[This article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching, “Love is Giving” by John W. Schoenheit.]
Welcome to this December monthly teaching on Love Is Giving.
I think that it is appropriate to be talking about love in the month of December because this is the month that we celebrate the birth of Christ. Now, I think that most of us know that Jesus Christ was not born in December; but nevertheless, we celebrate the birth of Christ in December. It is appropriate to think about God’s love in the month of December and the fact that God so loved that He gave. Also, I think that in another sense that it is always appropriate to talk about love because in 1 John 4:8 Scripture tells us that God is love.
1 John 4:8
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Since God is love and since we are commanded to be like God (remember Ephesians 5:1 says, “be imitators of God”), it is important to know what love is. If I were the Devil and was holding a committee meeting to find out how to confuse the issues related to God, theology, and life, one of the things that I would confuse would be what is love. Ladies and gentlemen, that is precisely what has happened in our world today. I would say that the vast majority of the people on the face of the earth do not know what the love of God is. What we are going to try to do in this transcription is take a look at Scripture and see if we can better understand what the love of God is and what we are commanded to do when God tells us to love Him and love others. What the Devil has done is that he has confused the issue so that the word love is not well understood.
In the Greek there are at least four words that can be translated into our English word love. We are going to be looking at each of these four, at least a little bit. The four Greek words are agape [that is the noun], agapao [that is the verb], phileos [that is the noun form], phileo [that is the verb form], eros—I think that we are familiar with that. We get our word erotic from it, and storge may be new to you. The four are: agape, phileo, eros, and storge. Now, they all translate into love in English, and I think that you can begin to see the problem already—that when I tell somebody that I am being loving or when I expect love from someone, what exactly do I want? In the Greek, they did a much better job of explaining this so that people could understand what was said.
What we need to do now is that we need to “unpack,” if you will. Imagine a suitcase with four different pieces of clothing in it and sometimes the whole suitcase gets called one thing. What we need to do is unpack the English definition of love so that we can understand it and use it as God uses it. Now, to do that and especially biblically, we need to understand those four Greek words.
First we have agape. Agape love is love that is related to obedience, and it is expressed in giving. Agape love is revealed by actions not feelings. We are going to spend a lot more time on agape, so we will go back and re-cover that.
Phileo love is love between friends. Perhaps you are familiar with our American city Philadelphia, which comes from phileos = love and adelphoes = brethren; thus Philadelphia, they say is the city of brotherly love. Phileo is the love that is between friends. Phileo love does involve a feeling, and in that sense, phileo love can actually be more personal than agape love. You really need to wrap your mind around that and get that. With agape, I can love someone by doing something for them when I have no feelings for them at all, but with phileo love, it involves a feeling. In that sense, it can be more personal than agape. For example, you can agape love your enemies, but you cannot phileo love your enemies.
Next you have eros. I think that most of us are familiar with eros and erotic love. It is the strong sexual attraction that one person will feel toward another.
A love that we may not be as familiar with but the Greeks expressed it very well is storge. Storge love is familial love. It is love between family members and particularly love between parents and children. The Greeks recognized that a strong attraction existed particularly between parents and children or parents and babies. This very strong attraction did not really fit agape, phileo, or eros. It is a family love. I think that we run into that a little bit when you see the reaction of most women when they see a little baby. They just have this warm feeling, and they are like, “Oh,” when they see the baby. Well, from where does that come? That is the storge, the family love, the love that God put inside a man’s heart for his children or a woman’s heart for her children or the children for their parents. That is a storge love. It is very much a part of the way that God designed us to be. When God says that He is a Father to us and that He loves us, that is storge love, and it is very much a part of the picture.
We need to go back now and look at these four, but we are going to focus primarily on agape and phileo. The reason for that is that they are the two words that appear in Scripture. Eros and storge do not appear in Scripture, but they are a part of the very apparent love package, so we need to know about all four of them; however, in the Bible itself, we run into agape and phileo. [After further study we learned that storge does appear in a compound form in Romans 12:10.]
