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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, February 26, 2016
What to do about love?
The word charity shows up 26 times in the King James version (KJV) of the New Testament. In each instance the word being translated as charity is the noun agapé, which our modern translations translate as love.

I don't recommend the KJV as a study bible, since a great many (hundreds) of the words used in that translation are either obsolete in modern English, or have since come to mean something different than those same words mean today ("conversation" for example, used to mean they manner in which you conducted yourself in the world, where now it describes a dialog or discussion).

I mention the KJV's use of the word charity, not to recommend the KJV, but rather to highlight something that the translators of the KJV took into consideration in translating the word apapé, the context and implied meaning of the word.  Translators of the KJV, did not shy away from using the word "love" to translate the word agapé, when that word more readily reflected the context.

If you wish to do a study on the instances where the KJV translates the word agapé as love,  you can look up each of these verses for yourself or follow the link and view them in Mounce's Reverse-Interlinear New Testament:
  • 1 Corinthians 8:1, 13:1-4, 13:8, 14:1, 16:14;
  • Colossians 3:14; 
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 
  • 1 Timothy 1:5, 2:15, 4:12; 
  • 2 Timothy 2:22, 3:10; 
  • Titus 2:2; 
  • 1 Peter 4:8, 5:14; 
  • 2 Peter 1:7; 
  • 3 John 1:6; 
  • Jude 1:12; 
  • Revelation 2:19 
If you Google a definition of love, you'll find that love is most often defined first and foremost as a deep feeling of affection. The default definition of love (in Western culture) is that of a powerful emotion.  In other words, when someone in our culture is speaking of love, they are usually referring to an emotion that describes their affection for something.

It's easy enough to say that our definition of love is going to be influenced by the culture that we live in, but it's probably more helpful identify some aspects of our culture, and ask ourselves how those aspects will influence us.

If our culture regards love primarily as an emotion, then when our culture hears that God is loving, it is going to interpret that as meaning that God's love is an affection He has for the people and things He loves.  Our culture has no category for God's justice, or God's wrath, and so the notion of God's love is not tempered by, or understood as being in harmony with, any of the other known attributes of God.  This unbalanced view of God's love is going to be a hindrance to anyone's understanding of what the bible means by love.

Our culture is presently suffering from an epistemological identity crisis.  On the one hand it is considered arrogant to imagine that truth is knowable, and on the other, we should respect everyone's own personal version of what is true, so that we can all be "right" even when our opinions contradict one another. The pursuit of happiness is now a pursuit of pleasure, and we should all work to allow one another to pursue their own version of pleasure so long as that version doesn't harm anyone unwilling to be harmed by it.  Even heinous acts of evil are being justified by the thought that every perpetrator is a victim of some form of poverty (physical, mental, financial, ethical, etc.) or other.  We shouldn't punish people for becoming what their circumstances have dictated, instead we should educate them into a better life, etc.

That's the culture that shapes (to one degree or another) what is being understood by many who read, and who preach the scriptures.  Unless we are very circumspect in our study of God's word, we are at risk of reading into the bible, our culture's understanding of love, rather than the coming away with the bible's understanding.

I don't believe the difficulty can be easily overcome by simply pulling out a (Greek) dictionary and finding out what words like "agapé" and "phileo" mean.  These words, like every other word we use today, or the writers of scripture used in their day, have different meanings across a given semantic range.  In one context a word  can mean one thing, and in another, it can mean something else.

We do that in English all the time.  Throwing a ball is functionally different than throwing a party or even throwing a fight.  The context informs us how we are to understand the use of the word.

Some interpreters unwittingly read more into the words agapé and phileo than they ought to - assigning to each word to a very narrow technical meaning (i.e. agapé is a kind of "divine" love, the kind that God loves with, but phileo is more of a friendship sort of love, or brotherly love), but the truth is that even if God's love is superior in every conceivable way - that superiority isn't suggested by the word agapé nor is it necessarily omitted when the word phileo is used.

Remember King David's son Amnon? He was the one who, in 2 Samuel 13 had  crush on his step-sister Tamar.  Under the horrible advice of his friend Jonadab, he pretended to be ill, and when King David came to look in on him, Amnon asked David to send Tamar to him with food for him to eat from her hand.  When she came, he sent his servants away, and invited her into his bedroom to feed him, at which point he tried to seduce her.  When his seduction failed, he raped her.  In verse 15 we read "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her."  In the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament) the word used to translate love in this verse is agapé.  This wasn't describing a pure and selfless love - the love reserved for God.  It was describing an utterly self-serving desire, that evaporated the moment it achieved it's goal.

We err if we think that because a text uses this word, instead of that word, it is describing a necessarily superior form of "love" - especially if our understanding of the word love is informed by our culture rather than the scriptures.

The culture in England 400 years ago was different than our culture today.  The word choices made by translators 400 years ago would not have been informed by the same culture we have today - and that discrepancy ought to cause a sober reader to consider why the word charity was used then in various places, where the word love is used today.

If the translators of the KJV were compelled by their understanding of both English and Greek to translate some instances of the word agape as charity, they were not alone.  Jerome, translating the Greek New Testament into Latin, did the same thing 1200 years before that. Jerome translated agapé alternately using two different Latin words: caritas, (charity, dearness, high price, love/affection etc.) and diléctio (delight, Good will, love)If you follow along in the Latin Vulgate, you will see a remarkable thing - Jerome used the Latin word for charity to translate the Greek, in the same places the KJV translators used the English word charity...

