“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13
This is the time of year when our attention turns to hearts, flowers, chocolate, and lots of talk about love. We use that word so flippantly in our North American culture. “I love pizza.” “He loves football.” “She loves her new car.” “I love John.” At least I love him for this month. Last month, I loved Steve, and by next month, I may be in love with someone else. What we usually mean when we use that word is that we like something a lot. I fear that because we use the word so loosely and frequently that perhaps we have cheapened it. If we aren’t careful we can lose the true meaning and significance of this tiny, yet powerful word.
Of course, there are different types of love. The way I love teacups is different from the way I used to love my cat, and that’s different from the way I love my grandchildren. Sometimes these differences can be really important. It wouldn’t be wise of a young man to say “I love you” to a young woman when he really just likes her a lot. It may mean something very different to the young lady. We see an example of this in Scripture. In the last chapter of the book of John, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Peter’s reply was, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” A second time the Lord Jesus asked his disciple, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter gave the same answer, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” For the third time the Savior asked him, “Do you love Me?” And the Scripture says that Peter was grieved because the Lord Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” You see Jesus was using the Greek word, agapao, while Peter was using a different Greek word, phileo. Agapao means to care for deeply or passionately. It speaks of a love that comes from intelligence, reason, and comprehension with a corresponding purpose. In other words, you understand the person or thing of your affection, and still love them. It is a sacrificial, God-given type of love; while phileo speaks more of a brotherly type of love. It means to be fond of or feel affection for. So getting back to the dialogue between Jesus and the Apostle Peter, Jesus was basically asking, “Do you love Me sacrificially?” “Do you love Me supremely?” And Peter was answering, “ You know I am fond of You.” “You know I like You a whole lot.” That’s not the way Christ desires or deserves to be loved by His disciples.
I remember one occasion when my son, Aaron, was home on a break from college. One day, he sauntered into the kitchen where I was busy cooking up a special meal for him. I don’t know why older kids seem to always want to have a deep conversation when either you are right in the middle of something or in the middle of the night. Anyway, that seemed often to be the case when I had teenagers. And that day was no exception. While I was involved in my meal prep, my son nonchalantly asked, “Mom, what do you think is the greatest evidence of salvation in the New Testament?” I glanced over at him and replied, “I don’t know, son. What do you think is the greatest evidence of salvation in the New Testament?” I’m pretty sure he was hoping I would ask that question, because with no hesitation he said, “It’s love. You see it all through the New Testament. The greatest characteristic of true Christianity is love for God and love for people.” As I continued with my work I couldn’t help but ponder what my son had just said. He was right. It was clear. I have recalled that conversation many times since that day almost twenty years ago. Not only is love for God and love for people the greatest evidence that a work of God has taken place in our hearts, but it is also the greatest thing we can do.
In Matthew 22 a Pharisee asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment of the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The grandest and most important of the commandments is to love God with all our emotions and affections, with our intellect, thoughts, and understanding, and with our very lives. We are to love Him completely, supremely; more than anything or anyone else. And the second most significant is to love others with that same agape type of love. As God’s people, we are called to be more concerned with giving than receiving. We are to care with the same kind of love that He has shown, and continues to show, toward us.
It’s interesting that agape was one of the rarest words in the ancient Greek culture. This is because they believed it was a sign of weakness and inferiority to show selflessness by giving up your rights for the good of someone else. But, on the contrary, it is one of the most common words in the New Testament. This is the kind of love that characterizes Jesus Christ and His followers. It is this beautiful, selfless love that we are to show not only toward our God, but also our neighbors. Our “neighbors” wouldn’t just refer to those people who live in the house next door to ours. It would include everyone we have contact with; our friends and acquaintances, as well as, the people we go to school with, work with, and go to church with. And of course, our nearest neighbors would be our family members. But, it doesn’t stop there. We are even to express this love to our enemies. Jesus said, “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) That’s not easy! In fact, it’s next to impossible unless God has given you a new nature to love as He does.
So, while you’re enjoying your flowers and chocolates, don’t forget the people around you. Reach out to your friends and loved ones. Do something kind for those who have wronged and hurt you. I know this isn’t a typical Valentine’s Day challenge. But, it is one that if carried out, will bring great glory to God. As you do this you will be reflecting your love for Him, and ultimately, His love for you. For after all, that is the most important thing you can do.
Soli Deo Gloria