For our study time this morning I want us to look at the first three words of verse 15 (translated from two words in the Greek).
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15 ESV
“Do not love.” The Greek here is (me agapate). Me is a negative, (do not) and the word for “love” is from the verb agapao. So it is saying “don’t love.” If someone were to ask you what the Greek noun agape or Greek verb agapao mean, what would you say? Here is what I said about love two weeks ago.
In Greek there are four different words for love. There is the noun eros. It is used to describe erotic love, sensual love, what you feel when you "fall in love." It conveys the passionate attraction toward the opposite sex. That kind of love is not even mentioned in the Word of God.
There is the noun storge. This word speaks of the love of family. It is used of the love of a parent for a child and a child for a parent. In the New Testament, storge appears in the noun or verb form with the prefix “a” which negates the love and essentially means “without this type of love.” In Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3, the NASB renders it as “unloving” and the ESV translates it as “heartless.” In Romans 12:10, storge is compounded with philos and is translated “devoted” (NASV).
And then there is phileo which means "affection, friendship, a feeling of tender affection toward someone else." It is used to describe a man's closest and nearest and truest friends.
The word John uses in our text is agapao. A few weeks ago I said that this Greek word was rarely used in Greek literature prior to the New Testament. At the time of the writing of the New Testament, the word agape had taken on a special meaning. It was used by the New Testament writers to designate a volitional love (as opposed to a purely emotional love), a self-sacrificial love, or a love naturally expressed by divinity but not so easily conveyed by humanity. It seems as though the early Christian church took this word out of its obsoleteness and made it a characteristic word for love. This love is not a feeling but an action. God loved and He gave His Son.
Here is what I have said about agape in other places.
Agape love is a response to someone who is unworthy of love. This concept of love was derived from the cross. God loved the world and gave his son for it. That was a response to unworthy people, to sinners, to those who were his enemies. That is agape. It is a love that proceeds from the nature of the lover rather than from the worth of the person who is loved. It is a love that gives, a love that seeks the best for the object loved. Agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make and a commitment that you have launched upon to treat another person with concern, with care, and with thoughtfulness. It is to work for his or her best interests.
I did not get my view of agape directly from the Bible but rather from the following poem, The Calf-Path, written by American poet Sam Walter Foss (1858-1811).
One day thru the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail, all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then 300 years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.
* * *
But still, he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then, a wise bellweather sheep,
Pursued the trail, o’er~vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bellweathers always do.
And from that day, o’er hill and glade,
Thru those old woods, a path was made.
* * *
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because ’twas such a crooked path,
But still they followed, do not laugh,
The first migrations of that calf.
And thru this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
* * *
This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half,
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
* * *
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street.
And this, before men were aware,
The city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon the central street was this,
Of a renowned metropolis.
And men, two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
* * *
Each day a 100 thousand route,
Followed the zig-zag calf about,
And o’er his crooked journey went,
The traffic of a continent.
A 100 thousand men were led,
By one calf, near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost 100 years a day.
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well establish precedent.
* * *
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained, and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind,
Along the calf paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out, and in, and forth, and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw that first primeval calf.
Ah, many things this tale might teach,
But I am not ordained to preach.
It is so easy to get on and stay on this calf path. That is why I'm always telling you to be a Berean and study things out for yourselves. I'm kind of surprised that no one has ever called me out on this. It seems so clear to me now.
So why is this new to me now after studying the Bible for 43 years? I think that it is because our understanding of Scripture comes by ILLUMINATION—this is the Holy Spirit giving us an understanding of the inspired revelation. If God does not open our eyes to His revelation, we will never understand it. I think that there are three keys to illumination. They are humility, holiness, and hard work.
Humility—David prayed in Psalm 119:18 that God would open his eyes to the wonderful truths of His Word. I think that we should humbly pray and ask God to teach us before we ever look into His Word.
Holiness—by this I mean practical holiness. God is not going to be illuminating His truth to you when you are not acting on what you already know.
Hard work—This is where so many fall short. We are not willing to labor at understanding God's truth. We want it to come to us by reading a devotional for ten minutes a day.
Now here is what I want to question this morning. Is agape a special and spiritual type of love? When we see the word “love” in the New Testament, it is most often the translation of agape or agapao. And because many of those scriptures are telling us how great God’s love for us is, it is not surprising that we would assume that those Greek words refer to a superior kind of love, a spiritual, godly love.
However, my paradigm shift this week is that that assumption is not accurate. When the New Testament was being written, the Greek noun agape and verb agapao were the most common and general words for “love.” They were used in a wide variety of contexts just as our English word “love” is used in a variety of contexts. So, what I want us to see this morning is that the Greek word agape is not as narrow as we may think. It is actually very similar to our word “love.” Consider the following:
and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5 ESV
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 ESV
So, Godly love is a spiritual love that God through His Holy Spirit enables believers to have. The confusion arises because many people assume the same thing about agape. We assume that agape is a special word for God’s love, but it is not.
