Dr. RB McFee
“Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
There are lots of verses about
God’s Love for you”
DJ from K-LOVE
It’s Valentine’s Day and who doesn’t like a good romance book, or time with a loved one? Blessed is the person who is loved, and who has someone to love.
Speaking of which, the Bible is in a sense the ultimate romance book; it is filled with examples of God’s Love for and relationship with His Creation, as experienced by humankind for over 5000 years of recorded history.
And we are blessed to have it available in English. But many of the words were spoken in languages rarely uttered in the 21st century – Koine Greek and Aramaic for example. Even contemporary Hebrew is not exactly what was spoken in Biblical times. Add to that much of the stories handed down from eyewitnesses were scribed in Greek. So we go from Aramaic to Greek to English.
How does this relate to God, love and Valentine’s Day?
The other day I was doing a deep dive into the Bible; actually I was trying to sort out an interpretation of a specific verse. The conventional wisdom surrounding it just didn’t align with where my heart, the Spirit was taking me.
Does that ever happen to you in your devotional time? A verse speaks to you, which is to say the Word of God is conversing with you, but what you think it means goes deeper, is more profound than what you were taught?
Consider in John 21: 17 when Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” Love, this great gift, and our ability to share it was imbued in us by our Creator. But where is Jesus taking Peter, and what about “love?”
So I decided to try my hand at Greek 101 and find out what the text, as originally written, was meant to say. Greek is very specific, and so is Jesus; what was the real story behind the word choices selected?
Much of the New Testament was originally written in Koine (common) Greek; a form of the language that pretty much stopped being the lingua franca of the region about three centuries after Jesus’ Ascension. Matthew and Luke among other writers of the New Testament would have likely written much of their texts using Koine Greek.
Why does this matter? Because the Greek language has an element of precision, specificity, and words truly have meaning. It isn’t just the context and intonation of speech that determines what is meant, but the word choice.
Reading some of the Greek words our Bible was based on was like an “a ha” moment. In essence by reading what the writer originally intended for us to know, we become present in that moment. Which is to suggest this is a good way to approach the Bible; recognizing it was written in a time and place, with a language, and intention that may not always transcend 2000 years of translations, reprints and teachings through others’ interpretations.
Consider the word “love.” In English we have one word that can be used in many different ways; as a term of endearment, sarcasm, attraction, even a generic nickname. Moreover it is up to the user to define what is really meant. ‘I love you like a dear friend,’ or ‘I love you romantically,’ or ‘I love you as in you are funny as all get out.’
In Koine Greek there are generally four types of ‘love’ with specific meaning, several of which Jesus utilized in scripture, (with variations on a theme). They are:
Eros – suggesting erotic or romantic love (don’t worry, this stays PG 13)
Storge – which refers to love of parents, children – a familial type of love
Phileo/philo – brotherly love (e.g. Philadelphia, the city of ‘brotherly’ love) – in the sense of the brotherhood of mankind, a deep affection between people, the type that leads to a strong sense of community
Philostorgos is used in Romans 12:10. It was a combination of types of ‘love’ Jesus had for Lazarus, Martha and Mary
Agape – Divine love. It is the selfless type of ‘love’ Jesus refers to in terms of His sacrificial love for all mankind and what He hopes we will share, as His professed followers, with all we meet – friend or not. It’s he type of love Jesus had for you and me that led to the Cross.
Interestingly the first three are human type love.
Agape….the fourth type of love is the kind God imbued Jesus with, and through the Holy Spirit can fill us with as well – a Divine, sacrificial, pure love. Think 1 John 4:8 “God is Love,” where it is written using the word “agapao” or “agapo,” meaning agape.
Oh but here’s where it gets fun. Jesus and Peter may have known Greek, which was a primary language in the Middle East, thank you Alexander the Great. But the reality is more likely Jesus and His Disciples, family and followers spoke in Aramaic, although some scholars suggest Jesus spoke Greek often. Not surprisingly theologians debate this.
So did the Gospel writers understand, experience the differences in language and be true to them on paper (papyrus)? Probably as best as they witnessed or were taught.
Since none of us was there, even those learned in such matters still debate words, and symbols. Moreover this isn’t a discourse on the linguistics or theology on scripture, but to introduce the notion that God is specific in what He intends for us. He is a God who pays attention, and is not vague in His instructions to us.
