In our modern day, "love" has many faces. A man may see a woman for the first time and say, "I'm in love." What he means is, "I have a strong attraction." To some, "love" implies lust. Basically, "love" means anything we want it to mean in whatever given circumstance. Some parents think they "love" their children too much to discipline them. Some friends "love" each other too much to rebuke sin. Sadly, some of our twentieth century concepts of love have been projected back into Scripture, and we lose the Biblical application of true love.
Love is characterized much more by action than by feeling. When Jesus commanded His disciples to "love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34), He was not just telling them to feel warmly about each other. He was commanding action, just as He had acted. It is thus by God's action that we know what real love is all about (Romans 5:8; I John 3:16). Based upon this, we are told, "let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth" (I John 3:18). This kind of love (agape) is to pervade all of our relationships: family, brethren, and even enemies (Matthew 5:44). It is a love that seeks the best for all involved, and is demonstrated by taking whatever action is necessary to secure that best for the other person.
It may sound a bit trite, but we need more love - Biblical love. If the people of God are to survive well into the next century, then love will be one of the essential reasons for survival. Specifically, we want to consider the love that brethren should have for one another.
What Is Love?
The two primary terms for "love" in the Scriptures are agape and phileo. Both terms are very significant when discussing the love that brethren are to have for each other. Agape often indicates love that is based upon high regard or appreciation. It is the demonstration of one's love for another. Brethren are to have this kind of regard for each other (John 13:34; I John 2:10). We should appreciate each other for who we are (both God's creatures and God's children), and demonstrate a high regard for one another in seeking what is best for each other. A congregation characterized by this love will do well in the Lord's service.
A congregation without it will quickly die, for it will be filled with those who are selfish and have little regard for anyone else. Phileo is a love based more upon association. It is an affection for someone or something to which we are closely related. For example, James used the term with reference to the world: "friendship (i.e., affection) with the world is enmity with God" (Jame 4:4). Concerning brethren, the term is combined with "brother" to indicate "brotherly love" (philadelphia), or affection for another believer in Christ based upon the common relationship. In the New Testament, this term is restricted to fellow believers.
As Christians, we have a very special relationship as brethren in Christ. This should invoke great affection for each other. If it does not, then we need to take another look at our relationship with God. Both expressions of "love" encompass our thoughts and actions. There is nothing that a congregation should do or think that does not take into account the affection, regard, and actions toward those who share a common salvation. It is the essential mark of Christians that they consider others first.
Born To Love
Agape and philadelphia are combined in I Peter 1:22-23: "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God." The world is filled with hatred, envy, greed, and strife. When one obeys the gospel, he enters into a new relationship with God and fellow believers. "All things are new" (II Corinthians 5:17). This new relationship with others is characterized by "unhypocritical brotherly love" and "fervent love" for one another. This means that the affection we express toward each other must be genuine, and the demonstrations of our love must be with fervor and zeal. We should be eager to show our love and affection, especially for fellow believers. It is a natural outcome of being born again by the word of God. Both love (agape) and brotherly love (philadelphia) are to be added to our lives (II Peter 1:7).
Essential To Unity
We often stress, and rightly so, the need for truth in maintaining unity in Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:1-6). Just as essential to unity is the love we must have for one another. After all, love, or lack thereof, is the driving motivation behind our actions toward each other, whether good or bad. If we have this kind of love, then we will be "kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven" us (Ephesians 4:32). Unity cannot exist long without these attitudes. The apostle Paul, giving the keys to unity and success as servants of God, expressed well the same concept in Philippians 2:1-4:
"If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."
This conveys the kind of actions and thoughts we should have in our relationships with each other. The apostle then appeals to the example of Christ, who denied Himself and died for us (Phillipians 2:5-8). This was the greatest love possible (John 15:13). The point? If Jesus, Himself God, emptied Himself in complete humility and service for others, how much more should we, the lowly creatures, empty ourselves in order to love and serve each other? Imagine if we all had the attitudes stated here. Would we ever see strife, personality divisions, hatred and contentions in local churches? Would bitterness ever raise its ugly head to tear brethren apart? What better demonstrates what true love is among God's people? And what would better prepare the people of God to march as a unit into the next century? Just as a good attitude without truth is vain, so truth will be worthless to us if we do not live out the love we profess and claim to embrace. Jesus said that others will know that we are His disciples by the love (agape) which we have for one another (John 13:34-35). That's scary! Others may look at how we act toward each other and conclude that we are not what we claim to be. We need to think about this before we get tied up in all kinds of bitter wrangling.
Essential To Salvation
The apostle John wrote, "The one who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (I John 2:10-11). "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (I John 3:14-15). Such passages express the importance of our need to love each other. Unless we do, we cannot abide in the light. We cannot be in a right relationship with God if we are thinking evil about others.
"Love" is a command. This means that we must decide to do it. It is not a matter of turning our emotions on and letting our hearts "feel" the warmth. It is a matter of the will. This is not to say that the heart does not get involved, for everything we do for the Lord needs to be from the heart. But it is to say that we must decide to love because God said so, even if our feelings may be urging us in another direction. As with anything else, once we make the decision, our feelings should follow. If we do not make this decision, we will suffer eternal consequences. Salvation is on the line.
I know of nothing more practical in its effects than Biblical love. It embraces every aspect of our lives. The greatest command, said Jesus, is to love God with all the heart, soul, strength and mind (Mark 12:30). The second is to love neighbor as self. Everything else that we do hangs on these things. All is summed up in this, "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:9-10). It is at the root of our relationship both to God and one another. It is at the foundation of our respect for God and our treatment of all mankind; and if we are brethren in Christ, it is the basis for our special affections we should share for fellow Christians. What greater need is there among God's people? What one thing can be offered in its place? What concept better states what God and His people are all about? What God's people of the next century need is exactly what all people of all time need more than anything else – true love for God and one another.