Showing posts with label #Fruity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Fruity. Show all posts

Christian jerks.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July 2020
SHE. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
ME. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
SHE. “Oh, you’re not that religious.”
ME. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be a massive jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

You can tell my pagan friend recently had a bad experience with a Christian, and wanted to vent. Wanted to complain how religious Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental.

I could likewise start ranting about her own religious prejudices here. Y’notice I was trying to burst this “Christians are the worst” stereotype. But, as bigoted people will do, she figures her generalization is the rule, and I’m an exception: I’m “one of the good ones.” It’s why you can have some of the most racist coworkers, and they’ll insist they’re totally not racist because “I have black friends”—but they’ll still insist, those few exceptions aside, their favorite stereotypes are true. Yep, still bigots.

But enough about her. Some stereotypes are based on lies and fiction; others on serious cultural misunderstanding. The stereotype of the Christian jerk, however, is based on real-life Christian jerks. Because we’ve all seen Christian jerks. Most of us know Christian jerks. Some of us are Christian jerks: They’re the folks hwo claim they follow Jesus, but they’re just awful to other people.

Sometimes they’re only awful to non-Christians. Sometimes they’re equal-opportunity offenders to pagans and Christians alike. Generally they display all the impatience, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and judgmentalism my pagan friend objected to… and think we all have.

And we don’t!—’cause some of us are actually trying to follow Jesus, and exhibit his fruit. But way too many of us Christians are impatient, bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I don’t know the percentage of Christians who are like this. Jesus does, but he’s not told me. However big the percentage is, it’s absolutely too many.

’Cause I know where my pagan friend is coming from. I’ve visited churches where they’re all jerks. All of them. The preaching was all rage and bile and sarcasm; the people weren’t friendly at all, and had zero patience for one another, and certainly none for visitors. I left early; I walked down the street to a Wendy’s and waited there till my friends left too. Wasn’t the first time I encountered such a church; I hate to say it, but it’s likely not my last time either.

People from the angry church in town like to leave Chick tracts in my workplace bathroom. Jack T. Chick was a wrathful, graceless jerk, and it shows in his tracts. “Chick tracts work!” the tracts themselves say, and I suppose they do, but I’m always reminded of Jesus’s comment to Pharisees about traveling land and sea to make a convert… to turn him into twice the children of hell they are. Mt 23.15 Jerks love Chick tracts because it wins ’em jerk converts.

And then I’ve visited churches where none of the people in ’em were jerks. At least, none I could see; I don’t know how they behave when they’re on Reddit hiding under their screen names. Regardless there are far too many Christian jerks in the world, and they give antichrists a useful reason to despise Christians.

How do these Christians justify such fleshly behavior? Any way they can. Any excuse will do. Usually by preemptively condemning the people they wish to be terrible to. They’re sinners; they have it coming; God’s gonna smite them, so they’re just making little contributions to the smiting.

Love of God.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 June 2020

Jesus was asked about the most important of God’s commands, and instead of picking just one (as the great Pharisee teacher Hillel did), he picked two.

Mark 12.28-31 KWL
28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion.
Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees, he asked him, “Which command is first of all?”
29 Jesus gave this answer: “First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One.
30 You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Lv 19.18
No command is higher than these.”

So let’s talk about those commands. Because the Holy Spirit empowers us with the love necessary to obey ’em.

Starting with love for the LORD God. The Spirit hasn’t granted us his fruit solely so we love other people. It’s also so we can love him. A fruity Christian loves God. Loves Jesus too, ’cause he’s God. Loves the Holy Spirit, ’cause he’s God.

Fruitful people look forward to time spent with God. We look forward to worship—and no, I don’t mean music. True worship, the kind of worship God asks us for, is obedience and good works. Swapping out music for true worship—substituting entertainment and feel-good emotion for being like Jesus—is one of the devil’s cleverer tricks, ’cause it appeals to Christians so effectively. Nothing wrong with loving Christian music, but fruity Christians wanna serve God too, and that’s through doing as Jesus teaches.

Fruity Christians also look forward to Jesus’s second coming. We’re not hoping he’ll delay it so we can get a few other sins things crossed off our to-do lists. Nor are we looking forward to demented versions of it where we dodge suffering, or where pagans get wiped out. We want Jesus to save the world—and we wanna be with him when it happens!