In the definition that I gave earlier, agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. It is the only word ever used to describe God's love. It is a decision that you make. It is a commitment that you launch upon to treat another person with concern, with care, and with thoughtfulness, and to work for his or her best interests. How does that meaning of agape fit with this:
And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister.” 2 Samuel 13:4 ESV
In the LXX the word for “love” here is agapao. Let’s read on and see how he showed her his agapao.
She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” 2 Samuel 13:12-15 ESV
Again, (in the LXX), the words for love here are agapao, “…the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love [agape] with which he had loved [agapao] her.” How does this fit with what I said earlier about agapao? I said agape is a commitment of the will to cherish and uphold another person. Amnon loved (agapao) Tamar so he raped her and then sent her away. How does that fit your view of agape?
You may be thinking that the LXX shouldn’t have used agapao in these verses. But let’s look at a few New Testament verses.
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 2 Timothy 4:10 ESV
Demas was in agapao of the present aion. Could Demas actually have had a selfless or spiritual or Christian love for this present age? Is it possible for sinners to have the same kind of selfless, moral, spiritual love that Christians have?
Let’s look at another use of agapao:
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. Luke 6:32 ESV
All four uses of “love” here are agapao. How could sinners, the unsaved, agapao others?
Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Luke 11:43 ESV
Love here is agapao. This is a judgment on the Pharisees because of their agapao of the best seat in the synagogue and greetings in the marketplace.
Let’s look at another use of agapao, one that I totally missed when teaching through John.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:19 ESV
How is it possible to agapao “the darkness”? This “darkness” describes that which is intrinsically evil. How does one “sacrificially love” darkness “for the highest benefit” of darkness? How could someone love darkness with “the love (agapao) which is unique to God Himself?” None of these common understandings of “divine agape” make sense in this context.
Surely in John 3:19 agapao is not a good stimulus. In fact, agapao for darkness describes the motive for rejecting and hating God’s Light. Either people agapao darkness because they desire to commit deeds that are evil, or they agapao the darkness as a consequence of their evil deeds. This love of the darkness motivates them to hate and avoid the Light.
Is this agapao of darkness the same agapao Yahweh has for the world?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
In verses 16 and 19, two lovers and two objects of love are contrasted. First, we find God who agapao’s the world. Then the focus shifts to a culpable humanity which “loves (agapao) the darkness rather than the Light.” What a difference in focus. What a difference in the natures of the lovers! Yet, the same word, “agapao,” is used in both sentences.
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 12:42-43 ESV
Here believers loved (agapao) the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. This is not a good agapao!
Most would rightly say that the word agapao is properly used to describe our love for God and others and also to describe God’s love for us. But who thinks that agapao can be legitimately used to describe our devotion to that which is God’s rival?
Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 2 Peter 2:15 ESV
Here Balaam loved (agapao) gain from wrongdoing. Nobody would question that in these verses “agapao” describes the emotion we call “love.” This “agapao,” however, is wrongly directed, idolatrous, and destructive.
Two other Greek words are usually translated as “love” in the New Testament. Philos (noun) appears 29 times, and phileo (verb) appears 25 times. Many of our English words are based on the root Greek word philo, such as philadelphia which means brotherly love.
However, agape appears 116 times and agapao appears 137 times in the New Testament, so we see how much more prevalent this pair of words is compared to philos and phileo.
Agape/agapao and philos/phileo have slightly different meanings. However, the New Testament frequently uses them synonymously and interchangeably. We are told by those who are considered Greek experts that the Greek word "phileo" means only a casual or friendly type of love. But when the New Testament speaks of godly love, it does not always use agape or agapao. In the following verses, the Greek word phileo (loves, loved) is used by Yeshua Himself:
For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. John 5:20 ESV
for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. John 16:27 ESV
Phileo is used by the Apostle Paul in these verses:
If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 1 Corinthians 16:22 ESV
All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Titus 3:15 ESV
If "phileo," then, means only a casual or friendly type of love, does God love the saints casually because they love His Son casually? Should we love our brothers in the faith casually? Should we love the Lord Yeshua casually? Does the Father love the Son or us casually? Is love in the faith casual?
Let’s look at some comparisons between agapao and phileo. In the following verse, agapao is used by John.
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Yeshua loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” John 21:20 ESV
But in the preceding chapter, John used the word phileo.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Yeshua loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2 ESV
We see in this verse the same disciple loved by Jesus, but a different word for “loved” is used. Why would John tell us that Yeshua loved that disciple intimately, deeply, selflessly, and spiritually (agapao) in one place but tell us in another that Yeshua loved him only "affectionately” (phileo)?
