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Studies on Love (Part I) (PDF) PDF version

Studies on Love (Part I)

One of the words that is very frequently met in the Bible is the word "love". Given the importance that the Word of God gives to this word we will devote this and the next issue to examine it in more detail.

Love: what is it?

Before we are able to speak about love, we have to make sure that we understand what it is. We have therefore to study the Word of God to see what this Word defines as love. This is exactly what we are going to do today, starting from Galatians 5.

1. Love: a product of the new nature

Galatians 5 is a chapter that is in a large degree devoted to a contrast between the old nature (called "flesh" in Galatians 5), and the new nature (called "spirit" in the same chapter), and the conflict that there is between them. Regarding now the terms "old nature" and "new nature", they are employed to describe the state of a man before and after he believes respectively. Before one becomes a Christian, i.e. before he confesses with his mouth the Lord Jesus and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9), he is described as "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Whatever work a non-saved man may do, before God he is always considered as dead in trespasses and sins. He may seem polite, he may give to charities, he may demonstrate for peace, for the animals, for the environment, but from God's point of view, he is dead in trespasses and sins, a ruined man, a man "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18) exactly as Adam was after the fall. Some of the terms that the Bible uses to describe this man, this ruined nature, are: "old man" (Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9), "flesh" (Galatians 5:13-26, Romans 8:1-13), "natural man" (I Corinthians 2:14), "body of death" (Romans 7:24). The term "old nature" will be used throughout this study.

Fortunately, this ruined nature is not the only possibility for a man. A man is not condemned to remain eternally dead in trespasses and sins. This situation can be changed by confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus and believing with the heart that God raised him from the dead. As Romans 10:9 tells us:

Romans 10:9
"if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED"

When one confesses with his mouth the Lord Jesus and believes in his heart that God raised him from the dead, he is born again1 and as a result he receives a new nature. From God's point of view, he is no longer dead in trespasses and sins but he is saved (Romans 10:9), he is holy and righteous before Him (Romans 3:21-28, I Corinthians 1:30), he has holy spirit that he can also operate (I Corinthians 12:8-10) and he becomes a son of God (Galatians 3:26), to refer just a few of the things that one has as a result of the new birth. All these things that a man has because of the new birth constitute the new nature, or to use the Bible's terminology, the "new man" (Ephesians 4:24), or "spirit2" (Galatians 5:5-25). However, the fact that after one believes he receives a new nature does not mean that the old nature disappears automatically. Instead after the new birth a child of God has in him both the old nature and the new nature. The fact that these two natures are opposite to each other creates a conflict between them. As Galatians 5:16-17 tells us:

Galatians 5:16-17
"I say then: Walk in [Greek: by] the spirit [the new nature], and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh [the old nature]. For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh ; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish"

The old nature or flesh is against the new nature or spirit. To be winner in this conflict what is needed is not to try to tidy up the ruined old nature. Instead, what should be done is to walk directly by the new nature. As the passage says: "Walk by the spirit AND [AS A RESULT] you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." The way to not fulfill the lust of the flesh is not by keeping a list of do and don'ts but by walking by the new nature i.e. by putting on and utilizing all the things that the Word of God says that we are and we can do. As we do this, the works of the flesh, of the old nature, will be eliminated.

The result of the walk by the new nature, by the spirit, is given in Galatians 5:19-23 together with the results of the walk by the old nature, by the flesh:

Galatians 5:19-23
"Now the works of the flesh are evident which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."

The first category of acts or attitudes are works of the flesh i.e. works that are the manifestation of the old nature. In contrast the second category consists "the fruit of the spirit" i.e. the product of the walk by the spirit, by the new nature. We repeat that this product does not come by tiding up the old nature but by walking with the new nature i.e. by putting on and utilizing all that the Word of God says that we are and we can do. As we can see from the above passage, love belongs to the fruit of the new nature. Love therefore is not a quality to be found in the old man, since it is fruit of the NEW man, the new nature. With the new nature we got the ability to love, to have joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. By putting on this new nature, all these come as a product, as a fruit into our lives.

