We have only ONE word for ‘LOVE’ in English, but in Greek, there are several. When reading our English Bible translations of the New Testament, we lose important shades of meaning that can help us live a victorious life. Knowing a couple of Greek words can identify what God is saying to us about ‘first love’.
In this article, the important difference between AGAPE and PHILOS, Divine and human love, is articulated. When these two forms of love conflict, humans generally make the mistake of confusing their direction and actions. When Agape and Philos conflict, the rationalizing voice of error raises it’s decibel level, separating believer’s from God’s best.
When Agape and Philos are kept in their ordered places, fear (fobos) is totally subdued in a believers life. Christians who understand and apply this can leave the slavery of victimhood and enter God’s Kingdom of total victory. Agape supremacy along with human Philos brings the image of Jesus Christ into full view for unbelievers, glorifying the earth with a correct definition of His name. Agape when it takes precedence in a believer’s walk with Jesus, raises that walk to it’s highest level.
Faith, hope, and love [agape] are the three that live in a believer. Love [agape] is the stronger, wiser, and best of the three. Keep it in first place.
Agape is Divine Love, impartible to believers through the Holy Spirit. This LOVE never sacrifices truth for emotional comfort. It is built upon the foundation of Divine Righteousness, but encompasses the idea of grace and unconditional acceptance of sinners who obtain it by ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ (obedience to the Acts 2:38 Gospel; Death, Burial, Resurrection). Agape permits the tears of ‘Godly sorrow’ to flow into a seeker’s heart, sweet water for land in drought. It is initiated by God’s will alone according to His Divine criteria. Agape is God’s response to the motive of sincerity found within a believer’s faith.
This word Agape (noun) or Agapao (verb) is rarely found in ancient Greek writings, but lives in near exclusivity and abundance in the New Testament. Agape is the very nature of God and the root motive for all of His blessings that arrive from His relationship with His creatures and friends. Agape is also an experience of God’s presence after a worshiper humbles and submits himself to God’s will, placing focused worship placed upon Jesus Christ, in a recipe of Spirit and Truth.
‘Agapao works’ increase as believers step upward with a pure motive and desire to please God first, before men. Man-first-pleasers rarely absorb Agape. Thus, man pleasers find that God’s wisdom is unobtainable, ‘a heaven of brass’, an impenetrable barrier that deflects them from the true path of God’s plan for their lives. God’s approval is found exclusively within Agapao motivated ‘works of faith’ (James 2:20-22).
Agape is ‘jealous’ and will not be imparted by God to those conflicted with hidden human lusts for wealth, power, and control. Churches that notice the rare or absent operation of the ‘gifts of the Spirit’ foolishly are bound by manmade traditions of control and fear. These confused assemblies are prevented from accessing God’s unction which is the campground fire and cloud of the Temple. Agape if absorbed by humans, rejoices in truth and empowers brotherly love, which strengthens and reforms Philos (see below).
Agapao presence is the river of life, the flow of grace toward ‘lovers of God’ versus ‘lovers of pleasure’. Agape demands exclusive possession of a person’s purpose, direction, and lifestyle (worship). Where Agape is absorbed and practiced by God’s people, the baptism of fire and revival burn brightly.
Agape is the ‘first fruit’ of the Spirit, planted inside humans after receiving the ‘baptism of the Holy Ghost’. If this fruit-seed is watered and cultivated by obedient living (faith) to God’s commandments and convictions, it brings the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ to earth.
Agape is the forceful sword of Spiritual Warfare. It purifies the thinking of God’s opponents through hot ‘coals of fire’ heaped onto their heads. These coals of fire are bellowed by good works, prayer for enemies, turning the other cheek, sin breaking ‘fastings often’, doing good to those who despitefully use us, and repentance for others and our own sins. Agape turned the 1st century world upside down and was the prayerful practice of the 1st Church that brought the persecutor ‘Saul of Tarsus’ to the blinding light of Jesus’ voice. Only coals of fire brighten a dark world with light.