We find another occurrence of agapao in Hebrews 12:6 (ESV).
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Heb. 12:6 ESV
In Revelation 3:19, however, the same discipline is described by the word phileo.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Rev. 3:19 ESV
In both of these verses the word for “discipline” is paideuō. So, the Lord disciplines those he agapao(s) and phileo(s).
In Luke 11:43 (ESV), Yeshua rebukes the Pharisees because they “love”
(agapao) the best seats.
Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues.” Luke 11:43 ESV
In chapter 20 of Luke, we are again told that the Pharisees love the best seats, but the word used is (phileo).
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, Luke 20:46 ESV
Here we are told that the scribes “love” (phileo) the best seats. Why would Luke tell us that the Pharisees loved "greetings" and "uppermost seats" in the synagogue intimately, deeply, selflessly, morally, or spiritually in one place but tell us in another place that they only loved these things casually or affectionately?
We see the combining of forms of phileo and agapao in the expression “brotherly love,” in the following verses:
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 1 Thessalonians 4:9 ESV
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 1 Peter 1:22 ESV
In these verses we see phileo and agapao used interchangeable. But that is not what you hear from most Bible teachers. What I want you to understand is that godly love far exceeds agape. To understand the attitudes and actions of godly love requires far, far more revelation than knowing the definitions of a couple of Greek words.
Modern society portrays love as emotional feelings, while the Bible portrays love primarily as one’s actions, that is, the labor of love in how we treat God and other people. The Greek words agape and agapao do not imply anything about obeying God. This further demonstrates that they do not represent godly love.
1 Corinthians 13 is known as the “love chapter,” the chapter that most succinctly sums up godly love. This one chapter reveals far more than any definition of agape/agapao. To imply that we can sum up God’s love with the word agape is far from accurate. What does a godly love look like? Paul tells us:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
The first thing Paul says about love is that it is patient.” This is the Greek word makrothumeo. In almost every New Testament occurrence, it conveys the idea of having an infinite capacity for someone to be injured without his seeking payback. It is used with regard to people, not circumstances. It is having a long fuse. The loving person is able to be inconvenienced or taken advantage of by a person and yet not be upset or angry.
“Love is kind.” This is the Greek work chresteuomai. It means: "to show oneself useful, to act benevolently, to be kind or good." Kindness and goodness are so closely related that they are often used interchangeably. The verb itself speaks of activity. It involves active good will, being useful for somebody else's good, and always trying to do what is helpful to the other person even if it involves sacrifice. Kind people are easy to take; they are not harsh. In the New Testament, the verb appears only in 1 Corinthians 13:4, but the noun and the adjective for kindness occur repeatedly in Paul's Epistles.
So, Paul says that love has an infinite capacity to be injured without pay back. And love reacts to injury by doing kind deeds to the person who has caused the injury. In our cruel and unkind society, we are set apart when we are kind.
Let me add here that it isn’t just society that is cruel and unkind. Too often we find the same thing in the church. And that is really sad. I have been in an e-mail dialog with a man who is fighting homosexual tendencies. This man wrote to me the following: “I have been struggling with homosexuality since I was young. I was molested by a male in my family, and by the time I became a teenager it just seemed to take over. I have been saved since the age of 5, but I don't know if I am really saved because of this...” He went on to say, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, born of a virgin. Jesus is God in the flesh, and He came to this Earth to die on the cross for the sins of man... I trust Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and I know without Him I don't stand a chance at eternal salvation. Am I saved? How do I get delivered from homosexuality? I hate it!”
I responded to him, “If you have trusted Christ, you are saved. Nothing can change that. You need to resist the homosexual impulses and strive to live a holy life, not to be saved, but because sin has consequences. You need to trust God to give you the strength you need to live a holy life. Get someone to help hold you accountable. We all face sinful desires and must trust in Yahweh's strength to overcome them.”
He responded: “I have found Christians to be the most hateful people I know. I know that sounds harsh... Very few of them actually show love when someone has a problem such as mine... If only Christians would stop throwing stones and realize we are all sinners and lost without the blood of our Savior. My entire family is all Christian, and have been since young ages. Not one of them can I share this with, and neither with our friends who are believers also. I can't trust them, and at the age of 33, I have yet to find a Christian who won't shun me and turn their back. I don't live this lifestyle, but the temptation/urge is there. Deliverance...I pray for it every day of my life. I still don't understand why God has not helped me out of this misery. Thanks, so much for your kind words. I have reached out to other ministers and Christians, but it's a similar experience every time...you'd think I had leprosy.”
