In the last two “Rainbow Church” posts [1, 2] I had mentioned the strange antics of Mr. Rollen Stewart (Rainbow Man), whose message of love is just about as twisted and confused as that of the modern church. Thus, Stewart’s strangeness is a suitable metaphor for much of what takes place in the name of modern Christian ministry. At the heart of it all is a corrupted message of the love of God, such that the ideals of agape and philos love are often mutilated into the ancient concept of eros love – the love of self satisfaction and fulfillment. As mentioned in the previous post, this ancient concept of love was the love of selfishness which represented a philosophy of life that was considered to be the greatest ideal for human joy and satisfaction. Sadly, this ideal of self-centered love is still here with us in the modern era. In fact, we even see this clearly illustrated in many church advertisements today. If you comb through the yellow pages, you will find many churches that promise to fulfill the felt needs of those who attend. This is another way of saying – the form of love that we herald here is the secular concept of eros (self-seeking) love. I’m still waiting to find a seeker sensitive church with a yellow pages add that says: “A place to take up your cross and follow Christ, losing your life for His sake that you may gain true life in Him.” I doubt that this would bode well for high numbers.
The truth is that the apostolic writers preached a very different message of love than that of the contemporary church. The sine qua non of life is not self-centered love, but God-centered love:
Mark 12:28-31: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love [agapeseis] the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love [agapeseis] your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Despite the attempts of many to say that Mark 12:31 is commanding us to love ourselves, the clear meaning of Christ’s instruction is that we, being naturally inclined to self-care and self-love, are to set aside our selfishness in order to love the Lord above all, and others around us. This presents a sharp contrast to eros love. Overall, Mark 12:28-31 calls us to a different priority than that of self-centered love. It calls us to the love of God first and the love of our neighbors second. This priority of love comports entirely with the concept of biblical love – that is, God-centered love. The order of Mark 12:28-31 is crucial, for we cannot love others well if we do not love the Lord first above all. From all of this, we must remember the fundamental difference between the secular ideals of love versus the biblical one: In eros the worshiper is only focused upon his relationship with himself, as he seeks his own satisfaction, glory and joy; but in agape and philos love the worshiper is focused on a relationship with others – with the Lord first and others second:
1 Corinthians 16:22: 22 If anyone does not love [philei] the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.
John 15:13: 13 “Greater love [agapen] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends [philon].”
The distinction between agape and philos isn’t entirely easy to grasp. Lexical works will vary a bit in their description of the two terms relative to one another, however I would summarize the difference as follows: philos tends to emphasize the thought of a tender affection for others. Having said this, we must note that agape encompasses this idea too, however, philos tends to focus on this idea in particular. At the broadest level, both words emphasize this: a love that is established by means of a relationship. The concept of a loving relationship is crucial, for it reminds us that our love for God is that which transcends mere feelings or self-centerdness. You see, people can experience many kinds of religious feelings when they think of God – but without a loving relationship with Him, such feelings are nothing more than a manifestation of their own self-centered affections. This right understanding of agape and philos love is a necessary guard against the error of impersonal religion. It is also a warning to us all that we may meet people who may be emotionally excited about the Lord, even professing the name of Christ, but this does not mean that they know and love the Savior:
Matthew 7:22-23: 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
When the Savior says that he never “knew” these people, who did many things in His name, the Lord was not indicating some lapse in His omniscience (may it never be); instead He was revealing the truth that there was never a relationship of love between these advocates of impersonal religion and the Lord Himself.
This message of love is crucial and I am afraid that it is all but lost in the American church. How sad it would be to find on the judgment day that many who attended the modern church, filled with all its programs and gimmicks that are designed to fulfill the felt needs of people, will find that all their joy, excitement, desire, and servitude was only a gross manifestation of their own self-love and self-infatuation. For our own lives, and for the sake of others, we need to understand the precious and wonderful message of the love of God:
1 John 4:19: 19 We love, because He first loved us.