There's a Christian hymn that we often sing in church services and a line of it goes like this: "They will know we are Christians by our love". I get to wondering sometimes if this is true or not.
There are a lot of misconceptions by Christians and by non-Christians about what love is and what love isn't. I can't count the times I've started out writing this article and how many times I've ended up deleting it altogether because in writing about what love was, I ended up writing about what it wasn't--and it ended up being a very unloving article about love. Ain't that an oxymoron!
I like listening to very old preachers. They seem to understand what love is and what love isn't. Borne out of their great experience is years of dealing with people in general. I heard one guest preacher say just last week, "If I had to deal with Christians without the knowledge of who Jesus is, I couldn't do it." Hey folks, I'm on his side.
I hate to say this but Christians are some of the most loving and unloving people you will ever have the fortune or misfortune to meet.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why Christians can be unloving is because they honestly don't know the definition of love. Because our culture is so firmly rooted in emotional responses to circumstances, the Christian often times goes too far to the other extreme. They refuse the idea of warm fuzzies and become cold and heartless altogether. I'm speaking out of my experience now.
I've heard the phrase, "We have to love so-and-so to thier highest good" misapplied so many times I want to vomit. Usually what that means is that this person believes another should be confronted in a less than gentle way and upbraided one side and down the other until they repent from their wicked ways and conform to their idea of godliness.
See...here I am, doing it again...writing about what love isn't in order to define what love is.
When Paul spoke about telling the truth in love in the book of Ephesians, I don't think he had the above senerio in mind. I believe that he actually was considering telling the truth while being patient and kind and not being arrogant, proud or exaulting one's own self. What Paul meant was to tell the truth and not be rude about it. Don't work yourself up into an anger while telling someone else what their faults are. Don't bring up past offenses (imagined or otherwise) to further make whatever point needed in order to direct that person towards the "right" path. The end never justifies the means.
If love rejoices with the truth, then if the truth really is told in love, the person being told that truth will (USUALLY) repent. Never forget that it is God's kindness which leads people to repentence (Romans 2:4). If God is tolerant and patient towards sinners, shouldn't we be too? And before you open your mouth, make sure you are actually acting upon truth and not just what you believe must have happened. Double, triple, quadriple check your facts!
Don't get what I'm saying wrong. God doesn't ignore sin and neither should we. I am talking specifically about being loving in a Biblical manner. That involves telling the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15 (NAS)). Part of being loving is being patient and kind. Yes the Bible is talking about warm fuzzies.
I did a study on love a few weeks back when I was translating a few verses from the book of Philemon. What I found was that love actually begins with an emotional reponse to a person's unfortunate circumstances.
In the BAGD on page 4 agapeo is first described as 'of affection for persons', also 'of the love of supernatual beings" (i.e., God for humans). Jesus felt this when he encountered (of all people) an unbeliever in Mark chapter ten verse 21. Read it. If Jesus could feel this emotion with an unbeliever, shouldn't we at least attempt to do the same with our Christian brothers and sisters? Hey...here's a thought...how about being loving toward those non-Christians for a change!
Agapeo (the Greek word for loving someone to their highest good) is definied in Perschbacher as: 'to love, value, esteem, feel or manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards, to delight in, to set store upon' (pg 2).
The Apostle of John is known in Christian circles as "The Apostle of Love" because he writes about this subject more than any other of the Apostles. At the end of his gospel, he writes about the event where Peter was reconciled to Christ after the Resurrection.
The word Peter used "Phileo" is a different word than "Agapeo". While Phileo is a word that is a warm fuzzy feeling, it is composed of emotion that lacks action. It is a type of love that Christians tend to despise and scorn. But you know, I don't see Jesus despising Peter. Peter admitted readily that what he felt for Jesus did not have the action to back up his feelings (remember Jesus was addressing Peter's denial of knowing Him before the crucifixition). Yet, even in this admission, I see Jesus strengethening Peter by urging him to take action while still feeling those emotions, not abandoning them!
Later we actually see Peter succeed with love through the letters he wrote to the early churches. Jesus had previously urged Peter to put his warm feelings (phileo) into action (agapeo). We see him feeding the sheep and taking care of them because of his feelings toward the flock of God. Phileo turned into Agapeo. Peter ended up knowing what love (Agapeo) really was because he finally understood what love wasn't just an emotion (Phileo)--it was emotion that led to action. It was not one or the other. It was both.
Too often we forget that true love is action that accompanies our emotions. No one is really able to be patient and kind unless they feel it in the first place. Being kind is a fruit of the Spirit. God produces it in the believer and because they feel kind, they are able to be patient. They will exhibit all the qualities expressed in 1st Corinthians chapter thirteen.
So the next time your church sings a hymm about "They will know we are Christians by our love" make certain that they do.