A fruitless Christian prefers God stick to a weekend schedule. Stop interfering with our time the rest of the week; our “tithe” of time takes place Sunday morning, and maybe Wednesday nights, and that’s all. Any more is inconvenient, and even those Sundays and Wednesdays are kind of a drag. Whereas fruity Christians desire God, don’t wanna encounter him only at church services, doesn’t resent him taking up “our time,” and extends our worship of him to 24/7.

Fruity Christians don’t resent God for taking up our time, using our resources, denying us things, or telling us no. We humbly accept he’s Lord. We don’t keep a list of stuff he owes us, or is obligated to make up for us; we don’t plan to accost Jesus at his second coming and say, “So when’m I getting my crown and mansion, and how close will my office be to yours?” We have no ulterior motives for following God, like power and rank and wealth. We love him. That’s more than reward enough.

Fruity Christians don’t give up on God. Don’t lose faith in God. Always hope in God. Endure through every circumstance because of God. ’Cause when we love God, we do as love does—towards God.

The fruitless Christian, not so much. Lots of works of the flesh, all directed towards God instead of love. Fruitless “worship” will only consist of music which doesn’t lead us to repent any, or helps us insist we already have repented, and we’re good, and right, and justified. And therefore it’s okay to do evil and fall back on cheap grace, or hate others on the grounds they sin or are heretic. And all sorts of Christianism instead of worship.

So… do you love God?

If we love God, we follow the apostles’ definition of love 1Co 13.4-8 when it comes to God. We’re not satisfied with lip service and happy music; we act like we love God. It’ll be obvious to others. Hopefully to ourselves too.

I could rant further and hope you get the point, but instead I’ll do a quiz. Quizzes are fun.

If we love God, we’ll…

OBEY HIM. Or try to, anyway. And not just obey the convenient commands, but make an honest effort to find out which of ’em Christians oughta practice in the present day, then stick to ’em. Including the hard ones.
WALK IN GOD’S WAYS. More than just obeying God, we try to act like he does. Look at Jesus’s example. And it’s way more than just “What Would Jesus Do?”—we don’t guess what he’d do, ’cause we’ll easily project our motives upon him and guess wrong. When in doubt, ask. The Holy Spirit will tell us.
LOVE PEOPLE. Including the unloveable. As Jesus does. He orders us to unconditionally love everyone just the same. If we don’t truly love God, it’s kinda inevitable we won’t love others. 1Jn 4.8
PUT GOD ABOVE OTHERS. Yeah, that includes rejecting the peer pressure our friends might put on us to do various unholy things. But it’s even more than that. It’s putting family behind God: Telling the kids, the parents, the spouse, “No,” because you actually love and prioritize God more.
PUT GOD ABOVE MONEY. If our worship of God doesn’t result in tighter finances, we’re doing it wrong.
HATE EVIL. Primarily our own evil; we’re not gonna self-delusionally think we’re above every potential temptation. And yeah, we’re gonna hate other forms of evil, and actively strive to stamp it out. (Without unintentionally stamping on other people; we’re gonna remember to love them too.)

You should wind up ticking all the boxes. If not, work on it! Ask the Spirit for more love. Start obeying him. It’s a benevolent circle (the opposite of the vicious one): When we do for God, we love him more; when we love him more, we do more for him. And so on. It escalates. Grows faith too. Try it.


by K.W. Leslie, 27 May 2020

The ancients didn’t believe we feel emotions with, and in, our hearts. That’d be the medievals.

The ancients believed thought, logic, and wisdom emanated from the heart. Emotion came from the intestines. Despite the medievals reassigning it to the heart, the idea still managed to trickle down to our culture: People have a “gut reaction” or “visceral reaction” to various things, which means they’re reacting without thinking. It’s pure irrational emotion. And some of ’em have learned to trust their guts, ’cause they said bye-bye to logic long ago. But enough about them.

Some gut reactions are good ones. Even fruitful ones. When we truly love others—love our fellow Christians, love our neighbors, love our enemies—when we see them suffering we’re gonna feel empathy towards them. We’re gonna take pity. We're gonna have compassion.

You know, like Jesus does when he sees the needy. Here’s some examples from Matthew.