Regardless of His linguistics, both languages are specific about word choices. In Aramaic “racham” is like “philia/philos, and “chav” could have been spoken as the word for a deeper love, as could “khuba,” which likely was used by Jesus to convey a deep form of love. Interestingly the root of this word means “to set on fire.”
Now that’s what God’s talking about! A love that sets the heart, the world on fire! Hmmm, think the flame of the Holy Spirit and the flame of Divine Love are connected?!
Getting back to “love,” specifically God’s Love, Biblical love, when Jesus speaks of love ….
John 15:17 When Jesus asks Peter “do you love me?” what was He really doing in that teaching session with His primary protégé?
In the Greek, of the three times Jesus asks Peter “do you love Me,” the first two times our Lord uses “agape,” but each time Peter then responds using the term “philos.” The last time Jesus asks Peter, He uses the term “philos,” instead of ‘agape.’
Jesus is asking Peter can he give the kind of Divine love to Jesus; the kind that the world needs to see and experience, the kind of life altering love from Peter the way God loves us; a love that transcends family, friendship, political, ethnic, tribal, social, economic distinctions to include even enemies, sinners, and Gentiles. In essence, Jesus is asking you, and me, that question, too!
Anyone can love folks who love them, but to love folks often labeled “other” or “them” takes a heart for Christ, and the Holy Spirit to accomplish.
But Peter answers with ‘I love you as a brother.’ Twice!
Thankfully Jesus is a patient mentor, and never misses an opportunity to teach – His Disciples, and us.
And it’s not that Peter was slow on the uptake.
Consider how much he was being asked to learn (a lot) in a very short period of time. From fisherman to Christ’s leading emissary in three years, and time was running out. Peter just hadn’t advanced to the next level, and Jesus was patiently guiding him to a place that would position his protégé to lead. But to lead, Peter would have to be able to share agape.
Jesus knew Peter needed to have, and share the Power of Divine Love to be able to carry on Christ’s work after the Ascension. But it would take the Holy Spirit to invest Peter in that ability.
Have we been invested in the capacity to give love Divinely? And has God’s Love (“khuba”) set you or me on fire lately?
Which brings me to the topic of Valentine’s Day, John 3:16, and Love.
Having a “valentine” a “heart for Jesus,” where thinking of that lovely organ pumping in our chest is symbolic of our central focus for love is valid. But one could argue that the ultimate symbol of love for the Christian Valentine isn’t the heart, but the Cross.
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another. Jesus did that. Would we? Or can we at least lay down our pride, our ego, our barriers, and love Divinely those we encounter, so that they too can encounter a sense of God’s Heart when they encounter us?
From John 3:16 and throughout the New Testament God is telling us there is a Divine Power to His type of Love that can change the world. His Gift of Jesus – from the manger to the cross to the resurrection to Jesus’ Gift of the Holy Spirit are a form of unbreakable connection between God’s Heart and ours, tying all of us together.
Which begs the question – why harm when we can hug? Why tear down when we can build up? Why look inward when there’s a world around us needing Divine Love? Why eat valentine’s chocolate alone without sharing it?
As professed followers of Christ, the type of love that changes the world is Divine, and it is what Jesus intended for us to share in His commandments to love God and each other – agape, khuba – a fire fueled love that gives unconditionally to God with all our heart, and to love others in the same way – those with whom we like, and don’t, those with whom we agree, and those we don’t. It isn’t the human way, it isn’t eros, philos or storgos. It takes a Divine Power to overcome human failings to express Heavenly characteristics.
We have lots of choices as Christians, and more than a few types of “love” from which to choose as gifts from one to another – and in God’s Kingdom all have a value and a place. And as Christians we have the privilege to share the highest form of love – Divine Love. Now that’s a Valentine we can all enjoy!
As we celebrate February 14, let it remind us as Christians, if we are doing it right, every day can be a Valentine’s Day if we give love to just one person who might otherwise feel unloved – even if we forget the chocolate.
John 3:16 is a reminder of God’s love, which is, through the Holy Spirit within our power to share with each other, and a world greatly in need of it.
‘Agape’ - the ultimate Valentine.
Happy Agape Day
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3.