Vol. 11 No. 10 October 2009
By Rebecca Rushmore
The English word “love” is used in many different ways. Someone might say he loves his family, God, a favorite sport, a television program, a certain food or his best friend. In many of these cases, the word “love” represents a stronger version of the word “like.”
How does the Bible use the word “love”? The word “love” appears 214 times in the New King James Version of the New Testament. It is translated from two very distinct Greek words. One of the words is phileo. This word means affection for someone else. It is a brotherly love as used in Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9 and Hebrews 13:1. This form of love is a feeling that is not necessarily commanded.
The second Greek word for love is agape. This word is more than a feeling; it is an action. Agape love requires putting one’s own needs and wants after the needs and wants of another person. First Corinthians 13:4-8 provides a wonderful description of how agape love acts. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Unlike phileo, agape love is commanded in several places. Luke 6:27 commands individuals to love their enemies. Ephesians 5:25 and 28 command husbands to love their wives like Christ loves the church.
Christ provides the best example in the Bible of agape love. The demonstration of that love culminates with the crucifixion. Romans 5:8 reads, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” A familiar passage to many, John 3:16 also indicates that Christ showed agape love to the world.
First Peter 2:21 tells Christians that Christ left an example for us to follow. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” In First Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells Christians to imitate him as he imitated Christ. Notice the words “imitate” and “example” (pattern); Christ is the example we are to follow. What type of a pattern did Christ leave for us?
First, look at the example of Christ’s thoughts. Ephesians 3:11 reveals that Christ had an eternal purpose for man; man was in the mind of Christ from the beginning. Christ also kept God the Father in His thoughts. In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus retreated to the wilderness following His baptism. After forty days of fasting, the devil approached Jesus three times to tempt Him. In each case of temptation, Jesus responded with “it is written.” Each response also included a reference to “God” or “the Lord your God.”
Matthew 6:9 and Matthew 26:36-44 record two occasions in which Jesus prayed to God. The Matthew Six account reveals Christ teaching His disciples to pray. That prayer begins with a reverent reference to God. In the Matthew Twenty-Six account, the prayer of Jesus in the garden shortly before His crucifixion reveals more references that indicate God the Father remained in His thoughts.
In addition to God, Christ also kept others in His thoughts. Consider Matthew 9:35-38.
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’”
Looking on the people gathered around him, Jesus cared for them and reminded His disciples about the preciousness of souls. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus expresses a similar sentiment for the City of Jerusalem. The occasion of the death of Lazarus in John 11:1-5 again demonstrates how Jesus kept others in His thoughts.
Next, consider for a moment the example Christ set with His words. Jesus used His words to express reverence and respect toward God and His will. In His encounter with the devil in Matthew Four, Jesus referred to God as “Lord.” When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He used words like “Hallowed be Your name” to demonstrate reverence for God. In His prayer before His trial, Jesus repeatedly expresses respect with the words “My Father.”
Christ also sets an example for us with His words of kindness to the poor and sinners. In John 8:10-11, Jesus addresses a woman caught in adultery with kindly spoken words. He could have condemned her for her actions; instead, Christ tells her to “go and sin no more.” The Pharisees in Luke 7:36-50 condemn Christ for allowing a sinful woman to wash His feet with her tears and her hair. Christ uses her actions to teach a lesson to the Pharisees on forgiveness. He then speaks to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
Luke 7:48 and Luke 23:34 show Jesus also used His words to express forgiveness. “And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” (Luke 7:48). “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots” (Luke 23:34). In the first reference, Jesus forgives the sins of the woman who washed His feet. In the second passage, Jesus forgives those who nailed Him, an innocent man, to the cross.
Third, consider that Jesus used His words to express thanks. In Mark 8:6, Jesus gave thanks for the seven loaves of bread that He then used to feed four thousand people. Luke 22:17-19 records Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper. Here again, He gave thanks for what He had.