Matthew 9.36 KWL
Seeing the crowds, Jesus felt for them, because they were beaten down and thrown out,
like sheep which have no pastor.
Matthew 14.14 KWL
Coming out, Jesus saw many crowds, felt for them, and ministered to their sick.
Matthew 15.32 KWL
Summoning his students, Jesus told them, “I feel for the crowd,
because they stayed with me three days and have nothing they could eat.
I don’t want to release those who were fasting; they might faint on the road.”
Matthew 20.34 KWL
Jesus, feeling for them, grasped their eyes and they quickly received sight. They followed him.

The word I translate “felt for them” is σπλαγχνίζομαι/splanghnídzome, which literally means “gutted.” Not in the sense of having one’s guts pulled out, like that one scene in Braveheart; y’ever feel so bad for someone, it feels like you were punched there? Kinda like that.

Nowadays people talk about compassion as “having a bleeding heart”—dipping back into the medieval idea. But the bleeding heart idea actually comes from Jesus. Because his heart was pierced for our transgressions Is 53.5 —and when that one Roman stabbed him in the heart, Jn 19.34 the prophecy got fulfilled rather literally. Roman Catholics like to depict Jesus’s sacred, bleeding heart because it represents his love and compassion for us and for the lost. And those who like to mock others for their “bleeding hearts”—well, it just reveals their own fruitlessness. Even if we don’t agree on how to solve the needy’s problems, shouldn’t we have some empathy for those whom Christ Jesus loves?

So yeah, since empathy is an effect of love, empathy like love is a fruit of the Spirit. If you lack empathy you lack love. If you want empathy, ask the Spirit! He’ll help develop it in you.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We’re commanded to be empathetic. When the LORD ordered the Hebrews to love their neighbors as themselves, Lv 19.18 he meant for them to put themselves in their neighbors’ shoes, to look at things through their neighbors’ eyes.

The context of this verse is the LORD forbidding revenge. May as well quote it:

Leviticus 19.18 KWL
“Don’t avenge. Don’t cling to anger against your people’s children.
Love your fellow Hebrew like yourself. I’m the LORD.”

Revenge is what people do when they lack empathy. They feel someone wronged, insulted, dismissed, slighted, or robbed them. They want satisfaction. Not tit-for-tat; not to simply get back what they feel was taken from them. Revenge wants to hurt someone—and justify itself by calling it “justice.”

But did that other person intentionally wrong us? Half the time, no. Most of the time, it’s nothing personal; they’re not trying to wrong us specifically; they’d wrong anybody, because they’re selfish jerks like that. They don’t love anyone as themselves.

If everyone took revenge for every slight we experience, society would be nothing but duels, feuds, and war. The LORD wants to kill that problem before it grows. Don’t take revenge. Don’t be selfish either. Love your neighbor. Use yourself as a comparison: You’d do this and that for yourself, so do the same for others. You’d appreciate it if people did this and that for you, so do for them. Be generous. Be kind. Don’t be a dick.

When love our neighbors as yourselves, and we see people suffering, it oughta make us feel for them. We should want to help. Not suppress our consciences by inventing good karmic reasons for why they oughta suffer: “They did it to themselves. They shoulda known better. They need to get themselves out of their own mess. They deserve it for being dumb or lesser or unworthy”—and all the other Darwinist justifications for apathy and lovelessness. Is this how Jesus thinks? Absolutely not, and his followers aren’t true followers when we adopt a different attitude towards the needy than our Lord.

For Mammonists, empathy is a struggle because they fear it’ll cost them money. (If not them personally, they fret it’ll cost tax dollars; as if their tax dollars are currently funding anything better.) And y’know, often it will cost. And we need to get over that. We invest our money in what we love most, and if that’s not God’s kingdom we aren’t fit to enter it.

In Jesus’s good Samaritan story, the Samaritan put up his own money to care for an assault victim he just found on the road. That, Jesus said, is loving one’s neighbor—and go and do likewise. He didn’t make this optional: If he’s our Lord, that’s our mandate. Be compassionate. Go out of our way to help the needy. Quit pretending to be Christian, and be Jesus for a lost and hurting world. And it starts by adopting how he feels for others.