As I said earlier, agape is related to obedience, and it is expressed in giving. This is a huge key to recognizing agape love. How do we recognize agape love? Well, we look for giving. Let us look at John 3:16. Now, this is very appropriate to look at John 3:16 in football season because if you are an avid watcher of football, then you cannot watch to many games before you will see hung over the rail of some stadium a sheet or a sign with John 3:16 on it. What is the person holding that sign trying to communicate?
“For God so loved [agape] the world that he gave [big key here] his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Agape love is expressed in giving. Let me show it to you again from Christ’s perspective.
Ephesians 5:1 and 2
(1) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
(2) and live a life of love, just as Christ loved [agape] us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Amen, God so loved that He gave; Christ so loved that he gave. This is very important, and it needs to be understood in order for us to understand about love in our culture because what do we commonly hear on the street? You might hear me say, “I love Oreo cookies.” Well, you might hear me say it, but the fact is that I do not love Oreo cookies with the love of God. I do not give them anything! What happens between an Oreo cookie and me is that I eat it! I like the way that it tastes. I put it in my mouth, and I enjoy the flavor. I am not giving anything to the Oreo cookie. It does not even have a special place on my pantry shelf. I am not giving at all; I am taking from the cookie. If someone says, “I love ice cream.” They are not giving anything to the ice cream. When somebody says, “I love the beach.” They do not love the beach; they like the beach. They are not doing anything for the beach. What they are doing is that they are going to the beach and they are enjoying themselves. They enjoy the way it makes them feel. They like it. Because they like it a lot, what happens in our culture is that we say, “We love the beach.” The problem is that we are raised in a culture where from the time that a child is really just beginning to understand communication, what are they hearing? I love ice cream. I love the beach. I love Oreo cookies—that type of thing. What happens is that the word like and the word love get confused, and the concept of what the love of God is becomes confused. When true agape love is being expressed, giving is involved with that — a giving of yourself.
Now, let us see how it translates out into our culture. You get a guy dating a girl or a girl with a guy, and the guy says, “I love you.” Well now, how is he using the word love? I can tell you pretty much how I think that he is using the word love. He is probably using the word love just like he is using it when he says, “I love ice cream,” and “I love the beach.” He looks at this girl and says, “I love you,” and what he means is, “I really like the way that you make me feel.” That is why, by the way, as soon as something goes wrong in the relationship and you are not getting good feelings from the relationship anymore, then you have statements like, “I don’t love her anymore” or “I don’t love him anymore.” These are translated as, “I don’t like her/him anymore. He/She is not making me feel good.”
It is very important for us to understand and get that the love of God is always expressed in giving. What are you giving out? What are you giving out into the relationship, out into the world, out to others, out to God? What are you giving forth? What are you giving up? What are you giving? On the other hand, liking is what are you taking. What is coming into you? A difference in direction occurs between love and like. In the love of God, the direction is out from you. In liking, the direction is in toward you. This is incredibly important because the love of God is expressed in actions not in feelings.
Let us go to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus Christ gathers the people together, and he is talking to them.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
Now wait a minute! Who would say that? Who would say love your neighbor and hate your enemy? Well, actually, the religious leaders would. We can document that the religious leaders of the time of Christ were saying it but it was not biblical doctrine. Many people think that what we are dealing with here is a change between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the Old Testament said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but now Christ is going to change that. That is not it at all. The Old Testament is also going to say love your enemies, which is where we are going to go in just a second. Christ is here saying:
Matthew 5:43 and 44
(43) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
(44) But I tell you: Love your enemies
The word love here is agape. The question is, “How can I do that? I do not like the person. They have hurt my feelings. They have hurt me; they have hurt my family.” Maybe they have done a lot of other things too, and you say, “I don’t like the person; in fact, I have an intense dislike for the person. How can you command me to love this person?” Hey, that is a great question. It deserves a great answer. The key is in the word love. Remember, we had to unpack the word love, and we have four choices: agape, phileo, eros, and storge. The Greek word here is agape. Remember, agape love is expressed in giving; so how do you love your enemy? You do not love your enemy by going through all kinds of crazy mental gymnastics and trying to figure out how you are going to like him. That is not how you love your enemy. The way that you love your enemy is acting toward your enemy like God would act toward your enemy. Give to them; help them; pray for them. Let us look at the context, and this will come out to you.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
That is loving your enemy. Some people say to me, “John, I don’t even feel like praying for him, but I do it anyway.” Praise the Lord, you are loving your enemy.