To conclude therefore: love is something that has to do with the new nature only. The old nature is dead in trespasses and sins and nothing good comes from it. This probably may help us to understand better the wrong of the phrase "I love you" as it is used in the world's vocabulary. Love, as it is defined in the Bible, is a product of the new nature and cannot be produced but only by those who have this nature (i.e. by people who have confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in their hearts that God raised him from the dead), AND also walk by this nature.

2. I Corinthians 13:4-7: love is.....

Having clarified that love is a result of our walk by the new nature, we will now go to I Corinthians 13:4-7 to examine some of the things that love is and some that it is not. There we read:

I Corinthians 13:4-7
"Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not boast, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things"

Below we will try to examine in more depth each of the things that love is and each of the things that it is not, aiming in a more precise understanding of them.

i) Love suffers long

The phrase "suffers long" is the Greek verb "makrothumeo" that is composed of the words "makros" that means "long" and "thumos" that means "anger", "wrath". In other words, "makrothumeo" means "to be long before being angry3" and it is the opposite of "short tempered". "Makrothumeo" has more the meaning of being patient with people than of being patient with situations. For the latter there is another Greek word that is used later in the same passage of I Corinthians. Love therefore does not get angry with people quickly, it is not short tempered, but it endures patiently.

ii) Love is kind

Something else that characterises love is that it is kind. The Greek word for "kind" is the verb "chresteuomai" that is used only here in the New Testament. However, it is used quite a few times, in two other forms. The one is the adjective "chrestos" while the other is the noun "chrestotes". "Chrestos" means "good, gentle, benevolent, benign; actively beneficent in spite of ingratitude". Consequently "chresteuomai" means to show one's self chrestos i.e. to be gentle, good, kind despite that you may be confronted with ingratitude.

iii) Love does not envy

The word "envy" that is used in this passage is the Greek verb "zeloo". The corresponding noun is "zelos". Zeloo and zelos are both used in a good and in a bad sense. In a good sense they are used with the meaning of zeal, ardour. Thus for example, in I Corinthians 14:1 we are called to pursue love, and desire [zeloo] the things of the spirit. However, zelos and zeloo are mostly used in a bad sense. In this sense zelosmeans envy, jealousy. James 3:14-16 makes clear the results and the source of jealousy:

James 3:14-16
"But if you have bitter envy [zelos] and strife in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy [zelos] and strife is, there is confusion and every evil thing" (NKJV-KJV)

The source of envy and jealousy is the flesh, the old nature (see also Galatians 5:20). When there is jealousy, you are glad when I suffer and you suffer when I am glad, quite the contrary of what the Word of God commands (I Corinthians 12:26). In contrast, and since love does not envy, when you love, you are glad when I am glad and you suffer with me when I suffer.

iv) Love does not boast

The word translated as "boast" here is the Greek verb "perpereuomai" that means "to show one's self a boaster or braggart". It is that kind of behaviour that says continuously "I did, I have, I made,...etc." The word "I" is very frequently used from a such kind of person. As Christians we also sometimes do the same thing. We say: "I did this for the Lord...", "I have prayed that much", "I spent so much time studying the Bible today", "I know this and that from the Bible" meaning that I am worthier than you that you probably did not do "that much". However, when we really love we do not boast, for we recognize that there is nothing that makes us different from any other brother or sister in the body. As I Corinthians 4:7 says:

I Corinthians 4:7
"who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?"

Everything that we have was given to us from the Lord. We did not achieve it. That's why we have no right to boast in anything or anyone else than the Lord. As I Corinthians 1:31 tells us:

I Corinthians 1:31
"LET HIM WHO BOASTS BOAST IN THE LORD"

Will we therefore boast in our abilities, worth or even devotion? No if we love. For if we love we will boast in the Lord and only in Him.

v) Love is not puffed up

Another thing that love does not do is to be puffed up. The Greek word for "puffed up" is the verb "fusioo" that literally means "to blow, puff, inflate". In the New Testament it is used 7 times, 6 of which in the first epistle to Corinthians4. In all cases it is used metaphorically with the meaning of pride. A characteristic usage of this word is in I Corinthians 8:1 where we read:

I Corinthians 8:1-3
"Now concerning things offered to idols: we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up [fusioo], but loves edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him."

