Sunday, July 21, 2013

About being known by God

Jesus said in John 10:14: I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me –

Are you His sheep? 

If Jesus said you are, you are, and when you are, Jesus said He knows you. 

It is NOT what you think, but what Jesus thinks, and so, if Jesus said you are NOT, you are NOT, and He may NOT know you. 

If indeed you are His sheep, Jesus said you would know Him. 

This verse is different from other “controversial” verses, people argue about if one is a sheep (or a goat) or a saved one or NOT, etc.  There is just no ambiguity here, for Jesus said “MY sheep”, i.e. “sheep or NOT sheep”, is in His view/judgment, NOT yours or mine.

And “known by God” refers to, NOT merely as belonging to God; it includes being approved or accepted of, by God, and having His favour.  It is NOT just any “God having knowledge of us”.

When we look up the Greek concordance on the verse John 10:14 above, with regard to “know” or “known”, we will find that the verse specifically used G1097 (ginōskō) for “know”. G1097 has the special meaning of “knowledge grounded on PERSONAL EXPERIENCE” as opposed to those others, from mental perception {G1492 – eido}, from proximity {G1987 – epistamai}, from native insight or 5 senses {G4920 – suniemi}.  The significance of this, is that indeed the Christian faith is one of relationship of the Lord and man; and the Lord has used the metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep, to illustrate.

Therefore, these are the ingredients in the word, know (G1097 – ginosko):
1.   Belonging to.  A sheep which belongs to a shepherd is his.  Those men, believers, who belong to the Lord are His.  We, first, need to belong to Him, that is a pre-requisite.
2.   Personal experience.  There is to be personal experience between the sheep and the shepherd; and so, personal experience between individual believer and the Lord.  Remember, now, the issue is knowing from personal experience; and so, when the Lord said He knows a man, that knowledge is to have come from His personal experience with the individual.  
When the Lord says, “I know you”, it means He has knowledge from the personal experience He has had with you.  If what the Lord claims, is true, that He has had personal experience with you, it also means you have had personal experience with Him, would it NOT be? Yes, it has to be; for the Lord cannot be wrong or made a mistake (We, men, can possibly make a mistake, like we are having a personal experience with the Devil, and we thought we are having a personal experience with God). And so, as John 10:14 said it – As the Shepherd, the Lord knows His sheep, and His sheep would know Him.
Our knowing is NOT coming from mere book knowledge, although it may begin from there; NOT from mere hearing, although it again may begin from there; it has to come from personal experience with the Lord. 

Who does the onus for personal experience lie with? We will NOT deal with it here, in detail, but the simple answer is both, the Lord and you, are involved.  It is definitely NOT it is all God’s part (maybe, I write on this, one day).
3.   Positive knowing and negative knowing.  Here, positive knowing is assumed.  
What is meant by positive and negative knowing.  Simply put, positive knowing give rise to “I know you”, and negative knowing, “I don’t know you”.  In other words, knowing or NOT knowing, is viewed from the angle of whether it is in agreement with God’s justice and righteousness.  If it is NOT, God cannot count that; it is like He cannot put a “+” against it, but a “-“ against it.  Collectively the minuses account for the “I don’t know you”. 
For example, the Gospel is being presented to a man with the Spirit giving understanding, and the man refuses to enter into salvation, that is a negative personal experience, and that is a negative knowing, and it will account for, “I don’t know you”, by the Lord.  Now, this is despite the Lord or God having knowledge of who the man is, etc. 
Another example, you are a believer, meaning you have had, in the past, entered into salvation, and so, have confessed the Lord as your Savior before, and now, you have joined occult men in worshipping Satan, and are adamant NOT to drop the Satanic worship.  The Spirit of Christ prompted you, yet you refuse to acknowledge you are wrong; this is a negative personal experience.  It is a negative knowing, as far as the Lord is concerned. It contributes to the side of “I don’t know you”.
An example of a positive knowing would be this: You are in the park, and are about to take your lunch by digging into the lunch-pack you have bought from the eatery some 15 minutes’ walk away, and you heard prompting from the Spirit of Christ in you, saying to give over your lunch-pack to the beggar seated in another bench, right in front of you, some 50 meters away!  And you respond by walking over to the starving beggar and giving over your lunch-pack to the beggar, despite you are hungry yourself.  This is a positive personal experience the Lord has with you; this is a positive knowing the Lord has, on you.  This contributes to “I know you”.
4.   Be at the station the Lord desires for you.  Personal experience with another, means it involves the 2 parties.  You cannot say I have a personal experience with the Lord, when the Lord is NOT involved!  At the same time, when the Lord does something with another, NOT involving you, it is the other person who had the personal experience with the Lord, NOT you; for it does NOT involve you.
Now, if you engage in evil, do you think the Lord is there, involved with you?  Obviously not.  If you keep at it, you should NOT be surprised that the Lord would say, “I don’t know you, you evildoer!”
All actions are classifiable to either righteous or evil; there is no such thing as a neutral thing, when all parties considered, as far as God is concerned.  Strictly speaking any thought and action God cannot agree to, are evil.  God cannot be expected to have personal experience with you, in evil.  Only in righteousness, can you have personal experience with the Lord.
In general terms, we say, you got to be at the station that God desires for you, if you want positive personal experience and knowing with the Lord (Evil cannot be the station God desires you to be at).
From all of the above, we can understand a believer with positive personal experience and knowing with the Lord, and so, is known by the Lord, is one approved of, and accepted of, by the Lord, and would have His favour, on top of him/her being belonging to the Lord.
From here, we also need to understand which is a “bigger word” and is the preferred setting, “belonging to the Lord” or “be known by the Lord”.  In line with the understanding of the Apostle Paul, it is the latter.  

