Summary: How do we define love and how are we defined by love?
The Nature of Love
And that is the sum of the New Testament teaching, All you need is love. Paul wrote exactly the same thing in Romans 13:8 without the catchy tune, Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbour, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. That’s what it boils down to. If you love your neighbour, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.
How simple is that? Should be able to stop right there. Am I right? Here endeth the lesson. We could close our bibles and go home. As a matter of fact if we wrote that on a piece of paper and stuck it to our mirrors where we’d see it every morning and if we committed to live by that principle we’d never need another sermon.
And it wasn’t just Paul who said it. . . it was Ringo and George and John as well.
And from a Biblical perspective it wasn’t just the apostle Paul, the first time we hear the command comes from the top in Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.” And in case someone misses it, Jesus reiterates it over and over again in the Gospels, for example in Mark 12:30-31 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” And listen to how James refers to it in James 2:8 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
By the way and this is a comment without commentary: the principle of loving your neighbour is found throughout the bible, in both the Old and New Testament, but is absent in the Quran. Just saying.
So if it is so simple why is it so tough? One of the reasons is how we define love, for most of us when we think of love we think of a romantic love kind of like Wood Allen who said “I was nauseous and tingly all over. I was either in love or I had smallpox.” And so for most of us love is a feeling, an emotion and it’s hard to control or harness our emotions. And so if we don’t have an emotional bond with someone than we don’t feel that we can love them.
We’ve spoken before about how the New Testament was written in Greek and how that language tended to use more words to reflect the meaning of a thought then we do in English. When you think about it the English language is a really lazy language. For example the word fast, you ever think about what fast means. It can mean that you are quick, or it can mean that colours don’t run, or it can mean to tie something up, or it can mean that someone is morally loose, or it can mean to not eat, or it can mean that your watch has gained time or it can mean that you are loyal or it can mean that you are sleeping soundly, or it can mean that you are close to something. Kind of like I read the red book.
Another word like that is love. We throw the word love around to mean almost anything. I love my wife, I love “”Big Bang Theory”, the TV show not the concept, I love my little red car, I love flying, I love pizza, I love my kids, I love my parents, and I love all of you. But I love each of those things in different ways, but I describe my feelings with one word.
The Greek language however has several different words that are used to convey love for different things. First there is Eros, which is a sensual love, a passionate love that would be what Woody Allen was speaking of. Eros isn’t actually used in the Bible. The next form of love was Philio and this is the warm fuzzy feeling we have for those nearest and dearest to us. This is friendship. Have you ever wondered why Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love? Then there is Storge, and this is affection, what you feel for your parents or children. My sister gave my mother a plaque that says “I love you more then you love me, because you have only loved me for part of your life and I have loved you for all of mine.” Cute.
But Paul doesn’t use any of those words for love instead he uses the word Agape. And agape is less a feeling of the heart and more a feeling of the mind. It is as much an act of the will as an act of the emotions. It is a choice we make. It is why Jesus can tell us to love our enemies. It is a conscious action, something that you decide to do and something that you cannot do without the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.