Many Christians struggle to balance their understanding of the love and holiness of God. On one side, Gods love beckons us into an intimate love relationship with Him. On the other side, Gods holiness demands that we turn from all sin. How do we weigh these things in the balance?
Well, first I think you need to sort out the very definition of the words, because the Christian sense of love is very different from the worldly sense. In the world, people "fall" in love, which by its very definition is something you can't control, something your will has no power over. Now, of course it is quite normal to have strong, uncontrollable feelings about someone that you love. However, what happens when the feeling goes? Well, you see and hear the stories all the time: the tale of how their partner was no longer fulfilling them, that the feelings just aren't there anymore. Divorce after divorce, many of which could have been avoided if they understood the biblical concept of love.
In the bible, there are different kinds of love. Without understanding that, you are libel to turn what the scripture is talking about regarding love into your own definition. However, there are several;
1. Φιλἐω (Phileō)
i. Phileō is a companionable love.
ii. This love speaks of affection, fondness, or liking.
iii. Kenneth Wuest says, “It is a love that is called out of one’s heart as
a response to the pleasure one takes in a person or object.” 1
iv. Phileō is a love that responds to kindness, appreciation, or love. It
involves giving as well as receiving; but when it is greatly strained,
it can collapse in a crisis.
v. Phileō is a higher love than eros because it is our happiness rather
than my happiness.
Phileo love is like the love between friends, it is love based on mutual respect and admiration. Notice it says that great strain can destroy it. Here is another kind of love according to the bible:
i. This love has its basis in one’s own nature.
ii. Storgē is a natural affection or natural obligation
iii. It is a natural movement of the soul for husband, wife, child or
iv. It is a quiet, abiding feeling within a man that rests on something
close to him and that he feels good about.
This is like the love between a father and son. The third kind of love is Eros:
4. Εροσ (Eros)
i. This love is erotic love
ii. Eros is a love of passion, an overmastering passion that seizes and
absorbs itself into the mind.
iii. It is a love that is an emotional involvement based on body
iv. The basic idea of this love is self-satisfaction.
1. Though Eros is directed towards another, it actually has self
in mind. For example: “I love you because you make me
Take notice of definition 4, which explains why there is so much divorce today. When the good feelings go away, there is nothing there to hold the marriage together. The person may think they loved the other, but in truth they loved how the relationship made them feel more than they loved the person. Their love was a selfish love, based on feelings and physical desire, and this kind of love generates no loyalty in the heart. The heart has never truly been molded towards the other.
This is all the world knows about love, but there is a higher love, one that is uniquely a Christian word: Agape
2. Ἀγάπη or Ἀγαπάω (Agapē or Agapaō)
i. Agapē is called out of one’s heart by the preciousness of the object
loved. It is a love of esteem, of evaluation. It has the idea of
prizing. It is the noblest word for love in the Greek language.2
ii. Agapē is not kindled by the merit or worth of it’s object, but it
originates in it’s own God-given nature. God is love.
iii. It delights in giving.
iv. This love keeps on loving even when the loved one is unresponsive,
unkind, unlovable, and unworthy. It is unconditional love.
v. Agapē desires only the good of the one loved. It is a consuming
passion for the well-being of others.
Take notice of definition 4 once again. This love is not based on the response of the other, it is unconditional. As my Pastor says, Agape is the God kind of love.
Agape love, love that is truly unconditional, is not a feeling; it is a choice. We choose to continue loving someone when they are unlovable, we choose to overlook the bad things that they do. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us exactly what that kind of love is supposed to look like.
So, to properly balance our understand of Gods love and holiness, we must understand that when we talk about the love God is calling us to exhibit, it is Agape love He is referring to. It was Agape love that sent Jesus Christ to the cross, to die for people who hated Him. Jesus felt agape love for the people who participated in His crucifixion when He said "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
It's easy to hate people who hate you, but it is the hardest thing in the world to love people who hate you. This is why it is the God kind of love, because only Gods love is truly unconditional. God acted because He is love: Agape love causes us to act, causes us to give. The human kind of love is all about receiving, which is why when you hear people talking about their divorces, they are talking only about themselves.
So, in Gods Kingdom, love is an action word, and love is an exercise of our will. Agape chooses to love, especially when there is no earthly reason we should. In this context, we see that the juxtaposition of Gods love and holiness makes sense; we are supposed to respond to His love. It isn't that it doesn't make us feel good; knowing Gods love brings joy every single day, it is that those feelings aren't the foundation. The foundation is Gods unconditional love toward us when He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins. The love that God calls us to, agape love, demands a response.
We aren't truly loving God until we are giving Him everything. Love to God is obedience to His commands, that is how we show our love for our Creator. So, therefore the love of God begets holiness in our love, because our love for God is not based on sentiment; it is based on a bloodstained cross, on the Savior who gave all for us. In our hearts, we want to respond and be conformed to His image. When you love someone you want to share everything, and when we love Jesus we want to be just like Him; blameless before the Father. Gods love isn't a get out of jail free card, it isn't there so you can do what you want, it is there to touch us and change us, to redeem us from death. It isn't the punishment that motivates us to change, it is His mercy!
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
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