Since Election Day, I’ve sort of just grazed on the headlines
No, I’m not going to get political here. So don’t worry. You can keep right on reading. What I take in, whether by listening, reading, or watching, impacts me. It raises awareness, yes, but too much time in the news for me raises anxiety. And so, as Paul instructs, I switch my internal channel to think about more ‘worthy of praise’ sorts of things (Philippians 4:8).
I went to change my channel yesterday while listening to Alexa give me my latest news updates on the election. It’s super convenient to pop in my ear buds, ask Alexa to read my latest news updates from my iPhone, and continue working around the church. Super efficient!
Anyway — I was about to change channels to listen to a podcast or an audiobook, but I continued to listen to Alexa’s news briefing. I couldn’t tell you who it was, what network was reporting, but I caught the concept of more love and less hate while I was coiling up some audio cords.
Alexa moved on from that report to several others, but I’d already stopped listening. Admittedly, I do this to my wife. I get distracted by a single thought, unable to stop chewing on it, and I zone out. Only difference is Alexa doesn’t care. But my wife, well, when I do that with her, it typically gets me in trouble.
More love. Less hate. What does that really mean? What does it really mean to love more and hate less? And is hate the antitheses of love? Seems to be as Alexa had reported. But that didn’t sit well with me.
So, I did what I usually do when something doesn’t sit well with me. I started digging. I decided to look up just how many times the word love appears in the New Testament. For clarity’s sake, the love I’m referring to is not the Greek word Eros which is a romantic love. It’s not Philia which is a love shared between friends — think a bond of friendship. And it’s not Storge, which is sort of like a familial love — like that of my family. The word I looked up was Agapaō. And for the record, it appears 143 times in the New Testament.
I loved (ha, get it!) exploring them. Most of the appearances of the word are found in two books, totaling 66 occurrences, just shy of half of the total. Can you guess which two books these 66 came from?
John’s Gospel (38) and John’s first letter (28). There’s a little Bible Trivia for you! The rest found themselves peppered throughout the remaining three Gospels and Epistles. Ok, enough trivia!
Agapaō is a God love. It starts with him. It’s unconditional. And it’s “other” centered. More on that in just a moment.
Here’s a few things I picked up about Agapaō.
It’s a verb. (no shock there). Many times it comes in the form of a command in the second person, that is, the verb is to be carried out by the listener (that would be me, you, and the rest of humanity). A great example would be Jesus’ command to his disciples. (and us)
A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. John 13:34 MOUNCE-NT
But probably the most remarkable discovery was not in a statistical number or grammatical insight. It was in the pattern of how Agapaō (love) appeared in the New Testament. The key was in the context of what received Agapaō. Apart from the context of loving truth or righteousness, Agapaō was received or was to be received by another person(s). Here’s a couple of examples.
For this is how God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 MOUNCE-NT
The world being all of us.
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech but in action and truth. 1 John 3:18 MOUNCE-NT
This is loving Jesus. Loving People. And bringing them together.
Now with regard to brotherly love you have no need for us to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God how to love one another. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 MOUNCE-NT
Learning to love another comes through God.
And this pattern is repeated in almost each instance of Agapaō. Love expressed and spoken of in the New Testament is “other” centered. It makes so much sense. It’s so simple to think of. It’s simple to understand. And you might be saying that it’s common sense. To which I would agree.
But simplicity creates complexity. Not complexity in understanding, but complexity in following through. Think about losing weight. It’s super simple to understand — consume fewer calories than you burn. It’s not difficult to grasp.
The complexity comes in following through.
Knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.
This got me thinking even more.
Are there examples of Agapaō being used inappropriately? In other words, does context exist of Agapaō being misdirected onto something other than another person?
The answer was yes. Here are some examples.
Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the seat of honor in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Luke 11:43 MOUNCE-NT
Here it’s the Pharisees (religious leaders of Jesus’ day) who cherished being honored, greeted, praised, loved by others, than by loving others. Here’s another.
