Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Jesus Kind of Love

One of the people I interact with on Google+, Rodney Moore, made an interesting response in a discussion of our previous post.  He said, “pray, read, do, pray, read, do, pray, read, do...... or if you prefer, read, pray, do, read, pray, do, read, pray, do...... is that a short enough sermon?”.  The “do” part brings up some really interesting thoughts.  There’s a whole line of spiritual thinking that, on the surface, appears to oppose itself.  Take a look.

John 21:15-19 is a dialogue between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.  Peter’s response, each time, is that he does.  But, unless we go into the original Greek, we miss the fact that these are two different words for love.  Jesus uses a form of agape, Peter uses phileo.  It’s in that difference that Rodney’s three word sermon resides.  That difference is huge!

What Peter describes as his love has been termed brotherly love, caring about one another.  But there’s a modern day example that I think illustrates it better than that description.  Think of a modern day street gang.  The members hang out together, they back each other up in times of opposition from other gangs, they won’t get involved with another member’s girlfriend.  That’s Peter’s phileo.  The problem is that it comes from the flesh and is self oriented.  It exists because it feels good.  In our example, if another gang member is suddenly no longer in good standing, his girlfriend becomes fair game.  And, if a member has the possibility of escaping jail or getting a lighter sentence by “ratting out” other gang members, self preservation trumps that kind of love.  Contrast that with the type of love Jesus was describing.

Agape is described by many scholars as unconditional love.  There’s no beginning, no conditions, it’s unchanging, it’s unending, and it’s sacrificial rather than self seeking.  So, it doesn’t require a response.  The ultimate example is Jesus Himself.  Even in coming to earth from heaven, He had a connection with the rest of the Trinity.  Only when Jesus became the substitute for our sin and sins was He totally separated from the rest of God.  It wasn’t just that the separation was painful.  It had been planned before it became necessary.  And Jesus demonstrated God’s love for us by going through with the separation and crucifixion, anyway.  Unlike phileo, love trumps self preservation.  And that’s where Rodney’s response to our previous post comes in.

If we were Peter in that passage, we’d be saying that we pray because we’re looking for a particular response.  There’s no real conversation or optional responses.  And our Bible reading would lead to selective memory of what we read, based on what we thought it ought to be saying.  Our response (doing) would be based on the selective interpretation and would happen as long as it made us feel good.  That’s always doomed to fail on some level.

When we think about the agape love that Jesus asked about, there’s a whole different picture.  Prayer no longer looks for a self satisfaction.  Instead it praises and glorifies God and seeks His help and guidance.  There may be a hope that there’s a given outcome, but it’s no longer the focus and a requirement.  Which changes our Bible reading from seeking a particular response or interpretation to letting God show us how He thinks and what He wants.  Any good feelings we get from our response are not the reason for doing things but the result of watching God work in us.  And, whatever occurs, there’s never a failure.  Everything from prayer and being in the Word to our response to that are always successful.  No matter what occurs, it’s in God’s plan and we’re seeking that plan, not our own agenda.

The twelve step programs have a saying, “Let go and let God.”.  It’s an easy way to quote Proverbs 16:9 (KJV) – “A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”.  Agape plans out a path, but let’s God direct the steps.  The results of that are perfect because they’re God’s results, no matter whether they match what we thought the results should be.

So, when we do Rodney Moore’s pray, read, and do, and we do it in agape love, it’s really God leading us in the way we should go (Nehemiah 9:12, 19, Proverbs 22:6).  In ourselves, we can do nothing correctly (John 15:5).  God makes that all very freeing.  If we live in phileo, it’s our thoughts and our results.  But, in agape, we’re no longer responsible.  God guides our actions and thoughts, He plans the results.

At the end of each question to Peter, Jesus tells him to feed the sheep, give them their proper diet of Truth.  Jesus wasn't expecting that to come from Peter's phileo love.  Jesus knew that the agape love He gave to Peter would change him to the point where he'd give out what he took in.  So, how are we doing pray, read, and do, today?  Is it us doing?  Or are we letting God do it, with us as co-participants in our own blessing?

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