agape) God, but their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God. They mistake their feeling of affection for God for true agape love. The gospel of John quotes Jesus as saying in the 14th chapter: “Anyone who does not love (agape) me will not obey my teaching.” We love God first, agape love. That was what Jesus was trying to get out of Peter. Peter loved him as a good friend, but agape love would only come when the Holy Spirit descended on them at Pentecost.
Of the different types of love, I would suppose agape is the most difficult. Some of the things God calls us to do is not fun or easy, but they need or even have to be accomplished. Sometimes loving my neighbor can be very difficult, especially when the neighbor does something I don’t like. “Agape love is doing no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” As Paul writes.
The gospel reading today is the only scripture quoted in our constitution. And it has to do with settling disputes within the church. Upon reading it, it seems to be the method for removing someone from the church rolls. And it can be used for that, but there is a lot of positives in the writing. I believe it actually promotes the parties a method of working out their differences. It gets them talking about their differences. When I was in business, my professional liability insurance carrier required us to read a little book called “Finding Common Ground”. In it, were methods of finding common ground on which disagreements could be resolved. And when common ground is recognized, the parties can usually find a way to be mutually satisfied.
And there will always be disagreements. We are human. But most disagreements come from a failure to communicate. Jackie Gleason’s character, Sheriff Buford T. Justice said that in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” This is what Jesus is telling us in these verses—communicate. Communicate with an open mind and heart. Agape love. Phileo love.
We are commanded to love one another. That is the key to a wonderful life with God as the head. Agape love—God loves us and so do I!