Essentially, this, I believe is consistent with Paul’s understanding:  Belonging like “this wallet belongs to me”, is desirable, but can be NOT good enough; on the other hand, being known by the Lord, meaning NOT only belongs to, but also with approval of, acceptance of, by the Lord, complete with His favour, is the preferred setting. 
The former can still be destroyed; the latter can look to God taking a stand in the person’s favour.  Paul explained this when confronting the false or heretic teachings and teachers, and he made reference to the Numbers 16’s account of the rebellion of Korah, to illustrate.  We will look at this, a little more, in a little while (Jude, in Jude 1:11, also referenced Korah’s rebellion when speaking about ungodly believers in body of Christ – you can study it, too).
Before we leave this point of “be at the station”, let me say, “be at the station” includes the doing of the works of the station.
5.   The only sure way is found in OUR abiding in the Lord, and the Lord abiding in you.  
One can try to be at where the Lord can come, so that you and the Lord could have personal experience; and we have said, in evil, you cannot expect the Lord to come to share in your evil.  Rather, He may say to you, “I don’t know you, you evildoer!”   Now, this is true still, in spite of the Spirit of Christ is indwelling us or God is omnipresence.  These two facts (indwelling and omnipresence) do NOT mean automatically, God is having personal experience with you.
Instead of hoping the Lord to get involved with you, why don’t you get involved with the Lord; in other words, YOU GO ABIDE in Him, and when it is you join Him (and NOT the other way round - you hope He joins you), you can be sure, He is abiding in you.  The Lord would NOT say, “I don’t know you!” and he would NOT say, “You evildoer!” for He cannot be up to anything unrighteous.
The issue of mutual abiding is important, for if the Lord is NOT abiding, it is you are doing your own thing; there is no personal experience with the Lord.
6.     The key is your love for God.  At point 5, I said to abide in the Lord; why would one be more than willing, in fact, desirous, of doing that?  

Because of love; love desires personal experience. NOT just personal experience, but postive personal experience.  From positive personal experience comes positive knowing.

Think about it, is it NOT when you love someone, you desire to spend time doing things together with “the someone”?  Honestly, what are lovers looking for, in personal experiences; it cannot be negative experiences that you are after?!  It cannot be that you want to be in disagreements all the time, fighting every now and then, and then each expects the other to accept or engage in things against each other’s values.  If it is negative so often the times, split would be inevitable, and eventually, distancing would lead to “I don’t know him/her; he/she horrible guy/gal!”

