A Lost Love!
By Raymond D. Sopp
I would like to dedicate this Heart to Heart commentary to the two people who have influenced me the most in my life. First, my Mom, who started me on the road to understand God's agapao love by defining this unconditional love to me by simply lavishing it upon me. Second, my pastor and friend Justin Alfred, who showed me what it meant to love the truth more than yourself, by loving people enough to speak God's truth no matter the personal cost. Mom and Justin, your labor of love was not in vain! 1 Corinthians 15:58: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."
I titled this commentary "A Lost Love," because I have had trouble finding God's agapao love within God's Church. And as I look toward the horizon of the future, I do not receive very much encouragement of it getting any better. Perhaps if we the Church can begin to see within our hearts that there is a problem, maybe we'll begin to cry out to God and capture once again within our hearts this most elusive lost love which God's Word calls agapao. My intention with writing this commentary was not to judge but to simply define this "lost love" according to Holy Scripture. Hopefully, this will place before all of us a much higher aspiration to race toward in our lives.
This "lost love" is revealed to us in John 21:15-22, "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me more than these?' He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.' He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.' Verse 17: He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.' Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me!' Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, ‘Lord, who is the one who betrays You?' Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?' Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!'"
In the above portion of Scripture we see a side-by-side comparison of two very unique and different kinds of love, and in the original Greek it is known as agapao and phileo. Throughout this passage of Scripture, except at verse 17, Jesus uses agapao and Peter uses phileo for the word we translate in English as love. In verse 17, Jesus finally used phileo also as it appeared that Peter was just unable to comprehend what Jesus was trying to tell him. In spite of this, Jesus attempts yet another approach and says to Peter, "A time will come when you will stretch out your hands and go where you do not want to go." Peter still thinking phileo within his heart said, "But what about this other disciple?" Peter just could not understand within his heart the point Jesus was trying to make.
Although Peter could not understand at that time the point Jesus was trying to make, he did come to a full understanding later on in his life when he was crucified upside down for his testimony and belief in Jesus as the Messiah -- Immanuel -- God's Son. Now in hindsight, let's see if we can come to an understanding, with the Holy Spirit's help, as to what was in Jesus' heart when He asked Peter: "Do you love (agapao) Me?" Let's start by defining these two VERY unique and different kinds of love. Phileo is mankind's love, a love that depends solely on common interests. For example, as long as you do things that are in my interest, benefit me, and/or bring me joy, then I will love you. On the other hand, there is agapao love which can come only from God. It is a love which NEVER wavers, even if the circumstances to love become contrary to our carnal reasoning.
When we fall short of the mark (sin), as we all will, God's love for us never wavers. He covers us, forgives us, and/or helps us in our weakness. Even when God gave us the law, His objective was to save, not to hurt us. God gave us the law so we could see our need to be saved. By the law, sin became utterly sinful for the sole purpose of driving us to Jesus -- our salvation. On the other hand, I see much too often in the Church today faultfinding, not for the purpose of helping someone, but merely to satisfy our own pettiness, and exalt ourselves in our own eyes. In contrast, Jesus knowing our faults set out to save us, even unto the laying down of His own life. Jesus gave His life not only to the people who claimed to love Him, but even to the people who openly hated Him, if they would acknowledge both Him, and their need to be cleansed -- their need to be born-again.
I've seen much too often members of a church criticize their pastor, not concerning doctrinal issues, but just because he wasn't speaking enough on what Jesus would do for them, and how he "seemed" not to be concerned enough about their needs. Does not such criticism expose their love as a "phileo" kind of love!? A worldly kind of love that is based solely on common interests. In essence, they were saying to their pastor, "If you would do these things for me, then I will love you." In their criticism of him, God's "agapao" kind of love which covers, forgives, and/or helps was completely absent -- the God kind of love which drove Jesus to the cross. And if that is the case, then by default we (the Church) are imitating this world's kind of love instead of God's. I thought we were to influence this world by becoming as salt and light to a "phileo" loving world, not imitate it.
