When we describe the love of God we often picture a kind of gooey sentimentality, maybe even a warm, romantic type of love. But is this an accurate depiction of Biblical love, or are we missing the mark?
In English, we have one word for the many types of love. Whether we’re discussing romantic love or brotherly love, the English language summarizes each aspect under one word: love. However, this has caused some confusion in Biblical exegesis. How can a God of love say that (Matthew 12:34)? The Greek language, however, does possess words for each of these characteristics of love. This will help us to define exactly what kind of love God displays throughout the Bible. Out of the six loves in Greek (Agape, Eros, Philia, Ludus, Pragma, and Philautia), agape best represents Biblical love.
So what is agape love, and how does it apply to us today? When critics object to a Biblical passage by claiming something along the lines of, “A God of love would never command that!” they’re picturing a kind of love that always edifies, never calling out or condemning deceptive evil.
When it comes to agape love, however, this view needs to be laid to rest. While agape love certainly is caring, it has one goal in mind: to do what is best for the well-being of the collective group. The Biblical social world (and 70% of the world today) was a collectivist society. Individualism, what many of us hold in modern times, was almost non-existent in ancient times. Survival was the main goal, and whatever it took to provide the well-being of the largest amount of people was the right thing to do. It put the group above the individual.
An example today would be someone praying that God will hold the rain back so they can go to Disneyworld. However, if someone like a farmer needs just the opposite, it’s his request that would be answered over the one praying for a good time at the theme park. God’s love is centred on the greater good of the collective body rather than the individual request.
When it comes to objecting to passages depicting God’s punishment, or even verses where Jesus shames His opponents by name-calling them (i.e. Matthew 23:17) and insulting their intelligence (Matthew 12:3), it can be easily understood under this view of agape love (for a more in-depth analysis I recommend Glenn Millar’s article here).
But what about verses that command us to “Love your enemies”? Isn’t this in contradiction to the passages mentioned above, or when we confront our brothers and sisters with sin? Not at all. Agape love also comes in another form. We see this form today as “tough love” or “hard love.” It’s doing whatever it takes to protect the sheep, even if it hurts the offenders.
When it comes to apologists, those like J.P. Holding have often been accused of being “internet bullies” because of their use of “harsh language” towards militant atheists. However, in cases such as these it often does no good to show the kind of love commonly associated with Christianity, so a harsher treatment is required (in J.P.’s case this is calling them “morons” or “wolves”). When it comes to militant atheists or anyone with ill intent, these people hold one objective: to spread deception and to keep people from the Kingdom of God. In such situations, it is Biblical to confront them and to do so boldly. J.P.’s vid here explains this in more detail.
Does this mean we don’t love our enemies? No. Jesus never saw the Pharisees as personal enemies, but rather enemies of the truth. Personal offence was never in the picture, they were enemies of the Kingdom of God. They were those who threatened the eternal lives of those seeking the truth.
So does this mean we’re never to care for these people? What does it mean to “Bless those who persecute you”? We can answer this by looking at the word “Bless” itself. Something blesses us when we really need it. If I just had a full course meal, someone giving me an apple isn’t going to bless me, however, if I hadn’t eaten the entire day and then someone gave me that apple, that is a blessing. In Jesus’s case, if the Pharisee suddenly fell to a fatal disease, agape love would require Him to pray for and attend to his healing. If the Pharisee goes back to his attacks then he is still an enemy of the Gospel unless something similar happens again. The Scriptures never ask us to stand passively against enemies of the truth but to extend a hand to them when they fall and ask for salvation.
Today it seems we’ve lost our exaltation of the truth. We’ve allowed one too many wolves into the church in the name of love and acceptance. Unfortunately, this love is hurting us more than it’s healing us.