Love your enemies.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 May 2020
Luke 6.27-31 KWL
27 “But I tell you listeners: Love your enemies. Do good to your haters.
28 Bless your cursers. Pray for your mistreaters.
29 To one who hits you on the jaw, submit all the more.
To one who takes your robe and tunic from you, don’t stop them.
30 Give to everyone who asks you. Don’t demand payback from those who take what’s yours.
31 Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

Whenever preachers and ministers talk about how Jesus taught us followers to love our enemies, most of the time you can count on ’em to tell us Jesus wasn’t kidding. He really does expect us to love our enemies. It’ll be hard; sometimes darn near impossible. But Jesus said to do it, so we gotta.

Most of the time. Some of these preachers aren’t all that fruity. Hence when they preach about love, they don’t use the proper definition as spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13. They substitute conditional love and tough love.

“When Jesus told us to love enemies, he didn’t mean we should love-love them. The sort of love he meant is ‘to want what’s best for somebody.’ So that’s how he meant for us to love them: We should want the very best for them.”

And sometimes they really do want the best for those enemies: They want ’em to repent, and if not do a full 180° and befriend us, at least stop being so awful. They want ’em to be good. Love doesn’t delight in doing wrong, 1Co 13.6 so this wish sorta falls under the proper definition of love.

And sometimes they don’t. “The very best for them” means their comeuppance. Bad fortune. Getting arrested, beaten, evicted, fired, humiliated, injured, insulted, rejected, ruined. Best thing for ’em… and mighty entertaining for us. Revenge fantasies just can’t help but seep into many people’s discussions about enemies.

Revenge fantasies even seep into when we do strive to love our enemies, and behave towards ’em in Jesus-approved ways. We like to imagine being good to them, in spite of their dickishness, really burns ’em up inside: They want us to feel bad but it’s not working. They want to provoke us—an old bully’s technique, ’cause when we fight back, it makes ’em feel justified in doing even worse things to us—and dangit, it’s not working! So even grace gets reimagined as a form of revenge. Like in the old T-shirt quote, “Love your enemies. It really pisses them off.”

Heck, we even find this sentiment in the bible.

Proverbs 25.21-22 KWL
21 If your hater is hungry, give him bread. If thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 You pile embers on his head this way; it’s how the LORD repaid you.

(There’s this novel interpretation going round which claims the ancients used to help neighbors start cooking fires by bringing embers from their own fires—carrying them in a pot, which they put on their heads. Supposedly this verse is really about blessing your enemies, not sticking it to ’em by being good. But there’s no historical nor archaeological evidence for any such thing in ancient Hebrew culture; if they brought fire to neighbors it was with tongs or in a lamp. Ancient commentators knew of no such practice, and uniformly interpreted this saying as a curse, not a blessing. And this new interpretation doesn’t grammatically work either: If I carry embers to neighbors on my head, I’d pile embers on my own head, not theirs. Unless I’m giving them their donated embers back… and how does that bless them?)

Anyway. For those of us who recognize our revenge fantasies are unhealthy and wrong, but don’t really wanna love our enemies, often we’ll reinterpret love to mean passive acceptance. In other words tolerate our enemies. Leave ’em be. Distance ourselves from them. Stay away lest we’re tempted to take revenge, or lest they’re tempted to do more awful things to us. I’ve heard many a preacher say, “Love and forgive your enemies… but this doesn’t mean you need to have anything more to do with them. Don’t take revenge; don’t do anything. Just leave them to themselves. You’re not their doormat.” Love is apathy.

Of course all this redefinition means people are dodging the clear and obvious meaning of “Love your enemies.” ’Cause we don’t wanna love our enemies. ’Cause they’re our freaking enemies: Somebody needs to smite them! Either God needs to do it, or God needs to deputize us: They need smiting!

Loving your abuser.

I was abused as a child. If you’ve never been abused—or you have been abused but never really loved your abuser—this is gonna be hard to understand.

Obviously an abuser is an enemy. By the very fact they abuse you, they’re your enemy. They don’t want what’s best for you; they might claim to love you, but you’re a possession and little more. Love doesn’t abuse. Our culture correctly recognizes this, and many Christians wholly agree with the idea abusers are enemies. (Even when these very same Christians get abusive.)

