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All You Need Is Love? – Part 1

What Is Wrong with Our Modern Definitions of Love?

By Richard Allen – April 8, 2024

The picture at the top of this Blog shows history being made. It was June 25, 1967, and the Beatles had agreed to represent Britain and the British Broadcast Company (BBC) on a broadcast event called “Our World.” This event was to be beamed to 400 million people in 25 countries over five continents via satellite. At the Olympic Recording Studios in London, a star-studded list of attendees listened to the Beatles perform their song: “All You Need Is Love,” as it was broadcast over much of the known world. It was the first world-wide broadcast via satellite of its kind. I can’t remember if I saw it live, or on a replay later, but being a teen in the 1960’s and a Beatles fan, I liked almost everything they did. What I do remember was, among other British music stars present at the Beatles performance – were two of the “Rolling Stones.” It all seemed pretty cozy, everyone singing the chorus with John Lennon “All You Need Is Love,” until I saw Mick Jager’s face (the video is available on YouTube). He was clearly not happy being a part of this momentous event or playing “second fiddle” to the Beatles!  It was then that I realized: Not everyone has the same view of Love that the Beatles’ song professed. What is even more ironic is: The song itself starts with a Brass Band playing the French National Anthem, La Marseillaise (lit. from Marseille). I thought, the French knew a thing or two about Love, right?  This Blog Series is a follow-up to my Parable of the Soils Study #13: “The Rabbi Who Knew Too Little” - Part 2, in which I discussed Jesus’ dialogue with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, revealing to him that: “God loved the world” (John 3:16), not just Israel.


That Blog stimulated several lively discussions – even among friends and family – so I decided to try and add a bit of clarification to the discussion. I’m convinced that most of the confusion surrounds the “murky” definition of Love in our modern culture. To some, Love is: “a feeling that you feel, that you’ve never felt before,” something wonderful and romantic, making no sense. To others, Love represents deep friendships with family and friends that bring abiding satisfaction and joy. And to some, Love is purely a synonym of their sexual passion and arousal. As always, we need to ask what God’s Word teaches us about Love, that should be the most important definition for a Christian.


So, looking at the Bible, it turns out that the New Testament has two words we translate Love. Those words are, “Agape” and “Philia.”  Both words are used in their various forms in the Greek New Testament. The first word, Agape is a very strong word meaning Unconditional Love. Here’s a good working definition from Wikipedia:


Agape is a Greek word that means unconditional love, the highest form of love, charity. It is used in the Bible to describe the love of God for man and of man for God1. Agape is a pure, willful, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another’s highest good. It is not based on feelings or preferences, but on a deliberate choice to love.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agape]


Likewise, Philia is the word that describes strong affections, or brotherly love. It’s the root word in the city name Philadelphia, which literally means: “The City of Brotherly Love!” Often translated to mean “having a strong affection” for another. Here’s a good working definition from the Definitions website:


Philia is a Greek term that means close friendship or brotherly love. It is one of the four ancient Greek words for love, and it refers to non-romantic affectionate relationships or feelings of strong friendship and loyalty towards someone or something. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, understood this form of love to describe a love of equals who are united in a common purpose, pursuit, good, or end.” [https://www.definitions.net/definition/philia]


There is a third Greek word that is translated as Love, the word Eros – from which we get our English, Erotic, or sensual Love. Strange as it might sound, though the New Testament was written in Greek, the word Eros is nowhere to be found. Here’s the definition of the word Eros (Erotic Love), again from Wikipedia:


Eros is a word and a concept in ancient Greek philosophy that refers to sensual or passionate love, from which the term erotic is derived. Eros is also the name of the Greek god of love and sex, whose Roman counterpart was Cupid. The word eros means "love" or "desire" in Greek, and is the root of words like "erotic" and "erogenous." [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eros_(concept)]


I should also mention there is a fourth Greek term that is translated Love, the Greek word: “Storge” (pronounced Stor-gee). This word is also not used in the New Testament. It is used to refer to Familial Love. Here’s how the Website Crosswalk defines Storge:


Storge (pronounced stor-gee) refers to “familial love,” a “deep and caring bond that develops naturally between parent and children, husbands and wives, siblings” and also others who are close enough to be called “family.” Storge love is a protective love that can withstand hardships and trials.” [https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/what-is-storge-love-in-the-bible.html]


I mention all this because it relates to our confusion over the English term, Love. Most often when we say “I Love,” we are using one of the three more common types of LovePhilia (Brotherly), Eros (Sensual) or Storge (Familial). I can’t number the movies that have romanticized about True Love, or Believing in Love, or even how Love won out in the end. And almost every time they employ the word (with almost magical powers), they are still just describing one of these three Loves: Friendship, Family or Sensual! It’s a common fallacy to hear many of our moderns say: “I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in Love.” So, I’m asking, “what in the world does that mean?” The answer is both simple and very sad: “While modern men and women have endowed the word and concept of Love with almost divine properties, they are still only talking about Human Love, that is, a Love that we humans are capable of.” Here’s where John 3:16 should make us all sit up and take notice, because Jesus uses the Fourth Greek word, Agape1, that is, Unconditional Love!