Agape love is not an emotion. Rather, it is the emptying of oneself from self serving motives and actions (kenosis) and filling oneself with Divine obedience (Theosis). This Theosis is not a robotic automaton form of slavery, but a surrender of human free will to Divine purpose and holiness. Agape does not occur instantaneously in a believer’s life.
Practicing Agape love is true worship and it grows out of a lifelong progressive walk of faith. Faith is the elevator that lifts human character upward onto the ‘highway of Holiness’, an Agape zenith point found on God’s Mount Everest. Agape is greater than faith, but faith is the obedient means to acquire more Agape, one fiery trial at a time. This purification process fuses Agape and Philos together until a Christian’s inward character reflects the image of Jesus Christ. We are told by the Apostle that Jesus Christ is ‘full of grace and truth’, the best definition of Agape (John 1:14).
Agape love completes and governs Philos love in a human being. It is the missing ingredient that ignites the fires of revival and restoration in a Church. When added to the natural love of human Philos, Agape straightens out the crooked paths of deformed and selfish motives; it heals the ‘hurt feelings’ of withdrawn relationship love. Agape love is the ‘STP additive’ that raises the octane level inside the human fuel tank, powering the Church to rescue the human race from the advent of the dreadful eschaton of God’s return.
Agape creates the fuel mixture that causes the ‘Holy consuming fire’ of God’s Spirit to burn like an intense forge, which in turn casts out the ‘light inhibitors of fear and doubt’ that hide in the shadows of people’s minds. When Agape is oxidized by ‘good works of faith’, the thrust of the Church is unstoppable. The ‘prison gates of hell’ have no defense against a Philadelphia Army wielding the two-edged sword of grace and truth. Agape heals the land, prunes uncontrolled and weedy gardens of humanity, and melts the snow covered hills of cold relationships. God is Agape (1 John 4:8,15).
Philos is the naturally occurring element of human relationship love. This substance is often confused with Agape because of it’s emotional element. When a top 40 radio song is written about love, it is normally singing about Philos (noun) or Phileo (verb). Where Philos is emotional, Agape is integrity. In God’s original design, Agape was given to humans to complement and improve Philos. Sin drives Agape away from Philos, separating them, deforming the human being. As we know, without God’s Spirit, the very source of Agape, the ungovernable human being loses his Divine purpose and fruitfulness.
First, Philos is not Agape. In illustration, intense committed Philos between a man and a woman usually results in a marriage covenant. Upon spending time with an acquaintance, Philos grows as a naturally occurring magnetic bond. This is known as friendship and friendships have intensity levels of Philos based upon shared experiences, confidences, and loyalty.
Time itself is the key ingredient of strong Philos friendship; however personal chemistry, values, and interests between individuals determine the quantity of time invested peer-to-peer. Keep in mind that Philos bonding is not a nanotechnology that fuses two elements into a new substance. Un-tempered Philos cannot consistently achieve human unity or oneness. Philos bonds are easily broken and human separation due to irreconcilable (no Agape present) differences are declared in divorce decrees. God rejects the idea of irreconcilable differences among people because it betrays the manifestation of His own Agape presence which fuses people into a state called ‘unity of the Spirit’.
When Philos dwells alone, human unity disintegrates under the pressure of disloyalty, gossip, slander, rumor, fornication, and idolatry. When Philos is attacked by oppression, lying, jealousy, or peer pressure, lukewarm compromise and unfaithfulness falls to logical human rationalizations. When Agape perfects and raises Philos up to the Divine intended level, human unity stands strong through the ‘bond of peace’. Unity of the Spirit is achieved through humility and tolerance, bulwarks of Agape, but not at the expense of defaming the name of Jesus (His reputation, identity, and holiness). Covering up sins corporately or personally is a true sign of popish infallibility. Admission and confession of faults is the sign of an entity that knows God and has been granted repentance or restoration (1 John 1:9-10, Romans 3:4, James 5:16, Galatians 6:1).