Now imagine a woman whose boyfriend beat her senseless. Yet after she left the hospital, she went right back to him. Even defended him when he was arrested and put on trial for beating her. The rest of the world recoils in horror: “How could she possibly? What’s wrong with her? Where’s her sense? He beats her! Doesn’t she realize he’s an enemy?”

Well no, she doesn’t. Because she loves him. She fell in love with him despite the beatings. She finds it easy to forgive what most of us would consider unforgivable. We’d toss him in prison, and joke about how the convicts will probably beat him even worse, and maybe rape him a little. Whereas she’d turn the other cheek.

That’s what loving one’s enemy looks like. Even though she may not realize she’s loving her enemy; when you love ’em they’re not so easy to recognize as enemies.

Other abuse victims don’t love their abusers, and never did. They’re fully aware their abusers are enemies; it’s why they plot revenge, or seek a form of “justice” which hurts the abuser. They can’t possibly imagine forgiving their abusers, or establishing any real relationship with ’em. If you suggest they forgive their enemies, they’d tell you to go f--- yourself; how dare you suggest any form of grace towards their enemy.

When Jesus spoke about loving one’s enemies, he was teaching Galileans who’d lived under Roman oppression for the last half century. The Romans didn’t follow any kind of due process: If you got in their way they’d smack you, if you talked back they’d stab you, and if they thought you were a criminal they’d flog or crucify you. If a soldier decided to bully you for fun, or just to show off his might, he easily could; your life was in his hands. Romans were some of the worst kind of abusers. But you gotta love them.

Loving one’s enemies looks exactly like the abused woman who goes back to her boyfriend. And if this offends you… well that’s normal. It’s probably how Jesus’s listeners took it when he first started talking about turning the other cheek.

Y’see, grace isn’t fair. True forgiveness feels utterly contrary to human nature. Treating our foes better than they deserve—much like forgiving an abusive boyfriend—feels kinda foolish, stupid, and outrageous.

Human nature feels more like Lemékh described it in Genesis:

Genesis 4.23-24 KWL
23 Lemékh says to his women, Adá and Zillá, “Listen to my voice, Lemékh’s women; give your ears to my saying.
I killed a man for injuring me, and a boy for bruising me.
24 If seven people die in revenge for Cain,
seventy-seven die for Lemékh.”

We often say human nature seeks eye-for-eye reciprocity, but that’s not even close: Human nature seeks satisfaction. We take revenge till we feel satisfied… and some people are never satisfied. We don’t trade bruise for bruise, insult for insult: We kill people who insult us, or kill their whole family in revenge. Simeon and Levi ben Jacob murdered an entire city because its prince raped their sister; Haman wanted to wipe out every Jew in the Persian Empire because a single Jew wouldn’t bow to him. Human nature is to overkill.

The LORD had to legislate the whole eye-for-eye thing, Ex 21.24 which is a significant improvement on what we humans usually do in response. And still Jesus expects better of us.

That’s why “Love your enemies” irritates even the most devout Christians: When people forgive like a woman going back to her abusive boyfriend, our culture immediately figures there’s gotta be something wrong with this woman. She has really low self-esteem, or figures she can’t do any better, or figures she doesn’t deserve better. She must be a masochist who enjoys abuse. Our culture never factors love and forgiveness into the equation. It’s so foreign to the way humans think. Sadly, foreign to the way most Christians think too.

’Cause that’s how the world works. That’s how human nature works. We don’t love enemies. The near-universal response to such an idea is to rescue that woman, whether she wants it or not; and kill (or at least take vengeance upon) that boyfriend.

Love—actual love—doesn’t want revenge. When my dad beat me, either with a belt, a stick, or his fists, I admit there were times I wished I could beat him back. But those revenge fantasies wore off. Love puts thoughts of revenge away. It’s why police, whenever they try to arrest wife-beaters, often find themselves attacked by the beaten wife herself: She doesn’t want vengeance upon her abuser. She loves him.

Do bear in mind I’m in no way excusing abusers. Spouse-beaters, child-beaters, child-molesters, any abusers, need to go to prison for the sake of society. When I find out about such behavior, I never keep it to myself, no matter how much people beg me: I call the police. As one should. There are, and should be, legal consequences for abuse. I have no problem when abusers suffer them. I never want people to go back to their abusers for more. Christians are meant to remove suffering from the world, not look the other way.