Matthew 5:44 and 45
(44) pray for those who persecute you,
(45) that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.
And then Christ gives an example of what God does.
He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
He gives them a chance. He meets their need. When Christ was saying love your enemy, did he have an example in the Old Testament that he could use that would anchor him in his teaching? The answer to that is, yes. Let’s go to Exodus 23:4. This is the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses is guiding people. The word Torah is instruction. I know sometimes that we say that the Torah is the law, but technically the word Torah means instruction. Other words can be found like Mitzvah that mean law, but Torah means instruction. In the Old Testament, in the five Books of Moses, we have instructions of how to live and how to get along with each other.
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.
Imagine how this goes against your natural feeling. You have an enemy, and let us say in Old Testament culture that they live a couple of miles away. You are out farming one day, and you notice this ox just kind of walking across your pasture and out over the hillside. You recognize the ox, and you say, “I know, that is Bill’s ox.” You do not like Bill, and you’re thinking, “This is great! Bill is going to hunt for years to find that ox. In fact, I am going to go over there and smack it on the butt to make him go faster and get him out of here! Ha, ha, this is a great day!!!”
No, that is not what Scripture says. It says, you are to love your enemy; this is what you do. You go get this ox, and you take it back to Bill. You say, “But God, I am farming here. I am plowing. I am taking advantage of the good weather. I do not have a half a day to put a rope around this ox and take it all the way over to Bill’s place and drop it off. I do not like the guy anyway and he has treated me like dirt!” God says, “You know what, if you see your enemies ox or donkey wondering off, you go and you take it back to him.” That is love.
Today that might translate as you are driving down the road, and you see somebody that has caused you a lot of pain and a lot of problems, and you count that person as an enemy, and you see them on the side of the road with a flat tire struggling along. Well, you do not just go zooming by him 55 miles an hour and laugh out the window, “Ah-ha-ha!” No, you do not do that. You pull over, and see if you can help.
Does it say that you have to feel good about it? No, it does not. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the key to biblical love. You do not necessarily have to feel good. It is always wonderful if you can feel good about it, but you do not necessarily have to feel good about it. What you have to do is obey.
If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.
Does that set a really clear picture of how to love people? How do we love our enemies? We help them out in godly ways. We pray for them. You do not have to do a bunch of mental gymnastics to make them into a friend, but if you are going to obey God, you have to make your sun shine on them just like God makes His sun shine on those that are His enemies. Absolutely, we do!
In learning more about love, let us look at 1 Corinthians. I think that we all probably know that this is the great chapter in Scripture on love, and it tells us a lot about love.
1 Corinthians 13:1
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
That is agape love. What does it mean? It means that if I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but I really do not obey God. I really do not do what God says. I just do things that make me happy, then I am really pretty empty.
1 Corinthians 13:2
If I have the gift [manifestations] of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries [sacred secrets] and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not [agape] love, I am nothing.
What is going on here? If I am not really obeying God, if that is really not where my heart is to obey God, then really what is the point of all of my acts of service? They are just men pleasing, or they are for self-aggrandizement. They are just to build me up, but they are not done because I really love God or that I want to obey God. They are done for some reason to make me look great or something along that line.
Look at verse four. Watch how love here expresses itself in action. Remember, the kind of mental picture that love is giving; love is what is going out from you. What is coming in to you is what you like, but what is going out from you that is where agape love lives.
1 Corinthians 13:4
Love is patient,
Okay, let us take a look at that. I could take a look at that because I am not the worlds most patient person. I get it that I am supposed to be more giving in patience. I tell you, I get in some of those grocery store lines, and the people are just chatting away and not checking out groceries and I get really challenged. But I know that love is patient, and if I will just give of myself instead of taking, then I will do better.
1 Corinthians 13:4
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Love says nice things about other people. It is not proud. It is not rude, after all, you are hardly being giving when you are rude.
1 Corinthians 13:5
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
What is the point of a record of wrongs? Some people have this mental ledger of every time that they have been wronged. How in the world is that giving to others? It is just taking so that you have more ammunition to use the next time that you are in a war. We just have to let it go because love does not keep a record. God is our high tower, our shield, and our defense.