1 Cor 8:3 (NIV) said this: “But the man who loves God is known by God.”
Your love is what motivates you to abide in the Lord.  What do you treasure most?  Your loved ones (If you have NOT said, “The Lord”, I hope this is your answer {of course, the Lord is supposed to be in there}).  Scripture said, where your treasure is, there your heart will be.  Do you love the Lord?  Or do you love money more than you love the Lord?  Love for the world or anything in it, is enmity with God, do you know that; (it is given in 1 John 2:15 & James 4:4)? 
Focus your love on the Lord; is NOT it is the greatest commandment, that you love the Lord your God with all of you, all your heart, soul, mind and strength?!
Revolt/rebellion of Korah
Remember, in point 4 above, I said that the Apostle Paul was underscoring “Be known by God” is the preferred position over just belonging to the Lord, per se.  For when the one known by God is challenged, God will stand for him; for the challenger, despite belonging, mere belonging, to God, he can even be destroyed. 
In that failed revolt of Korah against the High Priest, Aaron (and Moses’ leadership) (Numbers 16), in Num 16:5 Moses said this: “In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to him…” (this was being spoken about by the Apostle Paul as “known by God” in 2 Tim 2:19). The account ended with the Korah’s camp gotten swallowed up by the ground opening up!  Justice was served.  Aaron (and Moses) was vindicated. 
Obviously, “who belongs to him (God)” means more than like in “this wallet belongs to me”! You should know that both Korah and Aaron belonged to God.  Firstly, they were both God’s children or people.  Secondly, both held positions of office, but different offices, one was a Levite head (Korah), another, the High Priest, NOT just a Levite.  It is, when you belong (to God), you don’t just belong (as in the wallet belongs to me; that is given), you should also be at the station God deems just (this includes, doing whatever that station requires of you), and when you are so, at the station God deems just, you have His approval, his acceptance, and his favour.  Korah and his fellow Levites’ station was to assist the High Priest to care for the holy things of the Tabernacle; and that of Aaron, was being the High Priest to minister to the LORD (And when we include Moses, Moses’ station was that of being the leader (called of God)).

Some more examples of God knowing, from Scripture
I give us a few more verses (apart from the above John 10:14, 1 Cor 8:3, & 2 Tim 2:19) from Scripture that revealed about God knowing those who are loving Him (unto righteousness), embracing His justice and righteousness (love unto righteousness necessitates embracing His justice and righteousness), and walking blameless before Him, or who are godly:

Ps 1:6 - For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.  Do you watch over the ones you know or the ones you don’t know?!

Ps 37:17-18 – 17 for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. 18 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever.  Again, God is said to watch over and protect the righteous, and his inheritance.  Why God knows and watches over the righteous is because one loving God, cannot but (a) embraces His righteousness [loving God back with his kinda of love - love unto righteousness - an article to come], and (b) obeys God's commands [John 14:15 & 21a].  God knows the ones who love Him

Ps 37:23-25 - 23 If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; 24 though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand. 25 I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

Nahum 1:7 KJV - The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.  Many translations use other words (like “cares”) for the word, “knoweth”, I suspect, it is due to the lack of conviction of how “trust in Him” would lead to God knowing the person.  Using scripture to interpret scripture, and so, using Pro 3:5-6 -Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight/will direct your paths”, we can see that the “trust in Him” calls for “in all your ways, submit to Him”.  Another way of saying, is the person is one who embraces/walks in the ways of God, or His justice and righteousness; such a person, he loves God, and God knows him.  Is the LORD good; is He a stronghold in the day of trouble?  He sure is, most assuredly, for those who love Him; for those who love Him, are known to Him (support also comes from Ps 91:14-16).

From this article, you are to take away this:
What it takes to be known by God:
You need to belong to Him and you need to have positive personal experiences with Him.  Positive personal experiences and knowing are those leading to God saying “I know you”.  Negative knowing leads to God saying, “I don’t know you, you evildoer”. Be at the station God desires you to be, including doing the works of the station.  Better still, go abide in the Lord, and so, having the Lord abides in you.  And remember, the key to abiding in the Lord is your love for the Lord.  Focus your love – love God with your all.  Love the Lord, and it will be the surest way to be known by the Lord. 

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Agape’s meanings need to be expanded (PART II)

In Part I of this 2-part series, we have looked at the major love words of the OT (Hebrew language) and NT (Greek); we have looked at how the charitable, sacrificial, selfless and even unconditional attributes were more imputed into the Greek love word, “agape”, from gleaning from the Bible; and lastly we realized that the (further revealing) of the God’s kinda of love, was NOT just that we might know of God’s love as being agape, but it was to exhort us to also agape God, and to agape our neighbors.  We have NOT dwell into the missing ingredient that need to added into agape; the main purpose of this exposition; which I will do now, here.


In this part, we will deal with the missing element that is necessary to be included into the Greek love word, agape, in order to say it truly represents God’s kinda of love.

By far, agape is the most extensive love word used in the NT.  Below I will give a few more text, showing its use (in additional to those already found in Part I); then I will also mention a thing or two, for the other remaining two Greek love words found directly in the NT.  After all of that, I go into the missing element.

A few more examples of occurrences of agape in NT
Love of money – agape! Luke 16:13 - “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Jesus washing of disciples’ feet – Jesus’ love for his disciples – John 13:1-5
1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

2 The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus’ definition of love – If you love me, you will obey what I command (John 14:15).  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.” (John 14:21).