But at the same time, forgiveness of one’s enemy is entirely right and Christlike. That’s loving your enemies. Don’t let them hurt you. Do love them.

No, it’s not easy.

The two loves.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 May 2020

Two verbs in the New Testament get translated “love.” They’d be φιλέω/filéo and ἀγαπάω/aghapáo. They’re synonyms like “boat” and “ship,” or “couch” and “sofa,” or “Christ” and “Messiah”—they’re the same idea, with maybe a little different nuance, but not enough to make a big deal over.

But some of us wanna make a big deal over minor things, so of course people are gonna insist there’s a major difference between them. Aghapáo is related to the noun Paul and Sosthenes defined in 1 Corinthians 13, ἀγάπη/aghápi, KJV “charity.” That’s the sort of love which God is, 1Jn 4.8, 16 and therefore it’s gotta be of an infinitely greater quality than the other sort of love, the noun φίλος/fílos, KJV “friend.” Therefore aghapáo has gotta mean “to love like God would,” and filéo has gotta mean “to love like a friend would.”

Fine. Let’s say I agreed with this deduction. So… shouldn’t we love our friends like God would? And doesn’t Jesus consider his followers his friends? Jn 15.15 If we’re loving one another properly, in the way Jesus expects and instructs us to, should there be any functional difference between filéo and aghapáo?

And for the most part the ancient Greeks didn’t see any functional difference between ’em either. C.S. Lewis did, and in his book The Four Loves he went on and on about the differences he saw in those concepts. But having studied Greek for a few decades now, I’m pretty sure he just used the slight differences in nuance to riff on his own ideas about love.

The ancients used fílos and filéo to talk about familial, relational love. Like between family members; it’s why our American city of Philadelphia (named for the church of Φιλαδέλφεια/Filadélfeia in Revelation) is nicknamed “the city of brotherly love.” Thing is, a sovereign’s closest allies became known as his fílë, “friends.” Jn 19.12 True, the familial love is supposed to be unconditional, whereas the “love” for political allies is nearly always conditional, so political “love” is hardly a synonym for aghápi. It’s fair to say the political usage may have tainted the word a bit, and it’s further tainted by its use in a lot of compound Greek words:

  • Φιλάργυρος/filáryiros, “loves silver” or “loves money.”
  • Φίλαυτος/fílaftos, “loves oneself.”
  • Φιλήδονος/filídonos, “loves hedonism.”
  • Φιλόνεικος/filóneikos, “loves to fight.”
  • Φιλοπρωτεύω/filoprotévo, “loves to be first.”

But at the same time it’s found in compounds with positive connotations:

  • Φίλανδρος/fílandros, “loves men,” particularly “loves [one’s] husband.”
  • Φιλανθρώπως/filanthrópos, “loves people.”
  • Φιλόθεος/filótheos, “loves God.”
  • Φιλοξενία/filozenía, “loves strangers,” i.e. hospitable.
  • Φιλοσοφία/filosofía, “loves wisdom.”
  • Φιλόστοργος/filóstorgos, “loves family.”
  • Φιλότεκνος/filóteknos, “loves children.” (And not in a creepy way.)
  • Φιλόφρων/filófron, “loves the mind,” a synonym for “friendly.”

You don‘t find as many compounds made of aghapáo, which is part of the reason you won’t find as many variant definitions for it in an ancient Greek dictionary. But as I said in my article on love, you will find lots of definitions, for both words, for the ancients pulled them every which way, exactly the same as present-day people do with our word “love.”

The result was filéo and aghapáo overlapped a lot. So much so, it’s not wholly correct to insist they mean different things. They don’t really. When the authors of the bible used aghapáo they meant love; and when they used filéo they meant love. Not a different love; not a lesser love. They’re synonyms.

But what about Peter and Jesus in John 21?

When preachers touch upon John 21, in the story when Jesus asks Simon Peter whether he loves him, most of the time they point to Jesus’s three questions, and try to match ’em up with Peter’s three denials of Jesus on the day Jesus was killed. That, they imagine, is what makes the passage so profound: Peter denied Jesus thrice, so Jesus expects Peter to declare Jesus thrice. ’Cause that’s how karma works: Peter’s gotta earn his way back into leadership.