When Philos is injured, anger, bitterness and hatred can become the dominant features of a person’s emotional landscape. The signs of unforgiveness flash dark shadows through discontinuance of the Philos relationship (divorce, breakup) and negative words of jealousy, resentment, and revengeful plots produce tormented thinking.
Philos injuries have the severest consequences in people who have been deprived of parental love and nurture. Parental love (time investment) and approval (acceptance and value of a child’s worth) is difficult for those parents who have been deprived of Philos themselves. A vicious Philos deprivation cycle can emerge within these families, a tragic inter-generational drama that destroys self-love. When people talk about a ‘hurting world’ they will normally vocalize the truth that ‘hurt people hurt people.’
The absence of Agape in the Philos fuel mixture is the entrance point of the sin virus that so easily infects humanity with narcissism and self centered pleasure relationships. Looking at post modern culture as displayed on our television sets, it is clear that people have become wild like untamed animals, unashamed and lawless, rebellious ‘lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God’. Is it any wonder then that Agape is waxing cold in Churches that no longer resist this culture (Matthew 24:12-13, 2 Timothy 3:1-5)?
Most Church people disguise Philos injuries with silence, isolation, avoidance, and unfortunately, withdrawal from fellowship. Changing Churches is usually a sign of damaged Philos and unforgiveness, although it may be a God induced solution where stubbornness and stress continually thrive. Unforgiveness remains permanent where God’s reconciliation and confrontation process is not exercised. Scripture identifies this endtime illness as ‘love waxing cold’.
The rationalizing human mind will attempt to protect the emotional inner sanctuary with thoughts that forgiveness has actually occurred. In reality, rationalizing masks fear of rejection with it’s companion emotion, ‘fear of the truth’. Without honest confrontation of an offender after the Philos injury has occurred, the loud justifying and rationalizing voice will lead a believer into a nightmarish swirl of tormented thinking. Agape strength must be sought to motivate human faith (the decision) to enact God’s reconciliation and healing process. Most people avoid this prescription because of the demonically induced fear of ‘opening old wounds’. Thus, Philos wounds fester and feed off the memory of the amputated relationship.
GOD’S RECONCILIATION PROCESS
Philos healing is a faith choice but becomes especially difficult when the offender possess Spiritual authority or when the offender refuses to acknowledge wrong. One thing is for sure, if the relationship is closer than close, Philos damage may produce extreme hatred in the one offended. A powerful move of God’s Spirit may be the only medicine at this point that can drain the poison of bitter thinking. When an offender refuses to repent or apologize, the Divine reconciliation process is thwarted, questioned and often abandoned. It should be noted that the reconciliation process does not always succeed. When it doesn’t, someone hangs themselves.
Taking note that God views all Church members equally regardless of calling and position (God is no respecter of persons), the Philos repair process must still be attempted even in an atmosphere of oppressive control and fear. Here is that process (based on Leviticus 19:17, Luke 17:1-5, Matthew 5:22-24; 18:6-11, and 1 John 2:9-11; 3:15; 4:20).
FIRST, request a 1 on 1 meeting with the offender. Rehearse the offense truthfully and ask God to reveal to you the truthfulness and sincerity of the offenders repentance or apology. If the offender repents, the offensive behavior will change and hopefully never reoccur. Then the relationship can be restored in it’s fulness. If rehearsing the offense to the offender continually makes the offender angry, defensive, or argumentative, patiently decide if the second step is warranted.
SECOND, if the relationship is not restored after the 1st step or the offender was not sincere in restorative repentance or apology, request another meeting. Bring a fair minded respected elder in the Church as a witness with you and rehearse the matter again. This witness should be someone who cannot be tampered with; that is, without conflicting motives; independent and of high integrity; someone who doesn’t risk losing position or ministry by appearing at the meeting. Like the first step, if repentance and apology are sincere, then behavior and relationship should be restored.
A witness should never be brought into the first step of reconciliation. Why? Because by bringing a witness to the 1st meeting it actually implies that the person attempting reconciliation or responding to reconciliation is distrustful of your motives or who may want public ammunition to defend their position. This abrogates the relationship restoration process God intends, defeated by spiritual pride, an obfuscation of true reconciliation.