That is pretty interesting.

It tells us that for hundreds and hundreds of years, readers of the Greek New Testament understood this one thing: the word agapé sometimes meant what we mean when we use the word charity, and they even knew when that particular meaning should be used.

One might ask, were they more discerning than we are today?

Listen: I'm not suggesting that it is "wrong" to translate the word agapé as love in our modern bibles.  What I am just suggesting is that our culture no longer thinks of love in terms of anything other than an emotion.  I am not saying we should bring "charity" back into our modern translations (though it would probably help), I am saying that because agapé doesn't necessarily describe an emotion, we should be on guard against reading our cultural definition of love back into the bible.

If love is limited to the notion of a deep affection in our culture, how will our culture understand a command to "love" the Lord? Is that a command to foster affection for the Lord?

Jesus famously spoke these words in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me Lord! Lord! and not do what I tell you?"  Jesus was talking about the kind of discrepancy where your mouth says that Jesus has the right to command your obedience, but your heart says, I will not have this man rule over me.  That kind of Christianity, which flows out of the mouth, but not from the heart, is not the real deal.  Jesus put it out there plain and simple - if you call him Lord, but don't obey Him, He isn't your Lord, you are your own Lord.

Those of us who genuinely desire to please our Lord, will want to obey His commandments - but in order to do that we need to understand His commandments:
  • A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. - John 13:34-35 ESV
  •  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my loveIf you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. - John 15:9-17 ESV

If your Lord commands you to love others, isn't it important to make sure you understand what He meant by love? Is Jesus commanding people to feel affections? How did James put James 2:16?, "and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?". Do good intentions fill hungry bellies?
One might might say that the command isn't just to feel the affection - but to act on it. But that has its own problems. What if I don't feel an affection? Am I fulfilling the command if I act upon an affection I don't actually have? Will God be satisfied with my half-hearted obedience?
Consider the possibility that the love that our Lord is speaking of isn't an emotion. I know that culturally speaking, that is a difficult thing to do for some of us. But consider it.
How does God demonstrate His love? He loved us while we were yet sinners, giving Himself, if I may paraphrase much, for those who hated Him. He "loved" His enemies. Does that mean He felt a deep affection for those who hated Him, or did it mean that He served them without regard to His own emotions?

Slowly now...

Is God's nature one of selfless service, or is God's selfless service a product of an underlying emotional state? Do we have an emotion driven God who is calling us to be driven by similar emotions, or do we have a God who is selfless, who serves others regardless of merit or personal emotion, because that is His true nature. Jesus said to Philip, if you have seen me, you've seen the Father. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. He did not come to gain anything for Himself, not wealth, not fame, not pleasure, nothing - yet He came to give all of Himself, even His life. That is the nature of God that was put on display by our Lord, and I believe that is what "love" looks like.

It isn't an emotion, but it certainly can provoke our emotions. It isn't a feeling that provokes us to do good, it is the Divine Nature that, when we surrender ourselves to it, will result in our serving one another selflessly. You cannot serve your self and God at the same time - the only way to serve God is to stop serving yourself.

If that is so, the command to love one another is not a command to foster affection for one another, it is a command to put others before ourselves even as Christ put our needs before His own. It is a command that only makes sense when your understanding of love isn't being informed by your culture, but rather from the scriptures themselves.
Go read the scriptures and test these thoughts. How do you love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength if the love He requires is merely an emotion?

It is possible to serve the Lord by seeking to deny yourself in your inner most being, to deny yourself in your thoughts, to deny yourself in your life, and to do so with all your strength, in other words to live your life for God and not for yourself.  You can do that without having or even trying to generate a deep affection for God.

If our obedience and manner of living are supposed to flow from emotions - which are as much a part of our fallen self as the rest of our sinful self - then we are necessarily implying that our fallen nature not only empowers our ability to obey God, but rather our ability to overcome our own sin, is what the whole thing hinges on.

Slowly.....think.....If we could do that in the first place, we wouldn't have needed a Savior...

Our job isn't to make our fallen selves presentable to God, it is to deny our own will, which itself is informed by and lives to satisfy, our fallen nature. Love is not selfish, it is selfish - it does not serve self, it serves others.  Paul writes this so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13, that the notion that love is driven by emotion falls apart as soon as our cultural lenses come off.

When we deny ourselves, we give Christ room to live in and through us.  The road to selfless living is one of personal denial - and it is the only way that genuine righteousness finds us in this life.  Paul wrote famously in Romans 7:18 (and we do well to comprehend the depth of his words), "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, no good thing dwells.  He understood that He was incapable of righteousness (there is no one who does good, no one one! - Romans 3:12), even as we are, in and of ourselves.

So dear reader, if your understanding of love is more cultural than biblical - don't let that infect your understanding of the scriptures.  To do what the Lord commands you, you need to employ a biblical understanding of love in Christ's commandments, and not a cultural one.

Stop living for yourself, stop serving yourself, stop telling yourself that as long as you have an affection for people you're obeying the commands of Christ.  Ask yourself the hard questions: who am I really living for?  When was the last time I denied myself something in order to serve someone else?  Was that something exceptional - or was it an expression of how I am now living my life?

Perhaps one reason the church is weak, impotent, and dwindling is because the enemy has learned to not only attack the scriptures directly, but indirectly also - twisting the meaning of God's commands, by polluting the culture whose language is being used to interpret it.
posted by Daniel @ 10:17 AM  
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