Jesus said the Father and I will come to him and make our home with him – John 14:23 - 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.

A little bit more on phileo
Phileo as a love word is found in v17 of John 21:15-17.  In variation as Philadelphia (G5360) {root word being friend} – “brotherly love”, it is found in a number of verses (eg Romans 12:10).  In my own words, phileo is firstly love (non-eros) between friends, but is extended in use to apply to any fraternity, comradeship, brotherhood, or any association with common goals, including the body of Christ (Storge which we will NOT elaborate, on the other hand, is love word used on natural blood relation, like mother and child).  As Christians, when we are friends of Christ, we are friends with one another, and so, Philadelphia or brotherly love is expected of us (almost without saying!).

John 21:15-17 -
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love {agape} me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love {agape} me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love 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?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

You will notice that the Lord used agape for the 1st 2 times He asked if Peter loved Him; but for the 3rd time, He switched to using phileo!  I will NOT expound this text here; maybe in separate article, another time, as my exposition on the switch, may vary from others.

A further mention of thelo
Thelo can be seen used on Mark 12:38 (KJV) – “And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,”  Some other translations (like NIV) left out the word, “love”.

Now, the missing ingredient in the love word, agape
I bring us back to the short-form Lexicon of the 2 Hebrew love words we have seen in Part I of this series:

`ahab (H157) – either love or like, and for love, it is broken down to:
human love for another, includes family, and sexual;
human appetite for objects such as food, drink, sleep, wisdom;
human love for or to God;
act of being a friend: lover (participle), friend (participle);
God's love toward man: to individual men, to people Israel, to righteousness;
lovely (participle), loveable (participle);
friends, lovers (fig. of adulterers).

Dowd (H1730) – beloved, love, uncle:
loved one, beloved, uncle, love (pl. abstract)

Some people include checed (H2617) as a love word in Hebrew, because some translations have rendered it as love.  It has the main meaning as loving-kindness from one of a higher position – God, or from man to man, and so, typically it is used as God’s “love” for men, but NOT the other way round of men, for God.  To me, grace is perhaps the appropriate word to use.

I have indicated in Part I that it is NOT easy to match up the 2 or 3 Hebrew love words with the Greek love words.  Now that we know the most extensively used words of love for OT and NT are these: `ahab and agape, respectively, it leaves us to see if there is any significant meaning in the Hebrew love word of `ahab that is missing in the Greek word, agape.

I submit to you the significant meaning missing from the agape word is in the underlined portion of the Lexicon I have given above, for `ahab:

That God’s love for men is love unto (or to) righteousness; and men were to love God back, they have to love Him righteously.  The key word here is righteousness.  God cannot love you and I anyhow; ultimately, He can only love us unto righteousness.  In the same way, the only way to love the holy and righteous God in an acceptable manner is to love with same kind of love, righteous love. 

From here, we can understand why the Lord gave us the definition of loving Him or God, as He had given in John 14:15 & 21a.  This is in essence what Jesus said in the verses – He who love Me, obeys my commands; and the one who obeys my commands is the one who loves Me.  Righteousness is in His commands, and so, by obeying His commands, we are embracing His righteousness, and in so doing, is loving Him, righteously.

John 14:15 – If you love (agape or agapaō) me, you will obey what I command.
John 14:21 - Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves (agape) me. He who loves (agape) me will be loved (agape) by my Father, and I too will love (agape) him and show myself to him."

In fact, in the remaining part of v21, Jesus added that such person who agape the Lord, he will (continue to) be loved by the Father, and the Lord, too will (continue to) love him, and show Himself (the Lord Himself) to him, the person.

Why this righteousness element is missing from agape?
Why is it (this righteousness element) missing, or missed out in the Greek word, agape?  The ancient Greek language was of course from the Greek people, although in those times of writing, it was the scholarship language of even the Jews, meaning the authors themselves, not Greek, but they wrote in Greek. 

I submit to you, this is the reason: The Greek (people)’s ancient cultural and historical religious beliefs background had not that idea (love unto righteousness) comprised in love words.  In other words, it was one of the occasions of, “it was NOT the word to use, but the best (Greek) word to use”, when the non-Greek authors were writing in Greek. 

Did I just say that the authors of Biblical texts were wrong or made fatal mistakes?  No, rather it was, and as was and is often the cases, God just use what is there (even the weak and the ordinary), and in this context, the scholarship language of that time of the authors.