Head knowledge puffs up. We do not study the Bible just to earn head knowledge but to know God, who reveals Himself in it. As I John 4:8 says: "he who does not love does not know God, for God is love". Without love we will not know God even if we have full head knowledge of the Scripture. Moreover, if this head knowledge remains mere head knowledge and it is not accompanied by love then the result is to be puffed up, quite the contrary of what love is.

vi) Love does not behave rudely

Another thing that love does not do is to behave "rudely". The word "rudely" here is the Greek verb "aschemoneo" that means "to behave in unseemly guise, be void of proper deportment, to act with moral deformity". Thus for example in Romans 1:27 the wrong of homosexuality is called "aschemosune" (the product of "aschemoneo"). Love therefore does not behave with an immoral or unseemly way, and when such a behaviour is observed does not come but from the old man.

vii) Love does not seek its own

Something else that love does not do is to seek its own. The phrase "its own" is the Greek adjective "eautou" whose meaning is himself, herself, itself. There are quite a few places in the Bible that instruct us not to seek our own. Romans 15:1-3 tells us:

Romans 15:1-3
"We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves [eautou]. Let each of us please hisneighbour for his good, leading to edification. For even Christ did not please himself [eautou]; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me"

Also I Corinthians 10:23-24
"All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial; all things are lawful for me but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's"

When we walk with love we do not seek to please ourselves, making ourselves the center of our activities (individualism). In contrast, by serving God in love we seek to please, to bless, the others. That's what Jesus Christ did. He served God in love and he did not seek to please himself. That's why he also went to the cross. As Philippians 2:7-11 tells us:

Phillipians 2:7-11
"but [Jesus] MADE HIMSELF [eautou] OF NO REPUTATION [Greek: "emptied himself"], taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became OBEDIENT to the point of death, even the death of the cross. THEREFORE [as a result] God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"

Jesus because of the love that he had for us emptied himself and went to the cross for our own sake. But was it something that was done in vain or something that ended up in a personal loss? NO. In contrast, because he did that, God EXALTED him. Similarly, when we love we give to our private interests the second place and to the fellow brothers and sisters in the body the first place. The result is not a personal loss but a multitude of rewards here and in heaven. As Christ said in John 12:25-26:

John 12:25-26
"He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life5 in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be also. IF ANYONE SERVES ME, HIM THE FATHER WILL HONOR."

Also Mark 10:29-30
"So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly I say to you, there is no one who has LEFT house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive A HUNDREDFOLD NOW IN THIS TIME- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions - AND IN THE AGE TO COME, eternal life."

How many investments do you know that give back "A HUNDREDFOLD NOW IN THIS TIME"? Apart from turning from seeking our own first to seeking God's and the others' brothers and sisters in the body, I do not know any. To conclude: either we become individualists and lose everything, or we love and instead of caring first for ourselves we care first for God and the others brothers and sisters in the body. In this case we get back "a hundredfold" plus honors from God Himself.

viii) Love is not provoked

The word translated as "provoked" here is the Greek verb "paroxuno" that literally means "to sharpen by rubbing on anything, to whet; to sharpen, incite, exasperate". The corresponding noun is the word "paroxusmos" from which the English derives the word "paroxysm". Evidently, provocation and anger can in no way coexist with honest love, for they are opposite to it.

ix) Love thinks no evil

The word "think" here is the Greek verb "logizomai" that should most properly be translated as "reckon". It literally means "to put together with one's mind, to count to occupy oneself with reckonings and calculations6." From the 40 times that it occurs in the New Testament, the KJV translates it 3 times as "to account", 5 "to count", 6 "to reckon", 8 "to impute" and 8 times "to think". A more accurate translation is given by the NIV that reads: "love keeps no record of wrongs" i.e. love quickly and permanently forgets the evils that may have been done to it. Sometimes people in the world work for years planning how to avenge someone that harmed them. However, when we walk by the new nature, when we walk by love, then we do not keep a record of the wrongs that may have been done to us but we forget them.