How sad is it to have no one to talk to about a struggle you are facing! It shouldn’t be this way. There are many hypocrites in the Church who indulge in sin while at the same time they condemn others for doing the same. At the time of this man’s greatest need, no one is there. He struggles alone in the midst of the Church. The Church is so often not kind:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 ESV
When we display kindness we are showing others God’s love and are living lives that are set apart to Yahweh.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant. 1 Corinthians 13:4 ESV
“Love does not envy.” This is the first of eight negative descriptions of love. We cannot only identify love by what it is (patient and kind), but we can also identify it by what it is not. The Greek word for “envy” is zeloo. It comes from the Greek verb that means "to boil." It is used both favorably and unfavorably in Scripture. We are often not patient and kind because we are envious.
“Love does not boast.” The Greek word here is perpereuomai. Its root word means: “a windbag, a braggart, to boast.” Bragging is the other side of envy. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Bragging is trying to make others jealous of what you have. Think about that. The whole idea of boasting is to make the boaster feel superior to others.
“Love is not arrogant.” The Greek word here is phusioo, meaning: “blowing, to inflate, i.e. (fig.) make proud, puff up.” This word differs from the previous word in that boasting is the expression of pride, and "puffed up" is pride itself. A man may be very proud but not express it in boasting. And we need to understand that the root problem in any conflict between two people is pride.
or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 1 Corinthians 13:5 ESV
“Love is not rude.” We are to put off any behavior that would be rude. The Greek word is aschemoneo. This word has the meaning of acting inappropriately. The loveless person cares nothing for the feelings of those around him. The term “rude” implies an indifference to the feelings of others. It suggests intentional discourtesy or disrespect. Rudeness is any action, look, or comment that is disrespectful or discourteous.
Paul also says that “love does not insist on its own way.” We must put off selfishness. This is probably the key to everything. We need to hear this because we are often so consumed with ourselves that we have no concern for others. Our being unselfish in attitude strikes at the very core of our being. It means that “we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, and our own desires for another's benefit.”
Paul continues and tells us that “Love is not irritable.” J.B. Philips translates this as "Love is not touchy." How many problems would be solved if people weren't so touchy! The Greek word used here is paroxuno. It means “to arouse to anger” and is the origin of the English word paroxysm (a convulsion or sudden outburst of emotion or action).
Paul goes on to say that “love is not resentful.” The Greek verb, logizomai, implies the keeping of a record. It is a bookkeeping term that means “to calculate or reckon such as when figuring an entry in a ledger.” Love doesn't keep records of the wrongs done to it.
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6 ESV
“Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing.” The word “rejoice” is from the Greek word chairo, meaning “to be cheerful, happy or glad, to have joy.” Wrongdoing is from the Greek word adikia which means “iniquity, unjust, unrighteousness, wrong.” The general drift of this passage represents love in its relationship to others. And injustice has to do with our treatment of our fellow men. So, I think we could paraphrase this as "Love takes no joy in the sin of others."
“Love rejoices with the truth.” This is the positive side. Why does Paul compare those two? Because justice is predicated upon truth. You can't be just until you have behaved yourself in accordance with God's truth. Justice and truth are connected in the Scripture.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV
“Love bears all things.” “Bears" is the Greek word stego. This verb is difficult to be dogmatic on because it has two possible uses. It could mean "to roof over," i.e. (fig.) to "cover with silence," or it could mean “to endure patiently." Because the last of these four deals with endurance, I think it is best to see this as "covers with silence." Love covers. When it learns something unpleasant about another, it does not hurry to scatter it all over the Church or neighborhood. It does not take delight in some of the misdeeds of others. Love covers it over and keeps it silent.
“Love believes all things.” This is from the Greek word, Pisteuo. It means “to have faith (in or with respect to, a person or thing).” The context here requires us to understand this as speaking of the conduct of others. Love is ready to believe anything that is grounded in reality. It is always ready to start over. What this phrase means is that it is ready to trust somebody anew.
“Love hopes all things.” This also refers to the conduct of others. This love does not proceed from a negative or critical spirit. Rather than having a negative and critical spirit, this love is always positive and hopeful. Love is hopelessly optimistic. It never stops hoping.
“Love endures all things.” This is from the Greek word hupomeno. It is a military term that has to do with one’s response when being positioned in the middle of a violent battle. It conveys the meaning “to stay under, remain, have fortitude, persevere.” Love stands against incredible opposition and still loves. Love never quits; it never gives up on anyone. It cares too much to give up.
Godly love covers the faults of others and believes what otherwise is unbelievable. It hopes in what otherwise is hopeless, and it endures when anything less than love would give up. To live like this is to live a sanctified life. It is to be set apart for Yahweh. This is holiness. And when we live lives like this, the world will know that we are disciples of Yeshua.
Godly love is selfless and sacrificial. Yeshua said:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13 ESV
Godly love is amazing! It even means loving one’s enemies! (Matthew 5:43-48). The perfect example of these virtues was the earthly life of Yeshua! This is why John says:
whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:6 ESV
If we are in fellowship with Yeshua, we will walk in divine love just as He did.