In John 3:16, Jesus tells a bigoted Rabbi, who only believed that God loved and cared for the Jews, that “God so Loved the world that He sacrificed His only Son to save those who believed in Him.” This isn’t any sappy human Love. No, it’s a Divine, Godlike Love that “sought the highest good’ for those to whom it was given.” This should be easy to grasp, as Jesus Himself tells us that God the Father was making the ultimate sacrifice in giving His Son to die. And God the Son would Himself willingly go to a cruel cross to suffer and die for those whom He Loved. This is Agape Love. My favorite way of describing it is: Christlike Love. This Love not only seeks the highest good for objects of that Love, but this Love has all the power in the universe to accomplish its goals! To somehow imagine that God loves every man, woman and child who ever lived, yet will allow many of them to perish, should be unfathomable to any believer who understands the purpose of the atonement of Christ. Those whom God Loves, God will save! Some are confused because in a general sense, God cares for all His creation – providing for the just and unjust (Matthew 5:43-48).


But I can hear some of you say: “Yes, God loved them enough to provide Jesus as a means for them to be saved, but they have to personally choose to believe.” God the Father made Salvation possible, He didn’t complete the saving process, that’s up to each of us to do something with Jesus’ death. Jesus provides “Potential Salvation,” but our Human Effort has to seal the deal and make it effectual. Again, this kind of Love “that goes half-way” is no Love at all. We all have that same kind of Human Love. Love of parents, children, friends, spouses – but at the end of the day, our Love for any of them – no matter how strong – can’t conquer death!  Most of us sat by and watched helplessly as disease, age or an accident have taken those we Love from us. That’s the epitome of Human Love, it’s fickle, temporary and powerless. It can only go half way. But “God’s Great Love,” that is, Agape Love is stronger than death. That’s why Jesus told Nicodemus that God’s Love was Divine, Seeking the Highest Good, and would give Eternal Life to all the people of the whole world who believe. Jesus was not using “world” quantitatively, but qualitatively – all nations, kindred and tongues.  And He was fully aware that “Saving Faith” itself was a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) to fallen men and women, completely dead because of their sin. Saving Faith has never been “man’s contribution toward Salvation,” because Men are dead and blind – and won’t come to the light!  So, what then does John 3:16 mean?


Jesus was telling us that God Loves all kinds of people, regardless of race, gender and nationality, all categories of men and women who believe, would now be acceptable to God!  God, through Jesus, was enlarging the tent of those who are saved (c.f. Isaiah 54:1-2; Galatians 4:26-28). This must have been quite a revelation for Nicodemus – who believed God’s Love to be very, very restrictive, to Jews only. Jesus proclaimed that God was enlarging the Household of Faith, announcing to the world that “He was no longer a respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), but “all (kinds) of men and women, slave and free, Jews and Greeks (Galatians 3:28-29), would now be accepted by Him!” Many Bible teachers believe that it was Paul who initiated the teaching that Gentiles would be “co-heirs” with the Jews in the Kingdom of God – by His Spirit. That’s untrue, Jesus said the same repeatedly before His death and resurrection.


In closing, we need to be careful with universalist terms and passages in the New Testament, that some believe to teach God Loves everyone, Jesus died for everyone and is not willing that any perish in their sins. Biblically, these are not taught in the New Testament. Here are two seemingly “universalist examples” that should help us understand:

“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth (crucified), will draw all people to Myself” (John 12:32).  


It’s obvious that this passage is not teaching that every man woman and child throughout the ages since Calvary, would be saved. Or this universalistic verse from 2 Peter is a favorite misquote. Peter is writing to the Church of Jesus Christ:


“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).


We need to be careful handlers of the Word, always confirming the context, and making sure what we think it says, doesn’t violate other clear teaching in Scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:13). I’ll have more to say in future blogs that may help it all come together.

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

1Note: While I don’t quote C.S. Lewis’ “The Four Loves,” I am indebted to this book for much of my understanding of Love.

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