We have, in Part I, looked at how “unconditional” got weaved into agape, although I would refrain from saying agape love is unconditional love (although Jesus’ sacrifice was unconditional); more, to me, it is a charitable,  sacrificial and selfless love. Now, if “unconditional” could be imputed into agape, I don’t see why “unto righteousness” should NOT be imputed into agape.

Because there was no teaching on it - agape love as having the connotation of “loving unto righteousness”, despite such a connotation was in the {older} Hebrew word of love (in OT), `ahab, no “loving unto righteousness” was imputed into/listed with that Greek word, agape. 

The overall counsel of the Word, indeed points to the love of God for men, ultimately has to be a love for men unto righteousness.  I repeat, ultimately, God cannot love you and I, in any other manner, because He is holy and righteous.
Expound it please, this love unto righteousness
Because the lack of preachers expounding love from the NT, as having it as primarily got to be unto righteousness, I find myself, in writing or teaching, keep referencing the OT word, `ahab, as love unto righteousness.  It is vital that believers be taught this fundamental truth that God’s love is firstly love unto righteousness, and the only way we can love Him back acceptably is also to love Him, righteously.  The latter is particularly needing to be stressed in view of the care-less attitude of believers of today, in handling their relationship with God.

It is NOT plucked from the air!
Just in case, people think I pluck this whole thing out of the air, I will give you the “pillars of love” found in both the OT and NT, and you can see for yourself if I am justified to build a case for the need to impute “love unto righteousness” as embodied in the Hebrew love word,`ahab, into the Greek love word, agape, before I end this series.

The love pillars:

OT:   Deu 6:5 - Love (`ahab) the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

Lev 19:18 - " 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love (`ahab) your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

NT:   Mark 12:30 - Love (agape/agapao) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

         Mark 12:31 - The second is this: 'Love (agape/agapao) your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

God’s kinda of love is firstly love unto righteousness, and then it is charitable, sacrificial, selfless, and to a good extent unconditional.  What do we call this love? `ahab + agape? Or just agape, with love unto righteousness incorporated!

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – Lord, I know I must always be conscious that I am only an agent of yours, through whom you reveal of yourself, your ways and your truths; it is NOT I am smart or anything like that.  There is no copyright possible (for men) for that concerning your Word; NOT only all copyrights belong to you, your desire is that freely I receive, freely I give.  Amen.

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Agape’s meanings need to be expanded (PART I)

In this Part I, we will look at the credibility of saying the agape love is indeed charitable, sacrificial, selfless and unconditional.  In Part II (in a separate article), we will look at the ingredient that needed to be included in the expanded meaning of agape.


Agápe:  In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of "true love" rather than the attraction suggested by "eros" {sensual love}. Agape is also used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one's children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard.  (quoted from Wikipedia, sometime back. Now this definition is NOT there anymore; it is nevertheless, the traditional general definition).

It is in its biblical context use that it had come to “acquire” the sacrificial connotation so strongly. 

How “unconditional” got into agape?
And because of usage, in the modern day Greek it has also taken on the connotation of an unconditional love. 

Influential Christian theologians contributed to the shaping of the meanings associated with “agape”; in other words, agape was NOT a very adequate Greek word, albeit the best love word in place of its Hebrew equivalent, and it acquired its richness, afterwards, through imputation from overall counsel of the Word, which in my view, was somewhat lobe-sided for lack of imputing the richness of the Hebrew equivalent word of the Old Testament. 

One such influential theologian was CS Lewis who wrote on the “Four Loves”, published in 1960.  I have NOT read the book, although I have read reviews of that book, and know that the book resembled the author’s meditation of the 5 “classes” (4, I added one here – thelo) of love as categorised in the ancient Greek words of love, namely, storge - familial or affectionate love; philia (or phileo) - friendship; eros - romantic love; thelo – be fond of/take pleasure in …(verb); and lastly, agape – God kinda of love.

Now most reviews of the book equated agape to unconditional love, the others, to spiritual love or God’s love.  Why do they equated agape love to unconditional love is something deserving a thought, ourselves.

Perhaps, it was because CS Lewis, who also in that book distinguished between Need-love and Gift-love, with the obvious pointing of agape love to the Gift-love.  Being a gift, agape is therefore, logically equated as unconditional.  Although as a notion, the implication of a gift, is understood as unconditional, by men generally, regardless faith (i.e. it is NOT a Christian notion), but it was through CS Lewis’ acquired Christian faith lenses (he was previously an atheist) that he meditated on this subject of love, thereby implicitly referencing the salvation gift of life as the highest expression of a Gift-love, God’s kinda of love.  It was also possible that, through collective proclaiming by early influential theologians that agape love had acquired the unconditional love “fame”. 