THIRD, if the relationship is still not restored due to the unwillingness of the offender to repent, apologize, or restore the relationship, then an extreme measure is called for. Jesus commands the offended one to rehearse the matter in front of the whole Church for judgment of the issue.
No one wants this situation to occur as it may damage the faith of new believers! Killing someone’s faith is a serious matter unless of course the matter is of a moral nature that will discredit the Church overall and defame the name of Jesus. This can occur in a ‘culture of silence’. A cover-up can never be justified where moral failures and oppressive abuse run unchecked. Elders of faith are not permitted to shirk their responsibility to insure that the body of Christ remains healthy and accountable.
The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is an example of a moral failure that should have been remedied by a Biblical process of reconciliation, had it been honestly brokered versus covered up. But it wasn’t exposed and offenders had impunity as Church elders circled the wagons in order to keep secret sins hidden inside what became a Temple of abuse. Had this Church responded in transparency and integrity, the damage would have been restorative and respected. However, their innate dishonesty, fear of humiliating exposure, and silence went to the very top of it’s infallible leadership structure. This rationalizing failure was identical to the Sandusky-Penn State scandal and the ‘culture of silence’ scandal found in the city of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where in 1964, a community covered up the murder of 3 young voter registration workers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor murdered for his faith by the Nazis said, “silence in the face of evil is evil in itself.”
Also consider that many times slander and hearsay are elements that prevent reconciliation. Imagining what people say or hearing it as gossip (hearsay and rumor) as opposed to first hand evidential facts murders people’s reputations, defaming their good name. Rumor and hearsay poison minds which get permanently cemented into popular prejudice, not gospel fact. Worse, slanderous lies and opinions can become common knowledge, which in turn, create group think, a mass hysteria that stops reconciliation in it’s tracks. Only Spiritually mature Christians are able to bring about difficult reconciliations (1 Corinthians 5:18, Galatians 6:1). Ministers that enjoy telephone gossip and political machinations (forming hidden consensus blocks) lack holiness and integrity.
FOURTH, if the first 3 steps do not bring about the desired results, then God must move sovereignly to heal the wounded Spirit. When people with Spiritual authority are the offenders, the offended one often misconstrues that God is the actual offender. After all, why would God back a leader who is immoral, oppressive, or un-repentant?
Take notice! God doesn’t approve of oppressive spiritual authority and this kind of thinking is a total misunderstanding of God’s justice/correction process. Accusing God is simply looking to assign blame for unresolved bitterness. When God corrects abusive leadership or un-repentant offenders in His own peculiar way/timing, it’s not pretty. Eli the High Priest fell backward, slipped and broke his neck. David fasted and lost his son conceived in adultery/murder before suffering divisive political intrigue within his own family after the Prophet Nathan confronted him. Saul lost his anointing and was afflicted with an evil spirit of insecure jealousy after the Prophet Samuel confronted him about his impatient and disobedient sacrifice. Take notice!
Reading Ezekiel, the Diving Glory was removed from the Temple due to the corruption of the nation, it’s leadership, and it’s citizens. Be sure that God’s viewpoint is one of righteousness, holiness, and justice even though we may see Him as dragging His feet at times. God corrects leaders and followers in His own Agape kind of way if we patiently wait on Him and move past our issue (Revelation 3:10; 13:10).
UNDERSTANDING JESUS’ AND PETER’S RECONCILIATION
In the discourse where Jesus restores Peter for having denied Him, the Greek words masked in our English translation tell a unique story. Here is the passage [my paraphrase] wrapped in a chiastic context of catching fish and eating bread and fish at a communal meal on the beach (John 21, the reconciliation chapter).
Jesus asked Simon,
“Do you Agapao me more than these other fisherman friends of mine?”
“Yes Lord, you know that I Phileo you.”
Jesus asked bluntly a second time,
“Simon, do you Agapao me?”
Peter replied to Jesus the same way, puzzled by the repeated question,
“Yes Lord, you know that I Phileo you.”