x) Love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices with the truth

The word "iniquity" is the Greek word "adikia" that is used 25 times in the New Testament and is translated (KJV) unrightseousness 16, iniquity 6, wrong 1, unjust 2. Its meaning is: "what is not conformable to right, what ought not to be; that which ought not to be because of revealed truth; hence, wrong, unrightseousness." Everything that is against the truth is unrightseousness. And since from John 17:17 we know that the truth is the Word of God, whatever is against this Word, is "adikia", unrightseousness. Thus, according to this passage, love rejoices with the truth, the Word of God, and not with what is against it, which is unrightseousness.

xi) Love bears all things

The word "bears" is the Greek verb "stego". A characteristic usage of this word is in I Corinthians 9:12 where we read that Paul and his company, despite their great responsibilities, preferred not to use their right to "live from the gospel" but "suffer [stego] all things lest we [Paul and his company] hinder the gospel of Christ." They suffered all things for the sake of the gospel of Christ, and they did it out of love, for love suffers, bears, all things.

xii) Love believes all things

The word "believe" is the Greek verb "pisteuo" that occurs 246 times in the New Testament and is translated (KJV) almost always (238 times) as "to believe". Biblically speaking believing means to believe what the written rightly divided Word of God says and what God says through the manifestations of the spirit. Love therefore believes all things that God says both in His written rightly divided Word and through the manifestations of the spirit.

xiii) Love hopes all things

Another thing that the Word of God tells us that love does is to hope all things. Again the phrase "all things" has to be taken within the more general context of the Word of God. As with believing so with hoping the reference is to all things that the Word of God says. Love therefore hopes all things that have been defined by God as future realities.

xiv) Love endures all things

Finally we learn that love endures "all things". The word "endures" here is the verb "hupomeno". Its meaning is similar to the meaning of "makrothumeo" (to longsuffer) that we examined previously. Their difference is that "whereas hupomeno refers to one's response toward circumstances, denoting perseverance in the face of difficulties, makrothumeo refers to one's response toward people, denoting a patient endurance of faults and even provocations of others without retaliating7". Love therefore apart from being very patient with people (makrothumeo) is also very patient with circumstances (hupomeno). It waits patiently without fainting in difficulties.

3. Conclusion

Concluding this part, we saw that love is a product of walking by the new nature, i.e. it is produced as we put on and utilise all the things that the Word of God says that we are and we can do. We also examined in detail the things that I Corinthians 13:4-7 says about love. In the next issue we will continue to see some more things on the same topic.

(to be continued)

 

Anastasios Kioulachoglou

 

 



Footnotes

1. For more about the new birth see the article: "The holy spirit before and after Pentecost"

2. Here it should be noted with emphasis that NOT any usage of the word "spirit" in the Bible means the new nature that one gets as a result of the new birth. This word usually has this meaning when it is put against the word "flesh" that means the old nature (see for example Galatians 5).

3. See: E.W.Bulliinger: "A critical lexicon and concordance to the English and Greek New Testament", Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1975, p. 464. Unless it is indicated differently, all the word definitions that appear in this study come from this source.

4. It occurs in I Corinthians 4:6, 18, 19, 5:2, 8:1, 13:4, and in II Corinthians 2:18.

5. The phrase "hate his life" is the figure of speech "exaggeration". By this figure, an exaggerated statement is made to make what is said very emphatic. In this passage, God does not ask us to literally hate our souls but He very emphatically tells us to put ourselves and our private interests in a second place.

6. See Dimitrakou: "The Great Lexicon of the Greek Language". Domi Publishers, Athens, 1964, p. 4,362.

7. See S. Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary, AMG Publishers, p. 1424.