1 Corinthians 13:6 and 7
(6) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
(7) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Do you see the giving in this? Do you see how this shows that giving is outward?
1 John 4:20
If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.
Can we be any plainer in our speech than that? I would say it is pretty plain! What does it mean if you say, “I love God,” yet you hate your brother, you are a liar? What does that mean? Well, first of all what does it mean to hate your brother? To hate your brother means to treat him badly. You know, biblically, hate is just like love. It expresses itself. It expresses itself into the physical world. If you are hating your brother, then you are aggressively doing things to make his life miserable. Absolutely, you are working to undermine. You are spreading rumors. You are sending nasty notes. You are messing up his life in this way or that way. The Bible says, “If you say that you love God, but you are doing that kind of thing to your brother, then the thing about loving God—you are a liar.”
God commands us to love [agape] our enemy. That means that we give to our enemy. Love is giving. It is going outward. By the way, not only are we loving our enemy, but we are loving those people around us. If you are in a relationship, a girl in a relationship with a guy or a guy in a relationship with a girl, and you are asking yourself, does he/she really love me, all you have to do is just ask, “What am I being given?” If the relationship is that he says that he loves me, but all he does is take, take, take, well what he really is saying is that I love you like he says “I love the beach.” He just really likes you and just wants to take from you. Similarly, if a guy is with a girl and she says, “I love you,” but all she does is take, take, take, it is the same thing.
You see, it is pretty easy to sort this thing all out once we know what love is. When God says that He loves you, you better believe that He is giving all kinds of things. Let us start with the fact that He gave His Son. He gives you the fullness of the spirit. He energizes the manifestations whenever you want to speak in tongues. He continually pours out revelation.
Now armed with this information (agape love is giving), let us see if we can sort some things out in Scripture. Christ is saying:
“If you love me, you will obey what I command.
Sure that makes sense; of course, here comes Jesus, and he says for you to do something. You say, “Well, I love you Jesus, but I’m not doing that.” Well, how is that love? How is that giving of yourself—knowing that Jesus is the Son of God, and he never means you any harm and would always have your best interests at heart? You can see that God always has your best interests at heart. How do you love God? You love God by obeying. You give of yourself and obey God. Well, what if I do not feel like it? That is okay. You probably did not feel like pulling over to the side of the road and helping your enemy change a tire either. The guy in the Old Testament did not want to take Bill’s ox back to him. The love of God does not always mean that you want to do what God wants you to do.
We understand this as parents too. When my kids were little, I can remember when one of them, Sierra, was teething and I thought that I would never get another wink of sleep the rest of my life. She cried incessantly all night long for weeks at a time. We, as parents, stayed up with her and walked her back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and held her and comforted her. Did I really feel like it? No, I had to go to work the next day! I was absolutely dragging myself around for a couple of weeks. Do you know what? That is love! When I see mom’s that expend themselves for their kids, especially these mom’s who have a colicky baby or something like that, you can see the love in their life. Do they feel like staying up? No, they do not feel that way all the time.
A love is there that is expressed in giving. We express our love toward God by doing what He says. In verse 21, it is the same thing.
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
If you have the commands of God and obey them, you are the one who loves God. Now, this straightens out a lot of things because people come to you and say, “I really love God.”
Wonderful, you say, “How is your prayer life?”
They say, “Oh well, I don’t have much of a prayer life. I don’t really feel comfortable praying too much, so I don’t really pray too much.”
“Oh, well, where do you go to church?”
“Oh, you know, I’ve never really like crowds and all of that—I just kind of stay away from church. I don’t really fellowship with other Christians.”
“Well, okay, where do you send in any kind of giving or abundant sharing?”
“Oh, you know, my life is pretty tight right now. I guess that I haven’t given in a long time. I just seem to always need everything that I have.”
“Well, you must spend some time reading the Bible?”
“No, no, I don’t like to read. I don’t read the Bible much.”
“Well, certainly you must share your faith with others? You must tell other people about Jesus?”
“No, no, my religion is pretty private. I’m not one of those guys that believe that you ought to be pushing your religion on anybody else. I don’t do that.”