Jesus asked Peter the third time,
“Simon, do you Phileo me?”
Peter got upset, recognizing Jesus’ hurt in the 3 questions. Clearly this was related to the 3 times Peter denied Jesus, failing to find courage to stand with Jesus’ during Jesus’ arrest. Peter responded honestly,
“Lord, you know everything, including the fact that I Phileo you.”
In this paraphrase, I removed the commands Jesus gave to Peter. I did this in order to emphasize the words Agapao and Phileo. Further, I wanted to show Peter’s truthful understanding and answers to Jesus’ 3 questions along with Jesus’ 3 fold restorative process. The commands Jesus issued were,
“Feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my sheep.”
In reviewing this reconciliation, first note that Jesus’ commands represent Peter’s calling, commission, direction, and a definition of perfect love (Agape + Phileo). To Jesus, Agape is demonstrated in obedience to his commands, nothing else
(John 14:14, 23-24, 31). When Peter admitted by omission that he did not have Agapao, he was telling the truth. At that time, Peter did not possess the first fruit of the Spirit, Agape, seeded in him on the ‘Day of Pentecost’ through the Acts 2:4 experience. He could only Phileo Jesus and Philos when attacked by fear, is not strong enough to stand.
Second, Jesus emphasized Agapao twice but Phileo only once in his restoration of and reconciliation with Peter. Faithful obedience to God’s Agape principles is the necessary ingredient missing in most human Phileo relationships. God must always be loved first (Agape) before we can see how to love ourselves and then our brethren (Mark 12:28-32).
Third, Christian ministry must be 2/3 Agapao and 1/3 Phileo. This is a 2:1 fuel mixture of Christian Holiness. In Jesus’ restoration of Peter, Agapao received the doublet of emphasis, a bold face of literary amplification. Feeding lambs and sheep first requires emphasizing Agapao obedience to God’s word as the apriori foundation of any Philos relationship. Agape love is the way, truth, and life of Jesus, the rock upon which we place our human affection, emotion, and fellowship. Agape glorifies the name of Jesus, his identity, in all Philos relationships. This identity was glorified, written, and amplified in 3 langauges on a placard stapled to a cross at Golgotha.
In the movie ‘Man for all Seasons’, Sir Thomas More is asked to approve of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage for the sake of fellowship by the Duke of Norfolk (Henry’s chief of staff). Thomas refuses to surrender his Agape principles, full well realizing he will lose his wealth, position, and important friends by his decision for conscience. In the movie, the screenplay writer tells us that the cost of Agape conscience is great and Thomas More paid with his life. Was Agape righteousness and obedience to scripture the 1st love the Church of Ephesus left in Revelation 2:4?
To summarize where we are at so far, notice that the relationship restoration (reconciliation) process requires,
Agape x 2 + Philos = the image of Jesus Christ
THE IMPERFECTIONS OF RECONCILIATION
Even if the relationship fails to be restored after using the Biblical process, one person will be healed from unforgiveness! Namely, the initiator of the process. What is often misunderstood by the initiator when relationships fail to be restored to former levels is that HEALING is the objective even if RESTORATION of intimacy does not reoccur. Consider that:
- People have a free will. The initiator’s desire and need for the former relationship (intimacy) does not trump the other person’s choice to not restart that relationship at the level it existed previous to the offense. Once an offense is committed or even if the facts of the offense are transparently discussed, confidence and trust are often never recovered. Keep in mind, healing is the objective and won’t occur without initiating the reconciliation process. Restoration of intimacy is the secondary mission.
- Guilt within the initiator of reconciliation may exist. This occurs when someone won’t forgive themselves for simply being willing to confront the offender. This is a sign that the initiator does not possess a healthy self-approval nor believes in God’s neutrality, forgiveness, love and approval. Loving oneself is difficult for people who have been predisposed to think negatively about their personal self-worth.
[Sidebar: A negative self-concept may exist due to unloving parenting or even unloving spiritual authority. Keep in mind that blaming others and murmuring about their perceived lack of integrity are statements that prove healing of Philos by Agape has not occurred.]