What I am saying is that the original meanings of the ancient Greek word of love, “agape”, as typified by the Wikipedia quote (give above) or its traditional general definition, did NOT necessarily included such extensive meanings and expressions as expounded by such early theologians, including CS Lewis.

How is love defined in Bible?
The English Bible is a translation; the original Biblical texts were mainly in 2 languages:  The Old Testament (OT) in Hebrew {It is believed that a few chapters in the prophecies of Ezra and Daniel and one verse in Jeremiah were written in Aramaic}, and the New Testament (NT) in Greek (ancient Greek).  On top of that during Jesus’ time, Aramaic was the common language, and it is believed that Jesus spoke Aramaic in His day to day conversations; a few Aramaic words were even used by the Gospel writers in the NT {NT was written in ancient Greek then, because Greek was the language of scholarship}. So, when we read the English Bible, it is a translation, from both Hebrew and Greek.

Because languages have “shades” of meanings associated with a word or group of words or similar words, there has always been the issue of correctness of translations, to put it very simply.  Then, there is also the issue of the NT was in Greek, NOT in the same Hebrew language of the OT which came into being, much earlier in history, and is foundational, because the God of the NT is the very same God of the OT; what were written of God and God’s dealings with Man, of course, were true and remained true.

Because of the difference in language, expressions, such as “love” were expressed, in OT, in Hebrew words, different from those in NT, in Greek.  Had one language been used throughout it would have been easier, since a notion or expression would have been denoted by the same word of one language.  It is NOT unusual when interpreting NT scriptures to consider if an expression was first mentioned in the OT – rule of first-mention is a “rule” of interpretation of scriptures.

For the English language word, “love”, there are 3 main Greek words (in NT) possible {eros and storge were NOT found directly in NT Scripture), and 2 main Hebrew words (in OT).  The 3 Greek “love” words are: agape (G26), phileo or philia (G5368), and thelo (G2309); and the 2 Hebrew words are: `ahab (H157) and dowd (H1730). 

I will be giving the various meanings assigned to the words given here, representing “love”; from there, we can see the “more than a little bit of headache” in deciding which love word was being referred to, in the English Bible.

First, we have the Greek words of love, found in the NT (short definitions taken from Strong’s Lexicon):

Agape -
1) affection, good will, love, benevolence, brotherly love (also to love dearly – agapaō (G25));
2) love feasts;

Phileo -
1) to love: to approve of, to like, sanction, to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend
2) to show signs of love: to kiss
3) to be fond of doing: be wont, use to do

Thelo - to will, have in mind, intend:
to be resolved or determined, to purpose; to desire, to wish; to love; to like to do a thing, be fond of doing; to take delight in, have pleasure

One may think, for the English NT text, we could look up the equivalent Greek Bible verse, and then we will know.  That is right, but, just as the English word, “love”, is inadequate to capture which (or what) love was being referred to, by the Greek authors, there is the possibility of a similar problem of the Greek language was NOT able to frame which love was being referred to, as was first understood by the Jews, in God’s historical dealings with them in the OT period. 

Of course, it is possible something really new, was revealed by God in NT, where the first-mention “rule” fails, but sometimes, it is difficult to tell; it could be an existing “theme” (existing in OT) being rehashed; like in the case of “love”, would you think that the notions/ideas/concepts of love would have been fully expressed and made known to Man, even before NT; or do you think that some concept of love was only made known in NT time? 

The races and their cultures of particular times, including their linguistic depictions of ideas, notions or concepts could make the one and same thing, being expressed in approximating words only, in the respective languages; so, that the OT was in Hebrew, and the NT, in Greek, does possess interpretive issue.

You have already seen the meanings of the 3 Greek words for “love”; here are the meanings of the OT “love”, `ahab and dowd:

`ahab (H157) – either love or like, and for love, it is broken down to:
human love for another, includes family, and sexual;
human appetite for objects such as food, drink, sleep, wisdom;
human love for or to God;
act of being a friend: lover (participle), friend (participle);
God's love toward man: to individual men, to people Israel, to righteousness;
lovely (participle), loveable (participle);
friends, lovers (fig. of adulterers).

Dowd (H1730) – beloved, love, uncle:
loved one, beloved, uncle, love (pl. abstract)

Some people include checed (H2617) as a love word in Hebrew, because some translations have rendered it as love.  It has the main meaning as loving-kindness from one of a higher position – God, or from man to man, and so, typically it is used as God’s “love” for men, but NOT the other way round of men, for God.  To me, grace is perhaps the appropriate word to use.