About the time that you have gone through this kind of conversation, you have a fair reason to say, “Well excuse me, you told me that you love God. Exactly how do you do it? Because Scripture says that whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one that loves me.” John 14 continues with this:
John 14:23 and 24
(23) Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
(24) He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not My own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
This is all pretty plain! If you can look at your life honestly and figure out the bottom line is that you are not doing what God asks of you, then let us just be honest and say that you do not love God the way that you should. I am not saying that you do not love God at all. You know, only you can be the judge of that, but seriously folks, we have a God that has done a lot for us and He deserves a lot from us! He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God. That means obeying, so we do what God says. We do not make up excuses for not doing what God says and in the meanwhile try and cover our tracks and look really holy by saying that we love God. Our actions will define whether we love God or not. I do not care whether you paste I love God for wallpaper on every room in your house. If you are not doing what God asks, your words are hollow. Of course, we know that Christ loved the Father:
but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. “Come now; let us leave.
Amen and amen to that. Christ did exactly what God said, so we know that Christ loved the Father. Now if we go to John 15:9, we will watch this develop a little bit. This is going to be real interesting.
John 15:9 and 10
(9) “As the Father has [agape] loved me, so have I [agape] loved you. Now remain in my love [agape].
(10) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love [agape], just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.
He then goes on:
John 15:12 and 13
(12) My command is this: Love each other as I have loved [agape] you.
(13) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Ah, now we have a change. The word friend is the word philos. You could translate it as beloved if you wanted, but it would kind of confuse the issue because the rest of the time in here the word love is agape. Now, we have a shift.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [his philos].
Philos is the love between friends. Phileo love has a feeling connected with it. Please understand this, in the sense that phileo love usually has a feeling connected with it—a friendship is there. A bond that people feel is there when they like each other and are friends. When they get together, an upsurge and upwelling of warmth inside is present because you are with your friend. The word philos (friendship) carries a feeling, and in that sense phileo is more personal than agape.
You see, I can agape my enemy because if I see him with a flat tire in the rain. I can stop and help him out even if I do not want to do it, but I may have a hard time conjuring up some feeling of warmth when I do it. However, if I see my friend pulled over on the side of the road, I pull over willingly. Even though it is cold or wet, you get out and help. You may even give each other a hug. A feeling is there that you have when you are helping your friend (philos) with a flat tire that you do not have when you are helping your enemy with a flat tire.
When you are helping your enemy and your friend it is still agape love because in both cases it is obedience, but with your friend, phileo love is also present. A love between friends is there that is very deep. This is really important for you to understand.
When a person obeys God, then they become a friend of God. If you obey God and fellowship with God, you make Him into a friend. We do not just obey Him because we are afraid that He is going to punish us. We obey Him because of what He has done for us. We obey Him because of what we know that He will do for us. We obey Him because we see His love, His righteousness, and His justice. We develop a relationship and a friendship with God and God with us.
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend [philos/beloved].
Abraham gave himself with a passion to do the work of God. How did God respond? Sure, God had agape love for Abraham, but it went deeper. Abraham became a friend of God. I do not know about you, but I want to be there. I want to be so close to God that when the rapture comes, I can look at God, and He can look at me, and I will know that we are friends. I just want that kind of relationship with God that is deeper than just a dispassionate obedience.
Let us go back to John 15 because that is what developed between Jesus and the Apostles. What developed between Jesus and the Apostles was more than just Jesus helping the Apostles because God said so, and it was obedience. A friendship was there because the Apostles started to give back of their lives to Jesus.
You are my friends [philos] if you do what I command.
Amen! As we obey God and do that over time, what happens is that we become friends. Christ said to his Apostles, “You are my friends. You have done what I have said to do.” He sent them out two and two into the cities. He told them to heal the sick, cleanse the leapers, and raise the dead. They did it, and they came back excited. They were committed for Christ. They stood with him through the persecutions and the problems; of course, they were scattered at the eve of his arrest, but they stuck with him. They were still around after he got up from the dead. Jesus is saying, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends [philos/beloved], for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
I think that is the relationship that we want with Christ—is it not? We want to be truly beloved.