These inferior feelings may occur when an initiator confronts an offender who occupies a position of spiritual authority. No man is God and only Jesus is the head of the Church. If one has been demonized by spiritual authority, they most likely will have to move on if they have been publicly branded as having a ‘bad spirit’. But still, the reconciliation process must be attempted if one is to be healed of bitter thinking.
By the way, Jesus is no respecter of persons so we are commanded to believe He loves and approves of us. Anyone who occupies a position of spiritual authority but does not confess that they have sinned is a liar, infallible, and full of spiritual pride. Further, any Christian who is unwilling to participate in reconciliation has withheld fellowship, hates their brothers, does not obey Jesus commandment to love, and does not know God (1 John 1:10, 4:20, Luke 17:1-4).
THE POWER OF FEAR
Since it is clear that FEAR is the enemy of PERFECT LOVE, it is helpful to make a list of the things many of us fear most. Here is the beginning of a list which can easily be added to.
- Peer Pressure. That is, going against popular prejudice, the greatest fear of all. No other fear is weightier in creating the evil ‘culture of silence’ that tyrannizes righteousness. Nazi Germany and the Ku Klux Klan were founded upon this fear.
- Fear of disapproval. When breaking with the traditions of men, one may find that Orthodoxy often wears the disguise of cultural traditions and false unity.
- Outcast fear. No debate or discussion of ideas is allowed in some forums when one dares to think differently than the accepted norm. People shoot the messenger and everyone knows that a pioneer is someone with an arrow in his back. Silence of debate and contrary opinions are symptoms of this kind of fear.
- Insecure jealousy. Fear of loss of control or power over others is a manifestation of a jealous spirit. Forbidding others to grow and shine is the spirit of domination born from this fear. Recall, Saul threw a javelin at David because David’s qualities were admired in the community.
- Lack of faith in oneself. Doubting your own value and wisdom is the absence of mental toughness. Many fear they are not worthy or worse, are predisposed to error and failure.
- Loss of reputation and respect. If God calls us up higher and we refuse to go due to fear of losing relationships and reputation, we are identified as ‘man pleasers’ not ‘God pleasers’.
To summarize, FEAR is the Christian’s enemy and must be cast out. Only PEFECT LOVE is capable of doing so.
TWO WAYS TO GAIN THE POWER OF PERFECT LOVE
1 John 4:18 There is no fear [fobos] in love [agape]; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment[kolasis, punishment]. He that feareth [fobeo] is not made perfect in love [agape].
To be PERFECT is to be mature as a Christian, excellent mentally and morally. Fear and it’s partner, doubt, are a two headed Goliath. The bigger Goliath is, the harder he falls. Agape love provides the energy for the knock out punch of faith when fear gets up for another round.
2 Scriptures define PERFECT LOVE that casts out FEAR.
1 John 2:5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love [agape] of God perfected [mature, complete]: hereby know we that we are in him.
1 John 4:12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love [agapao] one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love [agape] is perfected [matured, completed] in us.
Scripture further tells us when the SIGN that Christian maturity (perfect love) has arrived; BOLDNESS
(free speaking, openness, self confidence, self assurance/approval, God confidence, God assurance/approval).
1 John 4:17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
BOLDNESS THE EVIDENCE OF PERFECT LOVE
Boldness arrives when we are in HIM (obey His commandments) and HE is in us (love our brothers). If we don’t love (Agape fellowship) our brothers and remain part of the body of Christ, scripture calls us murderers and the day of God’s judgment (eschaton) will be a damnation affair. Unwillingness to reconcile and forgive are the sign posts of detesting Christian brothers, a prophecy of eternal death. Celebrating communion (fellowship) is not an optional sacrament for the Christian believer. Eating loaves and fishes on the beach with Jesus and our brothers is the ‘Great Commandment’ that empowers the “Great Commission’.
1 John 2:9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth [detests] his brother, is in darkness even until now.
1 John 3:14-15 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love [agape] the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (15) Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
1 John 4:20-21 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (21) And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.