Do You Love Me?
Love, that precarious proposition that is somehow the culprit responsible for life’s happiest moments, and possibly life’s deepest wounds. Libraries are filled with books and writings by men and women who have attempted to encapsulate love from almost every imaginable angle. It is the subject of songs and the notion of poems. Four simple letters strung together form a word that has caused wars, both internal and external. Love has been the driving force that has led people to spend exuberant sums of money, act out of character, totally embarrass themselves, overthink, under think, assume, misinterpret, and even lie to themselves. The desire to love, and be loved, is arguably both a blessing, and at times, a curse. Having experienced both the euphoric happiness and the overwhelming heartache love can bring it is without a doubt a ballad, a bittersweet symphony of emotions. We are so often held captive to the masquerade of our chemistry that we blindly chase love and never understand the composition of love itself. In order to understand love, we so often look within and without and never look to the one who created love. The notion of love extends beyond emotion, across the pages of history, and originates in the mind of the God from which everything originated; to understand love first requires looking beyond the periphery of our finite existence and into the eyes of God.
In our pursuit of discovering love, we must look back to its resplendent beginning. Love originated in an opulent garden where we find a man and his God. Genesis 2:7 records our first inkling of love, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Prior to this moment, God has spent five days literally speaking life into existence. Everything in creation has culminated to this moment. God has set this magnificent stage with light, land, space, plants, and animals; everything that his final masterpiece will need to survive. Then, God stopped talking and formed man. God did not speak man into existence; he formed man. The Creator of everything, the one whom perfection stems, reached down into the dust of the earth, and the love story of humanity began.
Every good story has a few plot twists and finally culminates to a grand spectacle, and humanity's love story is no different. We find twists and turns throughout the pages of the Bible where humankind turned their backs on their maker and suffered the pain and heartache of their decisions. Mankind tarnished themselves, tainted with sin a divide was created between them and God. There was only one fix, a mediator. Humanity was guilty of a debt that far exceeded our ability to pay, resulting in the greatest act of love the eons of history have recorded. God wrapped himself in the flesh of man to pay the price only he could afford. The pinnacle act of love was made when my debt was paid by He whose life he laid. True love was first entangled in a crimson stream that propelled down the furrows of an unpolished cross. The reverberating clang of a swung hammer caressing the face of a protruding nail sent shock waves of love that have never ceased. Before sign language was formed, love was signed with the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross at Calvary. Love was sealed when the blood of perfection kissed the dirt of humanity resulting in a love story more horrific than romantic. It was written in blood and sealed with iron nails to the wood cross for everyone to see. Jesus endured the merciless subjection of humanity simply so he could give humanity mercy. At the culmination of Calvary, he watched every fiber and listened to the almost silent scream of every thread as the veil was torn in the temple, liberating a flood of grace and mercy that extends into the corners of the universe and plummets to the depths of the human soul.
Our cultural understanding of love is skewed by the proliferation of social media and Hollywood. Acculturation has had its hands on morphing the perfect idea of love formed in a garden, and the selfless act of love paid on a cross into the egotistic, vain charade we call love today. Eons of time have made love selfish as opposed to its original selflessness. Conventional thinking has paired love with the flawed idea that it is an emotion. Love is not an emotion. Love is the sum total of kept promises. It's merely a decision that sparks an emotional response. Paul said, “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 rest of this discussion can utilize a plethora of adjectives in an attempt to paint a picture of what love is, but there have been thousands before me that have done just that. So, in an effort to prevent this from becoming just another tautology on the topic of love, we will take a look at love from a different angle.
John 21 records an interesting dialogue between Peter and Jesus that is pertinent to our discussion. The exchange begins in verse 15 and goes until verse 17. To summarize the account, Jesus asks Simon (Peter) if he loves him. Simon obviously replies, “Yes, I love you.” Again, Jesus asks Simon, “Do you love me?” And once more Simon replies exactly the same, “Yes, I love you.” Finally, a third time Jesus asks, “Simon do you love me?” This time the Bible records that Simon was grieved. In our English translations, we don’t really grasp the full reality of this dialogue.
In the first two questions, Jesus uses the Greek word “ἀγαπάω,” agapaō. Simon replies using the Greek word “φιλέω,” philĕō. The word agapaō is defined as “loving-kindness” and is used the least in the Bible of the four Greek words for love. “It was used by the New Testament writers to designate a ‘volitional love’ as opposed to a purely emotional love, a ‘self-sacrificial love,’ and a ‘love naturally expressed by God,’ but not so easily by men and women. It is a word that speaks of compassion, regard, kindness, and true love. It is an unselfish love that transcends natural affinities. In short, it is a love that we don’t naturally have. It is divine” (Holman treasury of key Bible words). Whereas, on the other hand, philĕō is often used primarily for a love as indicated in friendship. So, in short, Jesus is asking Peter here if he loves him to the extent that is really beyond himself and to a point that Peter is willing to do anything for Jesus. And Peter simply responds by stating: I love you as my friend, Jesus.
As I’m sure many could agree, there is not much worse than confessing interest in a person, and them replying that they just want to be “friends.” The notorious “friend-zone” is one of the worse creations in the history of man. It's just a terrible feeling to realize that what you feel for a person is not shared. Yet, we are so often found guilty of “friend-zoning” God. Like Simon, he is daily asking “Do you love (agapaō) me? Are you willing to give everything for me? Do you love me in a way that you can’t put into words?” Just like Simon, we reply “I love (philĕō) you! You are such a great friend. I don’t know what I would do without you.” Today, I ask you, examine your love for God. Is your love for him only present because of what he has done, or because of his faithfulness? God didn’t create Adam simply so he could have a friend; God wants a relationship with you today! He gave his life on a cross for that relationship. What are you doing to cultivate that relationship, that love today?
Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.