In John 21, we have Jesus Christ after his resurrection. Now, I think that we are all familiar with the fact that when push came to shove in the high priest’s court yard, Peter denied Jesus Christ. Jesus looked right at him, knew exactly what happened—in fact Jesus prophesied it, before the rooster crows, you will deny me thrice. That prophecy ended up being given twice. Peter ended up denying Christ six times which you can see in some of the chronologies of the last week of Christ’s life. Peter had denied Christ. Christ knew it. Christ looked at Peter through the high priest’s window and Peter went out and wept bitterly.
Now we have Jesus raised from the dead. Jesus and Peter have a chance to talk, and they need to reconcile. They need to clear the air. Jesus has got fish.
(11) Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
(12) Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
(13) Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
(14) This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
(15) When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
You can just see Jesus putting his arm around Simon Peter and taking him aside and saying, “Hey, you know, we have to go talk.”
“Simon son of John, do you truly love [agape] me more than these?”
The phrase more than these was not meaning more than the disciples. How could Jesus be asking Peter if Peter loved Jesus more than the other disciples loved Jesus? Peter did not know what the other disciples were thinking or what was in their heart. The fact is that Peter was the one that had said, “I’m going back to fishing.” Peter is out in the boat. Jesus Christ comes to Peter and says, “Do you agape me more than these fish?” Watch what happens.
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love [phileo] you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Now, in verse 15 Jesus said, “Do you agape me,” and Peter says, “I phileo you.” What is going on here? What is going on here is the tension between agape and phileo. Agape is a love that you do when you do not even feel like doing it. You think that Jesus Christ wanted to go to the cross? You think it was the joy of his life hanging there? He prayed diligently three times, “LORD take this away.” Jesus Christ went to the cross when he did not want to because of the joy that was set before him and because he saw us. He saw what it would be like to have a family, to have resurrected believers living forever with him, so Christ did what he did not want to do.
When the chips were down and Peter had a chance in the high priest’s court to do something that he did not want to do by saying, “Yes, I know this Galilean,” he decided to make life easy for himself and say, “No, I don’t know the man.” Christ is saying here to Peter, “Look Peter, are you going to love me when you don’t feel like it? Are you going to pray when you don’t feel like praying? Are you going to give when you don’t feel like giving? Are you going to be there for me when you don’t feel like it, Peter? Are you going to agape me, Peter?”
Peter on the other hand feels his heart ripped out! Gosh, he was the man who went out and wept bitterly when Christ looked at him through the window. Peter is saying here, “Lord, you know that I phileo you.” What does Peter want? Peter wants that friendship again. He has missed that friendship. He has felt outside; he has felt alone. He wants to know that he is close again, so he says, “Lord, you know that I phileo you.” He wants back into the feeling, but Christ wants to know first if Peter is willing to do what is needed if he does not feel like it.
It goes on to say:
(16) Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileo] you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
(17) The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me [Am I your friend?]?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love [phileo] you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
(18) I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Ladies and gentlemen, that is agape. When you are young, when you are new in the Word, when you are a young Christian, you kind of take life as it comes; you do what you want to with God. Some of the things of God are exciting, and you get involved. Some of the things of God you do not like. It is kind of a smorgasbord. You take what you like and leave what you do not. As you begin to grow in the Word and you begin to grow in your relationship with the Lord, you take the whole picture, and you obey God all the way, and God will sometimes take you where you do not want to go! That is as simple as it is. A lot of times in the Christian life, God will take you where you do not want to go. When you go there, that is agape!
Someone might say, “Well, if I am just obeying God without feeling, will I not just end up like a Pharisee?” No, you will not and for a couple of reasons. One is that as you obey God, if you’re really trying to obey God from the heart, you will have an intense love for God. Let us take a look at the Pharisees because I think that we need to examine that and get that question off the table.
(37) When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.
(38) But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
(39) Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.
(40) You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?
(41) But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
(42) “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is a snapshot into the heart of the Pharisee. What is going on with the Pharisees? Christ pegged it perfectly. He said that they are full of greed and wickedness. Why did they give a tenth of their garden herbs but neglect justice and the love of God? They did this because their hearts were not pure. This is something that we need to examine. What happens is that it looks on the outside that you are obeying God, but in reality all that you are trying to do is please men or make a reputation for yourself.