To my horror, I see that many of our largest churches today are built upon a foundation of sermons which proclaim how Jesus will give to you all your desires and make you happy. In essence, this kind of teaching can only reinforce our natural fleshly (worldly) phileo love. Jesus tried to get Peter to understand that this phileo kind of love would not be sufficient if Peter wanted to follow and obey Him.
What would happen to a "phileo" love centered church if Jesus, like with Peter, gave them a direction in life that they did not want to follow? Would they turn their back on Jesus as quickly as some have done to their pastors? Is it not true that whatever you do to His body, you do to Jesus? When our petty common (worldly) interests are no longer coddled, will that cause God's Church to fall away and their fleshly (worldly) phileo love to grow cold? Don't be too quick to say: "My love would never grow cold; I would die for Jesus!" Mark 14:29-31: "But Peter said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.' And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, that you yourself this very night, before a cock crows twice, shall three times deny Me.' But Peter kept saying insistently, ‘Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!' And they all were saying the same thing, too."
A tragic sign that this fleshly phileo love is beginning to permeate God's Church is seen in the fact that divorce is as high in the Church as it is in the world. And what are the reasons for most divorces today in the church? You don't make me happy anymore! Our interests are no longer in common! You really hurt me, so I will not forgive you! These reasons are all centered around a fleshly phileo love, i.e., what's in it for me. Which is the exact opposite of God's agapao love. We seem to easily run at the first sign of any personal discomfort. Yes, before a cock crows twice, we quickly say goodbye to our vows of eternal love that we professed to have in our marriage ceremony.
Nowadays, even God's truths seem to take second place when it comes to our personal comfort. Sorry Jesus, I cannot forgive him/her, because they just hurt me too much. Sorry Jesus, it is no longer in my interest to speak the truth, it may hold me back, or keep my church from growing. Sorry Jesus, I will be unpopular if I speak out about sin. Sorry Jesus, this church does not entertain me any more. All of these excuses are motivated from self interests, or fleshly (worldly) phileo love. You can almost hear Jesus ask, "My bride, do you love (agapao) Me?"
We seem to have in the Church today a mentality that only judges the evidence of God's Holy Spirit by talking in tongues and/or the performing of miracles. For some reason we have lost sight of the only true evidence of God's Holy Spirit which is: God's agapao love! Have we lost sight of this love because it is so much easier to speak in tongues than to lay down our lives? Is it because our main focus is on impressing people with miracles and/or with our great knowledge by speaking on the great mysteries of God for hours? If that is the case, we have a HUGE problem according to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, when there is no evidence of agapao love. That church may be making a lot of noise, but at the same time, it is not exhibiting any distinction from the world. Agapao love is the only thing which cannot be counterfeited by Satan.
It is written, that if Jesus is lifted up, speaking of the cross, that He would draw men unto Himself. Can the Church draw mankind to Jesus by becoming like the world? Or should we draw mankind to Jesus by taking up our cross daily? Inasmuch as the cross is the essence of agapao love, are our lives motivated by agapao love unto the laying down of our lives even as Jesus did; thereby, drawing men to Him and not to ourselves? May both you and I take heed of the warning before Jesus returns and tells us, "Get away from Me, I never knew you" (Matthew 7:13-23). Oh, that we, His bride, would know the breadth, length, depth, and height of His love so that we would be filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Now that we have a better understanding of the two Greek words agapao and phileo, we should be able to gain insight on what Jesus was trying to get Peter to understand. Jesus was trying to reveal to Peter that there was coming a time when just phileo love would be proven to be totally inadequate when it came time to go where he did not want to go. Hence, Jesus asked Peter, do you love (agapao) Me? Isn't Jesus asking the same question today of His bride (the church)? My bride (church), do you love (agapao) Me? Yet the bride's response seems to be the same as Peter's before the Holy Spirit was given! Yes Jesus, you know I love (phileo) You!
Let us in the Church today build our house on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ with the precious gold that comes down from heaven, agapao love, and not with the hay, wood, and stubble of fleshly phileo love. Then, just maybe, we will hear God say, "Well-done good and faithful servant."
From my heart to yours,
Raymond D. Sopp
All above Bible references are from The New American Standard Bible, (La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation) 1977.
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