Monday, March 30, 2009

Is All That Christian “Loving One Another” For Real?

Bill visited “an overly expressive” church, where “the love” just seemed unreal to him. “They were all just way too happy! Tell me that’s for real!” The funny thing is, that even if it is real, Bill isn’t sure he wants it. Ha! Jesus understands, Bill. He said to His disciples:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34,35

As a new Christian I began attending just such a church. The fellowship, the teaching, and the worship experience were inspiring. They sang scripture, and the people there were so zealous to become like Jesus! I wanted Christ-likeness too and had hope that with this church; with these wonderful people, God would really do His work in me. But there was one part of their church services that really made me run.

Each Sunday morning they would sing a certain song where everyone would get up and greet one another. Like the church Bill visited, this included lots of hugs and handshakes. Fine, but the song’s lyrics made me freeze:

“I love you with the love of the Lord!
Yes, I love you with the love of the Lord!
I can see in you, the glory of my King.
And I love you with the love of the Lord!”

These people didn’t just sing the song. With eye contact and great smiles, handshakes and hugs, it was like they meant what they were singing! But how could they love me without even knowing me yet? I didn’t believe them! It totally irked my berzerk!

Part of me protested: “They either don’t know what love is, or they are lying to themselves!” They didn’t even know me yet! Was it empty emotionalism? Some friends had wondered if I were now in some cult. Was I? Were seemingly wonderful people trying to dupe me? And yet, I felt they truly were sincere people. Something was wrong!

The rest of these services were wonderful! The teaching, the prayer, the fellowship before and after; God was speaking to me through all of these. It was just that one fellowship song!

Ha, for weeks, I actually waited outside in my car till that song finished. That is how much it bothered me! I’d sit in my car and when I’d hear that song begin, I knew it was safe to turn off the engine, and casually ascend the stairs to church. I got pretty good at slipping in the back just as it ended, and everyone was returning to their seats. Phew!

Really, I was happy with these folk. It was just way too soon to be "loved" by them! They didn’t know me yet, after all. “Wait till they really get to know me and we’ll see if they can still sing that song,” I thought. In fact, I did not understand the song.

Biblical Greek has more than one kind of “love.” But in English Bibles, they all just read “love.” Until coming to Christ, I had only known and experienced some. There was “phileo” or “brotherly love,” and never you mind about the “eros.” But in Jesus, I was now experiencing “Agape.” That is God’s active love. Before being born anew in Christ, I had never actively participated in this Agape love. Now I could. And these people already were!

Jesus tells us to express and have “Agape” for one another. They were singing about Agape. I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand that God intends to express His own Agape love through us, to one another. When we meet, Phileo love might go from me to you. Agape, which cannot be generated by humans, is God loving through me, to you. And to love with God’s love, I don’t really need to know you first. He already knows you! So these people really did love me “with the love of the Lord,” just as they were singing.

This is why Jesus can tell us to “love” our enemies. He’s using the word Agape, and not phileo. God is not commanding us to have brotherly love for people who are out to harm us. The Greek makes that clear. He is telling us to show His love, despite our enemies.

Depending upon what spiritual kingdom one is in, humans react differently to Agape. I once helped a brother’s church with their “evangelism” program. We drove to a supermarket and were given squeegees and squirter bottles of glass cleaner. We washed windshields while folks shopped. After cleaning their windshields we’d leave a simple card under their wiper offering them help if they needed it. I’d been anticipating a day of talking with strangers about Jesus. This was much harder for me! Strangers can give you the hand, or say “no thanks.” These people were receiving our “love” whether they wanted it or not. And some clearly did not!

They were shopping while we loved them. Our culture teaches us that love can be refused. But Agape is superior love. That day, more than one person actually tore up the card, sneering at us. The card just wished them a nice day! Sounds insane doesn’t it?

Agape does that to people; or rather, people respond differently to Agape. Unlike human loves, Agape loves regardless. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, not just for those who would love Him too. Those mocking Him on the cross were being loved, as were His mourners. God’s love doesn’t change but human responses sure can vary!

Whiteout Moment: There is a man made caption in most English Bibles, between John 15:17, and 15:18. Mine reads: “The world hates the disciples.” I would recommend whiting that out. Hated disciples, is not the focus of what Jesus is saying. The world hates Agape. Hatred of God is often exposed when certain unregenerate humans are exposed to Agape. In context, Jesus said:

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you; ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.”
John 15:16-21

Back in chapter 13 Jesus tells us to have Agape for one another, and that the world will know we are His disciples by this Agape we share. Here in chapter 15, He is explaining why some people respond insanely when we do so. They hate God. God is Agape! And so Agape expressed, confronts man with God. That really annoys some people.

“Whoever does not Agape, does not know God, for God is Agape.”
1 John 4:8

God can actually surge through the disciple of Jesus. We in Christ can and are commanded to express Agape. My not understanding Agape kept me fidgeting in my car for weeks. But God’s Agape expressed through His people at that church, prevailed and kept me coming back despite my confusion.

Jesus says in John 15, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” Here love is not Agape, but “phileo.” It is where we get human friendship “love.” This is not the Agape that satisfies the soul. Phileo feels good, but can only run so deep, and only has so much power. Agape transcends likes and dislikes.

Have you ever known godly Christians who just don’t like you? If not, get active in ministry. Sometimes it might just seem they dislike you, but I’ve had folk actually pull me aside to tell me that they didn't like me, but to assure me that they love me in Jesus. I know! Right? Fortunately though, now they feel so much better.

What is cool though, is that even when a brother or sister don't like me, but do love God so much, that they are still loving me, it evidences to all that God is in our midst. It's not that we all just like each other. It's that we truly want God’s best for one another. The world can only “phileo” love their friends. We in Christ can Agape everyone, regardless! That is powerful and life changing!

Oh, and to any brother or sister who don’t presently like me; we have all eternity. I’ll grow on you.

Check your windshield!