See, how do we match them up, the 3 Greek words and 2 - 3 Hebrew words?  Not so easy isn’t it! 

Be careful if your revelation goes against established interpretations
What am I trying to do here?  To frighten people so that they should NOT try to interpret scriptures, and just rely on the pastors?  No, but I do want to caution people against just interpreting scriptures, without weighing seriously established interpretations. 

Much research, study, meditation, and waiting on the Lord would have been exacted on what came out as established interpretations.  I am NOT saying there cannot be fresh revelation, but we do have to check and recheck what we think is fresh revelation; for one thing, truths of God do NOT contradict themselves; we do need to consider other scriptures, and the overall counsel of the Word. 

Because it is possible that we “blunder” on giving new interpretations, it is also possible that some other people, including fame preachers and pastors, giving out erroneous new interpretations.  The Word of God said, to check other people’s teachings:

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).

Back to agape
Coming back, in many places in the NT, where “love” appeared, the underlying Greek equivalent used was the Greek word, “agape” (G26) or its connected words like agapaō” (G25).  From there, many people started to expound on the love, (agape love) in the verses.  Currently, inevitably, agape love is labeled as the charitable, sacrificial, selfless and unconditional love.  If we just look at the short-form Lexicon meanings of agape, as given above, you see the shades of such attributes of the agape love in the list; but definitely such strong connotations as sacrificial, selfless and unconditional are NOT that explicit in the list of meanings. 

Therefore, it is necessary to know the attributes of the love which the Greek called agape were noted from gleaning from the overall counsel of the Word, including through various accounts recorded for us, in Scripture.  I believed that was what the early theologians, including CS Lewis, did; gleaned from Scriptures, and “formulated” the meanings of agape love.  Frankly speaking, in my early days as a Christian, I understood agape love as unconditional love from the mouth of my pastor who probably learnt them from the theologians.  In this article, I would like to be a little more critical, and go back to the source (Word) to “test” like what the Bereans we noted, did, and was praised by the Apostle Paul.

We shall look at some of the Scriptural accounts so that we are completely satisfied that indeed, when that love is mentioned, it was truly comprising such and such attributes like charitable, sacrificial, selfless and to a good extent unconditional.  Then I shall reveal what I believe is a serious ingredient missing in the list of attributes of that agape love.

The charitable, sacrificial, selfless and (to a good extent) unconditional nature of agape love was gleaned from such as these:

1.   “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  

The Greek word used for “loved” was agapaō” (G25).  Through Adam, all men have sinned, and would surely die, meaning one would go  through physical death, and ultimately, be thrown into the burning fire of Hell, away from God where eternal life is to be lived, according to the penalty as specified in Gen 2:16-17. 

It was Man who disobeyed God in the first place, and God has provided a plan called the salvation plan, entirely without merit from Man, in which, in His time, He had given His one and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to be born as a man and to die for us, so that He, his Son, might bore the penalty of our sin, so that with that substitution, we do NOT need to perish (go to Hell), but have eternal life with Him, the Father God, in Heaven.  All of this, the giving of His Son, pointed to the attributes of that agape love, charitable, sacrificial, and selfless.

The Apostle John repeated, in more words, the same, in 1 John 4:9-10 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  The Greek word for love used here was again agape love. 

2.   For Jesus so loved the world that He gave up His place in Heaven, came to be born as a man, and in the prime of His earthly life gave up His life willingly do the Father God’s will.

6 {Jesus} Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8). “I have testimony weightier than that of John {the Baptist}. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36). They did not understand that he {Jesus} was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. (John 8:27-28). 

Therefore, Jesus, NOT just the Father God, was loving Man charitably, sacrificially, even selflessly (as least as a Man, that He would die for another, was that NOT selfless?).  If NOT in all regards, at least in this, He died unconditionally, that He died for any sinner, NOT some sinners, NOT particular sinners, but any sinner, who would appropriate His propitiation for sins.

3.   For the Holy Spirit so loved the world that He was willing to be in us (believers), despite He being holy and we still having the sinful nature in us, and guide us into all truths ever so gently.
My understanding of the teaching of the Apostle Paul is that a believer is still with a sinful nature (Gal 5:13, 16-17, Rom 8:12-13), despite he is a new creation.  If you believe that the moment you believe in Jesus, you are perfectly righteous and holy thereafter, which is in my view, wrong teaching from the “overly grace” preachers, you probably cannot appreciate the charity, the sacrifice, and the selflessness of the Holy Spirit to be willing to be dwelling inside of us, without guarantee on our part that we shall maintain holiness and righteousness at all times, for His (Holy Spirit) sake; neither do we guarantee that we will yield to His (Holy Spirit) desires instead of those of the sinful nature, although we are exhorted to do so (Gal 5:16-17, Rom 8:12-13).

