I have always loved the Greeks. Their intriguing myths, their grand architecture and sculpture, their delicious food—and, I happen to know a few Greeks, and they are quite something! But, one of the things that I appreciate more than all of those is their language. A simple word for us in our English dictionary is just that, simple. But, for them, they have separate words for each subtle difference. It is beautiful.
The Greek word that I really wrestled with last week was agape. Now, this is most likely old news to you if you are a Bible nerd like me…but in case you didn’t know…can I tell you something really cool?? Our word love, in Greek has multiple meanings? And when we read the word love in the Bible, we really should know which love it actually is referring to.
Here are few: First, we have agape. This is spiritual love, truly unconditional love, completely selfless; it gives and expects nothing in return; whether the love given is returned or not, the person continues to love. Wow. Yep, that is agape love, and that is God’s love for us—everyone, believer or not. You all know the verse John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,…… See the ‘loved’ in that verse? In the original language, that is agape. He loves us all, whether or not we love Him back, spit in His face, use His name in vain or crucify His Son. He. Still. Loves. You and me. Again, old news to most of you. But, what hit me so hard this past week was realizing that I am supposed to love like that too. Before I get ahead of myself let’s be sure to refresh ourselves on the other “love” definitions.
Next up is eros. This, as you can probably guess is physical and romantic love; dating, marriage, more than friends. You get the picture. But, again, in the Bible, this would just say love.
Third is phileo. I like this one; this is “mental” love, brotherly love. This is love that has a give and take relationship. Think Philadelphia—city of what? Yes, brotherly love. This is for most of our friend relationships I imagine. Or at least it is for me.
Then there is storge. This one means “affection.” Natural affection—like the love we have for our children. It is innate, we love our children before they are even born, it is completely amazing and we feel it with no effort on either side.
So, as I was preparing my lesson for my sweet middle school and high school girls last week, Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossae wrote of their “love for all the saints. (Colossians 1:4)” Ok, what kind of love are we talking about and who are ‘the saints?’ Well, it is agape love here and the saints are ‘holy people, who are set apart,’ meaning believers. Now, hear me—NOT perfect people, but people who belong to God. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. So Lord, You are telling me that I am supposed to love, like agape love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Ummmm, I am not sure I can do that. Because when I really think about that, like really meditate on that, who can I say in my life that I love like that? I mean, let’s start with the easiest people, my husband and kids. Of course I love Petersen more than any other person on the planet, and my children are next. But, they love me back; therefore that is easy love; hard at times, but really, easy. Ok next, friends and family. I LOVE, like LOVE my girlfriends and my big extended family; but, they love me back too, it is reciprocal. This is phileo love. I wish I could say it was agape love, but I am not sure I would be great friends with someone who I kept pouring out to and pouring out to and received no love back in return. This is not agape love because it is conditional. Ugh, no bueno.
Hence, my struggle. I realized that I don’t even love my family and friends with this thing called agape love, yet my Savior wants me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with this kind of love!?! Lord, how do I do that? Like really, how do I do that? I am a mother of five children who are little and very needy!! But, my heart truly truly desires to obey His Word, because I know He means what He says. So, sponsor a Compassion child? Sure, we do that. But, we get sweet notes and pictures from our girl Vivian and it fills my heart. Bring a meal to someone in need? Sure, I do that whenever I can; but I get a huge hug and a ‘thank you.’ Again, fills my heart right up. Everywhere I looked, I was receiving back. And I really truly want to do this thing, but how? It was weighing heavy on my heart, because I was convinced I could not do it.
As my study continued, the dagger dug deeper. “The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves (agape) his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” 1 John 2:9-10
And “If someone says, ‘I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love (agape) his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20-21
Here are a few more you can look up; 1 John 3:14-15 and 1 John 3:10
And every time love is used in those verses, it is agape love. I began to feel sad, burdened and like an utter failure to my King. Then I was reminded of the fact that Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30. Agape love should not be a burden if it is real and genuine.
As I prayed through this, He gently spoke to me in church on Sunday. This thing called agape love—it is the church—His church. Not just the physical place where we congregate and worship. It is the church—the family of Believers all over the world. And we can show real agape love in tons of different ways from serving at our local church to supporting missionaries on the other side of the earth.
Our church here in north Georgia is small—like super small. Think church plant; and that is our church. Our children alone make up half of the entire children’s ministry, and we all know if someone is new on Sunday or Wednesday. Small church. We came from a mega church—Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale, then to one quite a bit smaller, Calvary Chapel Tallahassee; but never to one this small. We know this is where we are supposed to be though, no doubt.
I often wondered why God moved us to Tallahassee; because when we prayed about moving out of south Florida, it was to be up here–in north Georgia. Not Tallahassee. Why the pit stop Lord? We loved our time there and we made the most amazing friends there; some lifelong friends. But, I still wondered why. I will ask Him when I see Him. But now, I think I know why. It was a time of growth for us. There’s so much more to it, but in trying not to be too long-winded, I will just say that. Had we come straight here from Ft. Lauderdale, I would have been far too immature of a Christian to stay at this church. I would have wanted more programs for my kids, a Bible study up and running, VBS, a borderline professional band on stage for worship and the most eloquent and seasoned teacher. I hate admitting this now because it is so shallow and selfish. But, true none the less. That is not my church, yet. All of those things are great—wonderful things for churches!! We hope to get there as soon as possible, so please don’t mishear me. Big churches have great benefits, but there is something precious and beautiful about a small church.
My husband and I recently started serving our church on Wednesday nights. Our kids go to bed at 7:30ish; church starts at 7. Huh. How is this going to work? Doesn’t matter; we knew it was our time to serve, and He would work out the details. But, with us serving, they needed someone to watch our kids so we could teach the bigger kids. Geez, are we helping or are we a burden? And this is what God so sweetly showed me, the beautiful picture of the church (or at least this small aspect of it).
Stay with me here; I serve the middle/high school girls, women rotate through and serve my children, Petersen serves the semi-bigger boys, our pastor serves the high school boys, our parstor’s wife serves the ladies, and more women serve on Sunday mornings so I can be served in service. Get that? If we all, as a church just give and serve where there is a need—may I submit that that is agape love? Because what is our greatest possession to give? Our time; we can never get it back, ever. I would argue money is second. But, I am not going there today. If you think there are no needs at your church, you are wrong—ask. There’s always a need. The question is, are you willing to do what they need? What if they need someone to clean the bathrooms after service? Or help out in the toddler room? NO! Anything but the toddler room!!!
So, are we willing? Are we willing to inconvenience our lives for the sake of others? For the sake of His church? Are we willing to do what no one else wants to do. AND, after we do it; expect nothing in return—and be ok with that? No pat on the back, no service hours to check off, no certificate of appreciation, no article in the newspaper applauding your service, no one highlighting what you did in the bulletin? Just serving, purely out of the need in our heart to do so—stemming from our thankfulness for the cross. And when it is rooted in thanksgiving, it doesn’t feel like serving, it is not a burden—Lord knows He doesn’t want us serving if we are dreading it, or begrudgingly doing it. And this is NOT a “earning our way into heaven thing.” Or “trying to be a good person thing.” Both are impossible. We all fall short, and faith alone secures our eternal residence.
I know I have a long way to go to be able to love with the agape type love that He requires, but one day at a time, I am hoping He refines me more and more, so that loving like that comes easy. He alone can make that change in me; and I am trusting Him to do it. One surrendered day after another.