At this point, we need to take a look at Matthew 6 because this is a very important point. When we talk about the love of God as expressed in giving and obeying God, we need to give of ourselves and we need to do what God says, it is very important that we contextualize this properly. When we talk about doing what God says and obeying God, that does not mean so that men will recognize us. That is not obeying God. That is simply doing something to gain a reputation. If you are praying, but the only reason that you are praying is not to obey God but to get other people to think well of you, then you are not really obeying God are you? Christ of course deals with this on the Sermon on the Mountain.
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them.
That is the key. Why are you doing acts of righteousness? I am doing it so that men can see. Well, what happens then? You get cards and letters and emails. You get pats on the back, and people think that you are wonderful. People call you religious. You get smiles, and you get to be accepted, but really it is all self-serving. Remember that love is giving and like is taking. If the only reason that I am praying is so that I will get the praises of men, my prayer is not giving but taking. By definition then, it is not love. Does that make sense? I hope that it does.
Matthew 6:1 and 2
(1) “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
(2) “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. [That is taking!] I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
They wanted to be honored by men, they were! That is what they wanted. That is what they got.
Matthew 6:3 and 4
(3) But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
(4) so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
You see, if you are keeping your giving to yourself, if you are keeping your acts of righteousness to yourself, if you are not blowing trumpets and announcing all the great things that you are doing, then it is pretty obvious that it is not so that you can get the praise of men because men are not finding out about it. He then says the same thing about prayer in verse five.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.
They are taking. They were seen by men so that is what they wanted, and that is what they got.
Matthew 6:5 and 6
(5) I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
(6) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
See how we can unpack this and see what is love and what is not? It is very important to get this straight because what is happening here is that on the outside looking in, you may look at someone and say, “Wow, that person is really obedient; Wow, that person really does what God says. Look at that Pharisee giving a tenth of the entire garden. Boy, he counts every lettuce leaf.” Looking from the outside in, it can be hard to determine whether somebody is giving of themselves in love or whether in fact they are actually taking (meaning they just want to be seen by men and praised by men or even occasionally praised by themselves). Sometimes we do things so that we feel better about ourselves. We eventually want to get ourselves to the point that we do what we do because we love God.
That is where we are going next.
1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.
The word love there both times is the word agape. We have agape love because God first loved us. I cannot emphasize this verse enough. Many times people feel hollow in their life or feel unloved by God. They may even doubt whether what they are doing is actually love or not. I would say that if you are having any of these problems, then focus on what God has done for you. It is not wrong or selfish to focus and meditate on what God has done for you. Think of a baby. You take two babies. One baby is in a family where it is really loved and cared for particularly as a baby and a small child. Its needs are met, and it is held a lot, and it is talked to, and it is handled gently and kindly. That child grows up well adjusted, and it grows up learning to give and learning to love. You have the second child that is treated very harshly and very, very mean. The parents are mean and cruel to it. That child will not grow up secure. That child will not grow up in love. The natural order of things is that we are mature and well adjusted and can love and can give of ourselves when we are secure in the fact that we are loved. It is very important to get this because it is hard to ask yourself to be loving if you have never been loved. If you have been raised in an environment where your whole life has been fight, fight, fight and people have been mean to you. People have been hard on you. People have been unfair to you. Life has treated you harshly, and you feel like you have to fight tooth and nail for everything that you have gotten. Think back over your life and try to remember if anybody just loved you and took care of you. I can tell you that when people are loved and taken care of that a warmth and inner knowingness, a feeling of security is there, and this becomes part of their life. It gives them a tower of strength in their heart that allows them to be loving. Scripture is so good about this! Look what it says.
1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is imperative that if we are going to be loving, then we have got to get how much God loves us. If you do not get that, then it is not wrong to stop whatever it is you are doing in your prayer life, your study life, your Bible life, your spiritual life, and say, “Lord, this is what I want to focus on. I want to think about it. I want to sing about it. I want to pray about it. I want to get it. I want to understand your love for me.” That is not selfish. You know the world will try to tell you that you are being selfish or self centered if you are thinking about how God loves you. It is a spiritual truth that works not only in the spiritual world but in the physical world. In our physical families, if you want somebody to be genuinely loving, they have to be loved first.