Do NOT get me wrong, I am NOT trying to tear down the contribution of early theologians, such as CS Lewis, in this area of defining the agape love; on the contrary, which we shall see later, I want to add to it.    Indeed, even though I have NOT read the book referred to, in my study of the reviews made of the book, this quote from CS Lewis is so spot-on concerning the attributes of agape which can be gleaned from Scripture - the charity, sacrifice, and selflessness demanded from God kinda of love:

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. but in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

CS Lewis painted that love from the human perspective. If we put ourselves in God’s shoe, taking a theocentric perspective, the Father God gave His one and begotten Son, Jesus, to come to be born as a man and to die as a man with the terrible death of being crucified, was He NOT putting Himself in a vulnerable spot, that although He desired all men be saved through that sacrifice He made (1 Tim 2:4), NOT all men are willing to accept that love sacrifice He made?;  Jesus, similarly, gave up His glory in Heaven, and came to down to earth to be born as a man, and to go through all the sufferings as a man, that he might become the merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God (Heb 2:17), and to die the cruel death, was He NOT taking the risk of “His heart be wrung and possibly be broken” by some who refused Him as Savior and Lord?; the Holy Spirit, in continuing the salvation plan for each of us, through His willingness to make His dwelling inside of us, despite His holiness, was He not risking the “tragedy of being repeatedly grieved by our sinful thoughts and actions”?  Indeed, God’s love was and is charitable, sacrificial, and selfless.

God is agape, and so the love from Him is agape
In 1 John 4:8, we read “God is love”, and the Greek word used there, was again, “agape”.  God is love; God is agape; and the love from Him is agape love.

But is the overall counsel of the Word merely telling us that God is agape, and His love for us is agape, the way the olden Greeks understood agape; or is there more?!

Be agape as He is agape
Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27).  Man, before the Fall in the Garden of Eden, was capable of eternal life, capable of holiness, righteousness, and agape.  The Fall had corrupted those capacities, but the regenerate man (a believer), is once again capable of them.  As a believer, we know we are once again capable of eternal life, because Jesus has propitiated for us the penalty of death from the Original Sin.

Just as there are exhortations in Scripture for us, believers, to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet 1:16 KJV), to be righteous – to resist sins, even the point of shedding blood (Heb 12:4), there are exhortations for us to agape.  I will give you some of the verses in a moment, but what it means is that agape love is NOT just for God to love us with.

Agape is also for us to love God with, and for us to love our neighbors with.  We are to agape God, in return; and we are to agape one another.  In other words, we are NOT to just phileo one another, that was just the olden Greek’s understanding; God asks for agape love, in addition to brotherly love.  Our brotherly love has to be pursued to the level of agape love if we excel in love.  Here are the verses supporting my saying that we are to agape God, and agape one another:

The Apostle John used the same Greek word, “agape”, when referring to our love for God and our love for our neighbors, meaning we are to love God with the same kind of love that God loves us, and we are to love our neighbors with that same kind of love (1 John 4:19-20):

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Jesus’ speaking of the commandments to love was written in Greek by the Apostle Matthew using the same word, “agape”.  Matt 22:37-39 –

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matt 22:37-39).

The love the Apostle Paul referred to in 1 Cor 13 which ended with this: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13), the Greek love word used was also “agape”.

It is very clear, from above, that if we are to excel in love, we are to agape God, and we are to agape (not just phileo) our neighbors.

In summary, firstly, I have NOT yet revealed the ingredient which should be added to the agape love; you will know what it is, in PART II of this 2-part series; secondly, we should have understood that the charitable, sacrificial, selfless and even unconditional attributes were more imputed into the Greek love word, “agape”, from gleaning from the Bible, than it was originally defined by the Greek in their use of the word; thirdly, the revealing of God kinda of love as agape, was NOT just that we might know of God’s love as being agape, but it was to exhort us to also agape God, and to agape our neighbors.

Anthony Chia, high.expressions – I am NOT God, but I am created in the image of God, and now that I am regenerated (have become a believer), the image of God is being restored, and I am once again enabled for eternal life, enabled for holiness and righteousness, and enabled for God kinda of love. As an image is close to the real thing, so must I excel in agape love, just as God is agape, and God agapes.  Lord, may you help me to grow in the image of you.  Amen.

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