Love is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the New Testament. How it’s used confuses people often. For example, the Bible says to love God, our neighbor, and our enemy. Seriously, is that last part true? Who can love an enemy? Doing that cheapens love, doesn’t it?
So what do you think of when you think of love? Your kids? Your spouse, even though they occasionally annoy you? Maybe a best friend, parents, or an irritating little sister? Do love them the same way?
Do you feel the same way for your husband or wife that you do for your friends? Are you noticing that love means a lot of different things for a simple four letter word? The Greek language recognizes that, and in the Bible, there are three words for it.
Three Little Words
The way you feel about your family, what’s it like? The Greek word for it is philostorges, a tender love, kind and affectionate. It’s only found in Romans 12:10.
Now, picture your closest friends. How do you feel about them? Kinship, brotherly affection, or heartfelt consideration cover it? That’s phileo, and brotherly affection is philadelphia. Does a certain city ring a bell?
This so far covers family and friends, what about our enemies? If it’s not the same love we have for those close to us, then what is it? The word for it appears 143 times in the New Testament. 1st Corinthians 13:4-7 describes it. It’s agape.
C.S Lewis called it a gift-love in The Four Loves; it’s a force in the world. In short terms, it’s goodwill towards others, benevolence, the opposite of malevolence. In its verb form, it means ‘to prefer.’
You see it in action when you put others ahead of you.
Let’s look at Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
They use the verb form; ‘agapao’, which means ‘to prefer’. In practice, that means to prefer and put God and neighbor ahead of you in priority. To get an idea, it’s what you do with your family. It’s also what Jesus did on the cross for you. The same verb appears again in John 3:16. That’s some self-sacrificial stuff right there.
That’s nice, but what about our enemies? They really suck.
Matthew 5:43-48 leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of Christ-followers who tend to hold grudges. The same verb returns again for love, ‘agapao’ your enemies. One of the harder things to do is to harbor good will towards someone who hurt you. That’s why Christ acknowledges it in verses 45-48. It’s impossible to accept, really, but for one thing.
You have to experience it for yourself. It’s when you realize how broken and messed up you are. The weight of everything you did wrong is slowly crushing you. You’re alone and lost.
Then someone comes along, sits down beside you, to take time from their day to listen to you. It’s nice and all, except you, still have to carry that weight. Then, somehow that person takes it all off your shoulders and places it on their own. They refuse to give it back, carrying it until it kills them.
Your life’s burdens and pain are gone. This stranger took them and died carrying them.
How Do You Feel About That?
Now picture your enemy doing that for you, the person you’ve been opposed to? How’s it feel now?
Look at Matthew 5:45 again.
“that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.“
Look at John 3:16.
That’s what Jesus does for those that come to him! ‘Come all who are weary and burdened!’ I’ve looked at my past, I really don’t deserve the good things I have. The second, and third chances. But I was given them.
Does it warm you up inside when you’re given something? You feel like paying it forward or back? That’s how you can ‘love’ your enemies because Jesus loves you. That’s how you can put God first because he loved and made a way for you to come to him. Even though our rebellious natures made us enemies.
Enemies or family, someone has to pay for the crime for justice to exist. Those who don’t want a second chance and let Jesus willingly accept the punishment will have to bear it themselves in the end.
What Love Has To Do With It
You can love by wishing good for others, without hating them. Do you hate your friends, family, the person you’re dating, or spouse when they hurt you? Or do you hate the behavior?
Loving our enemies doesn’t cheapen love; it’s the same love God has for us. It’s not the same love we reserve for our loved ones. If it was, then yes, it would cheapen it. It’s not as simple as we would like it, is it?