Finally, consider that Jesus used words to express truth. While speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus expressed a need to worship in spirit and truth. In John 8:32, Jesus explained that truth sets men free. According to John 14:6, Jesus is the truth and the only way to access God the Father. Consider also John 18:37. “Pilate therefore said to Him, ‘Are You a king then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’” Those who saw and heard Jesus were witnesses to the truth. This includes those today who hear His word through the Bible.
Christ left a pattern of his thoughts and words. Ephesians 5:1-2 states, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Notice the word “love” in this verse; it is the agape form of the word. Christians are commanded to act in a way that puts others ahead of self as we imitate or pattern our lives after Christ.
Like Christ, Christians need to demonstrate love through thoughts. As already noted in Ephesians 3:11, Christ had an eternal purpose for man. Luke 1:26-38 records how Mary, the mother of Jesus, accepted God’s plan for her. She listened to the words of the angel Gabriel and realized God would work out His will through her obedience. Individuals today need to accept God’s plan, including the salvation offered through obedience to Jesus (Hebrews 5:9).
Like Christ, individuals need to keep God the Father in their thoughts. Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek God first in our lives. We cannot do this if He is not first in our thoughts. Paul commanded the church at Thessalonica to “pray without ceasing” and in Second Timothy 2:15 Paul instructed Timothy to be diligent or study God’s Word. These two actions require thoughts.
Next, Christians need to keep others in their thoughts. Luke 18:9-14 records a parable of Jesus involving a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee made a public show of his prayer, placing himself above others. On the other hand, the tax collector humbly spoke to God. This lesson Jesus taught on humility indicates the need to avoid putting self above others in a haughty fashion. Paul also addressed the need for humility in Romans 12:3. James 1:27 reminds Christians that pure religion includes tending to the needs of others, specifically the widows and orphans. The needs of these people will not be met if they are not in our thoughts.
Thoughts, words and actions are tied so closely together, that it is hard to separate one from the other. Psalm 19:14 reads, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” The words that come from our mouths begin with our thoughts. With this in mind, Christians need to follow the example Christ left for our words just like the one left for our thoughts.
Our words need to express respect toward God and His will. Hebrews 12:28 instructs service to God with “reverence and godly fear.” The example from the Model Prayer in Matthew 6:9-10 also shows respect toward God with words.
The words used by Christians should express kindness toward others. The wise writer of Proverbs instructs people to use soft and pleasant words (Proverbs 15:1; 16:24). Another verse, Proverbs 15:26, explains that “the words of the pure are pleasant.” In the New Testament, James 1:26 admonishes that those who do not control their tongues practice useless religion.
“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:5-10)
When individuals fail to control the words they say, they do not reflect the example Christ set. Words that spread gossip, hurt others, tear others down or tell lies do not express the kindness that they should.
The words we use should communicate forgiveness. Verses like Matthew 6:12, 14-15 and Matthew 18:35 indicate that those who do not forgive others will not be forgiven by God. Jesus instructed the disciples in Luke 17:3-4 to forgive those who ask for it, no matter how many times they need it. Since we have been forgiven so much, the least we can do is forgive others.
Christians should use their words to convey thanks. Paul stated in Colossians 1:3 that he thanked God regularly for the Christians as Colossae. First Thessalonians 5:18 instructs Christians to give thanks for everything, and Philippians 4:6 encourages prayer and thanksgiving as a remedy for worry.
For final consideration, as Christ is truth and expressed it with his words, Christians need to speak the truth with a loving manner (Ephesians 4:15, 25). Agape love, according to First Corinthians 13:6, rejoices in the presence of truth. Not only does our daily conversation need to be truthful, we need to speak the truth of the Gospel (Galatians 2:5). The love that we demonstrate through speech also should be evident in our deeds and truth (1 John 3:18).
The Bible commands Christians to practice agape love. Demonstration of that love models the love Christ had when he died on the cross to save man from sin. When words and thoughts spread outside the pattern Christ left, we break Christ’s heart because we are not all we can be. John 14:15 states, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The word for love in this verse is agape. Those who put Christ ahead of self will follow his example and show agape love in both words and thoughts. Such actions follow the pattern Christ left and allows the individual to be all he can be in love.