We live in a very broken world. Sometimes, we can be naive to how our culture is shaping us. A lady recently had a rant at me about how we are “brainwashing” our kids at church with the Bible. But the truth is, we are all being “brainwashed” in one way or another—we will either be listening to lies of the world or the truths of the Bible.
If we are not letting the Bible shape our definition of love, everyone and everything else will be. Literally everything! Songs, social media, TV, people’s opinions, even clothing and stationary. Our culture is filling our minds with constant and subtle lies about “love”.
Here’s how a few of my pals defined love:
Love is … the warm smiles from your friends & family
Love is …. The warm and loving embrace of your partner
Love is …. The cuddles and kisses from your children
According to the dictionary, love is: “an intense feeling of deep affection”. Notice what all these definitions have in common. Love is reduced to a feeling. To love is to feel. But can we see the danger and also limitation in this definition of love?
Here are a couple of examples of what it may look like to be driven by feelings-based love:
Imagine a friend starts coming to church and after some time professes faith. After a couple of months, she meets a non-Christian guy at a party, and one thing leads to another and before long they are involved in a sexual relationship. Her Christian friends know about this but don’t feel the need or the right to challenge her because it feelsoffensive and judgmental. Instead, they “love on her” by encouraging her in her “happiness”.
Or what about this … a new lady turns up at church and instantly attracts attention. She is bubbly, passionate and “loves Jesus”. She begins to attend the weekly Bible studies and you have noticed some of the stuff she comes out with is quite revolutionary. In private conversations she starts to tell you that some of the stuff your pastor is teaching you is “quite extreme and judgmental”. She opens the Bible and points you to verses about God’s love and acceptance and says that we don’t need to get too caught up with all the hell, fire and brimstone stuff. Over time she has convinced you that a loving God would never actually send people to Hell—that is just “a trick the church uses to scare people into loving Jesus.” Before you know it, you are questioning everything you have ever been taught and beginning to carve out the difficult, uncomfortable parts of the Bible as you “reconstruct” your faith with what feels right.
These are made up but very real examples. In fact, I have recently heard of three (more) Christians who got pulled away by this attractive but dangerous feelings-based love. Because the highest goal and purpose of this love is happiness, anything that makes them feel uncomfortable in the Bible is basically removed or ignored.
- It feels lovely to believe in a God of love that doesn’t send anyone to Hell.
- It feels easier to believe in a God that doesn’t care what gender you choose as long as you are happy.
- It feels nice to believe in a God that condones divorce on the grounds of “falling out of love”.
But the reality is, real love isn’t easy, nice and lovely. Real love is costly. Real love hurts. It’s exhausting, painful and ultimately involves death.
This is the biblical kind of love Paul is calling us to in Galatians 5. Throughout the rest of this series, we will see how this biblical love stands in stark contrast to the worldly, feelings-based love that is rampant in our day.
So, let’s dive more deeply into what biblical love is, but before we do though, a really quick bit of context to the letter of Galatians. Paul wrote this letter to a group of Gentile converts. These new believers were being fed false truths from the Pharisee (Jewish) believers who were telling them that they had to become like them by getting circumcised and obeying the law of Moses. Paul is black and white in his letter to the Galatians, telling them that they are saved, and therefore they get to enjoy all the benefits of being children of God and “descendants of Abraham”—not by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 5:6 says “For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything, but only faith working through love.”
What is Paul telling them here? It’s not about whether or not they were circumcised but whether their faith was real. And how was their faith seen? By their love. We will explore this more in a bit, but for now we must be clear on the fact that this biblical love cannot grow in the life of someone who does not have the Holy Spirit, someone who does not have faith in Christ. It is impossible. Paul was clear: love deepens faith and faith deepens love. You cannot have one without the other. Just like an avocado tree can’t produce apples, so someone without faith can’t grow in Biblical love.
So, what is biblical love?
The Greek word for love found in Galatians 5 is “Agape”—this is used a staggering 259 times in the New Testament. (side note the only other word for love used in the NT is Philia which describes brother-sisterly love, this is used 54 times).
A guy called Kenneth Wuest describes agape as
“an act of the will, an intelligent, purposeful attitude of esteem and devotion; a selfless, purposeful, outgoing attitude that desires to do good to the loved one.”
This love is not driven by how we feel. It goes so much deeper.
Before Jesus went to the cross, he sweat literal drops of blood. But he wasn’t controlled by these emotions. Instead, Jesus made the greatest sacrificial and most costly choice in dying that horrendous death for us.
Romans 5:8 says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God showed his agape for us. Jesus made an active choice beyond all “feelings” to die in our place. Agape is a costly, sacrificial and radical love. It is not bound by need. It does not expect anything in return. And it is poured out to those regarded unworthy or undeserving.
How different is this than our superficial, worldly, feelings-based love?
When we are honest with ourselves and our motives, most of what we call love could be put under the category of “self-love”. How often do we “love” others because it makes us feel better about ourselves? Or because it makes us look good? This is not agape. I will say it again: Agape is a costly, sacrificial and radical love.
Agape is not simply about being nice to nice people.
Agape is found in the sacrificial acts that go against everything within us, and often are done in secret. It is about being faithful to a covenant regardless of the impact it has on us. Paul Miller (author of “a loving life”) describes it as “willing to love when every fiber in your body screams run.”
Agape is death of self.
Mark 8:34 says “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
When did we last deny yourselves to love someone else?
- When was the last time you showed forgiveness to that person who didn’t deserve it?
- When was the last time you welcomed the outcast in your community - (the one who stinks and everyone ignores) into your home? Knowing you wouldn’t get anything in return - not even appreciation?
- When was the last time you gently rebuked another believer on their sin and challenged the wayward to return to the Lord?
Heavy stuff, hey. If you are feeling guilty and challenged by your lack of love right now- you are in good company. I have been cut to the core by this stuff and it is not a surprise God has brought difficult situations into my life over the last couple of weeks to show my lack of agape and need for Him to increase my love. I have had to confess many times in the last weeks. If you feel convicted, don’t dwell in guilt but confess your sin and be overwhelmed by his love towards you and ask God to give you his love.