And the basis for judging is this, that light has come into the world and people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. John 3:19 MOUNCE-NT
The light that has come into the world is Jesus. But people Agapaō’d darkness over light. What’s that mean? They loved their sinful ways more than Jesus. And likely more than others.
And this one sealed the deal for me. Paul’s words, not mine.
…for the people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, braggarts, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy 2 Timothy 3:2 MOUNCE-NT
Lovers of self. There was my answer. In my understanding, hate seems to be less of an antithesis to love. But if hate isn’t the opposite of love, what is?
The antitheses of love is anything that halts, prevents, or shuts off love of another.
It’s pride, out of which flows selfishness and arrogance. It’s been me. It’s been you. It’s a self-love focused more on us and less on another. Every context where Agapaō is used appropriately, it speaks of the other. Every context where it is used inappropriately or misdirected, speaks of love of something that is not another, either something inanimate or self.
I’m more convinced the opposite of love is not hate. It’s pride. Selfish pride.
Agapaō centers around the other person, never about self. Pride, however, is self-centered. It’s I know better. It’s I cannot learn anything new. It’s you can’t tell me anything I don’t already know. It’s love out of a wrong motive.
Love in a proper sense is action taken upon someone else done FOR someone else. Love in an improper sense is action taken upon something else that is NOT FOR someone else, but for self alone.
Here’s a moment of transparency. Pride is something I have struggled with. I’ve been (and somedays still wrestle with) the person that knows better, that refuses instruction, that can’t be corrected. It’s ugly. So very ugly. And it’s nothing like the Agapaō found in the New Testament.
Living this truth out practically comes in so many flavors. It’s like Baskin Robbins! Ok, well, not really. They only have 31 flavors. There’re more ways to love practically.
It happens ANYTIME you are more FOR another than you are for yourself. It happens when your motivation is FOR another than what you get out of the deal. It’s always less about you and more about the other.
The guiding statement when you look into another’s eyes is “I am for you” and then doing what it takes to be for them. This doesn’t always come easy. There are times when, we need to have each other’s back, we have to confront.
Let’s take a quick look at a familiar story from Mark. Jesus has a talk with the rich young ruler. The rich guy comes and asks about eternal life. Jesus questions him on the commandments. The rich ruler recites them. Then Jesus shows him love.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. Mark 10:21 NIV11-GK
In love Jesus spoke a tough word to him. Maybe it was easy for Jesus. Maybe it was hard. Bible doesn’t say. I know that I find it difficult to do this sometimes. But not doing so out of my avoidance of feeling something uncomfortable or awkward is, well, selfish. To really love in this situation is to move past the awkward and self comfort and risk discomfort because Jesus was FOR the rich young ruler.
And you and I have to be FOR the other person.
It’s having the other person’s back.
Stopping hate is not answered by loving more. Well, sort of it is. Kind of.
To stop hate is to become more “other” centered instead of self-centered. I’m reminded of a book I read years ago that briefly talked about the relationships within military, specifically within the Navy SEALs. They operate as a unit. They are never looking out for their interests, but always having each other’s back. They are always thinking, operating, moving and responding with each other’s interests in mind. They always have each other’s back. Even to the point of laying down their life.
I deeply admire that. And I’m ashamed I haven’t always lived it.
What’s the takeaway?
What would my world look like if I operated as if I always had someone else’s back? What would your world look like if you did the same? What would our world’s look like if we were FOR the other instead of FOR ourselves?
I wonder what that would do to our political system.
I figured I started on a political note. Might as well end on one.
As you enter into the weekend, look for opportunities, no, pray for opportunities to be FOR the other person. Maybe it’ll be someone you don’t even know. A stranger in Walmart or Kroger or the Post Office. It might be someone you do know, your spouse, child, brother, or sister.
It might even be me.
I know that when it’s you, I want to strive to be FOR you.
And I am…FOR you!