The first place that we have to be is honest about where we really are. It does not help anybody to lie and cover and pretend. The first thing that we have to be able to do is to say, “I’m struggling with this.” Talk about struggling with something, one of the verses that I struggled with for a long time in the Bible was the verse in Revelation 3:15. It is where the Lord is speaking to the church and he says, “I would that you be hot or cold and not lukewarm.” For a long time I thought why not? It sounds better to me to be lukewarm than to be cold. Why would Christ say that I would rather for you to be hot or be cold but not lukewarm? The answer is that if you are lukewarm, you are just comfortable where you are. You do not want to change. You do not want to make any changes. You do not want to go anywhere; however, if you are hot, hey, you are hot. You are fired up; you are rolling. You are going, good deal! If you are cold, you know it—“Lord, I don’t like you. I don’t understand this. I don’t feel loved. I don’t feel like loving anybody. I don’t feel like obeying.” You just lay it out there for the Lord. Let him know how you feel. He is not afraid of your questions, and he is not afraid of you. This is when you need to ask God, “I know that you sent your Son. I know that you make the sun rise on the just and unjust alike. I know that you made everlasting life available for all people. I know that you must love. Help me understand it.” Do you think a loving heavenly Father is going to ignore that kind of prayer? Not on your life is He going to do that.
1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.
We have got to get God’s love for us. When we get God’s love for us, all of a sudden, we will be able to better understand how we express His love toward other people, and then we can step up to the plate to be loving. As 1 Corinthians 13:5 says:
1 Corinthians 13:5
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
All of a sudden, being loving will not be so difficult because instead of setting love out there as a target—I have got to do this and that, we finally get that God loves us, and it is in our heart and in our life. All of sudden, we will then begin to reflect His nature. We feel so comfortable and warm being loved that we simply begin to reflect the nature of God.
2 Corinthians 3:17 and 18
(17) Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(18) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
You see, as you look at Christ and focus on Christ, you reflect his glory and are transformed into his glory. Somebody in the world might say, “That is awful selfish. All you are doing is looking at the Lord for yourself.” Do you not get what it is doing? Is a little baby being selfish if it wants to be loved by its mom and dad? Look what is going on in the heart and the character of that baby while it is being genuinely loved. Look at the fortress of power that is being built-up, the security, the safety, and the feeling of all-rightness. We now want that from God. We want to feel alright. We want to feel loved. As we look toward the Lord Jesus Christ and as we look toward God and as we get their love for us, we are transformed. Just like this verse says, “Transformed into his likeness.”
It is not wrong to go to God and say, “Teach me how you love me.” You then let Him wash over you with His love and teach you how He is giving you everlasting life. How He will change your mortal body to be like Christ’s glorious body and how He sent His Son while we were still enemies [Romans 5].
Once we get that love, now, we are in a real position to go out and love others. We see one of our enemies, and he needs help, and we go over and help him when we do not feel like it. Hey, it is what God does! God does it all the time. It comes naturally because we know that we are going to bless our enemy and give him a chance to believe—give him a chance to be warmed by someone else’s love. Maybe he had never been loved. Maybe she has never been loved. The more that we love God, and the more that we are transformed into His image, then the less of a chore it is to do the things in Scripture that we do not want to do. All of a sudden, we will find ourselves praying not because the Bible says to pray, even though it is okay to pray just because the Bible says to pray. As we really get the fire and the love of God inside us, all of a sudden, I am not praying just because God says to pray. I pray because I like it a lot! I give myself to it, and it gives itself to me. I pray because God says so, and I pray because I see the good that it does in the world. I give because I see the value in giving and what it does for the world and how it enables the Church to be able to do wonderful things. I share my faith with others because I see how important everlasting life is, and what a privilege it is to have the chance to be able to live forever with God and with Jesus Christ.
You see, I am convinced that the more that we understand God’s love for us then the less of a chore it is to be obedient to God. That is not to say that times and occasions will not occur where we will need to be obedient to God simply because we need to be obedient to God. Just like Jesus said to Peter there on the beach in John 21:17, “When you are old [when you are mature in the faith] another is going to clothe you and take you where you do not want to go.”
Ladies and gentlemen, when the Lord Jesus takes you into those places where you do not want to go, you will go because you love, because love is giving.
God bless you!