Rubbish, as anyone who knows Jesus can tell you: Jesus doesn’t make us jump through ridiculous hoops before forgiving us. We don’t have to undo three sayings with three other sayings, as if these are magic incantations we have to undo. That’s not how grace works; that’s not how any of this works.

And if you learned a little Greek, or if you have a preacher who learned a little Greek, they’re quickly gonna point out the real issue is Peter and Jesus were using two different words for love. Peter was using filéo; Jesus aghapáo. Jesus wanted to know if Jesus loved him, and Peter was only willing to say he liked him. So Jesus, ’cause he’s kind, came down to Peter’s level and asked him if he liked him, and it kinda broke Peter’s heart because it highlighted his own sense of unworthiness.

And that’s also rubbish. Because like I said, filéo and aghapáo are synonyms, so Peter’s response isn’t properly interpreted “I love you but I don’t love-love you.” You’ll notice the bulk of our English translations (CSB, ESV, GNT, KJV, ISV, MEV, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV) deliberately, intentionally do not make any distinction between filéo and aghapáo, and translate ’em both “love.” The translators know what they’re doing. There is no real distinction.

At the same time it is relevant that Jesus and Peter are using two different words here. The problem isn’t that Peter is claiming a lesser love and Jesus is trying to get him to go for more… and then gives up and settles for Peter’s lesser love. They’re using synonyms. They’re both talking about the same level of love and commitment and friendship and devotion. So if you’re gonna translate it so they’re using different words, the words had better mean the same thing. That’s what I went for.

John 21.15-17 KWL
15 So when they ate, Jesus told Simon Peter, “Simon bar John, do you love me more than these others?”
Peter told him, “Yes Master, you’ve known I’m wholly devoted to you.”
Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Jesus told Peter a second time, “Simon bar John, do you love me?”
Peter told him, “Yes Master, you’ve known I’m wholly devoted to you.”
Jesus told him, “Pastor my sheep.”
17 Jesus told Peter a third time, “Simon bar John, are you wholly devoted to me?”
Peter grieved, for Jesus told him the third time, “Are you wholly devoted to me?”
He told him, “Master, you’ve known everything. You know I’m wholly devoted to you.”
Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter wasn’t trying to weasel out of anything, like he did when he denied Jesus. That was a major mistake, Peter knew it, and knew Jesus forgave him and accepted him again. (Jesus had appeared to him multiple times by now, y’know.) And now that Jesus was alive again, Peter was sure he wasn’t gonna blow it again.

And then he kinda blew it again, ’cause he kept using filéo when Jesus wanted him to say aghapáo. Because sometimes we don’t want synonyms. We wanna be on the very same page, using the very same words. Diversity is important, but sometimes unity is, and that’s what Jesus wanted at this time. ’Cause shepherding Jesus’s sheep is a big, big deal.

But if Jesus expected Peter to have aghápi instead of fílos—because, as undereducated preachers claim, they’re two different words—he’d have demanded Peter quit waffling and love him, exactly the same as he commanded all his students to love one another. Jn 15.2 Instead Jesus was fine with the synonym. Peter was wholly devoted to him, after all.

Do a word study on these different words for “love” in the New Testament, and you’ll quickly see they’re treated as interchangeable. True, filéo tends to get used when the authors write about loving things we shouldn’t… but then again so does aghapáo. People igápisan darkness rather than light; Jn 3.19 Paul complained Dimas agapísas this present age when he shouldn’t, 2Ti 4.10 and John warned Christians not to agapátë the world nor the things in it. 1Jn 2.15 If aghapáo only ever refers to godly love, it’d make no sense to use it to talk about ungodly love; but that’s not how the ancients used it. How they shoulda used it falls back on Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians, and we should use it that way too. But don’t read that definition into every use of aghápi and aghapáo in the bible. Our culture’s loosey-goosey definition of love works just fine, in most contexts. For both words.

“Love is a verb.”

by K.W. Leslie, 29 April 2020

From time to time you’re gonna hear a preacher claim love isn’t a noun, but a verb.

dc Talk singing “Luv Is a Verb.” Yeah, this was the state of Christian hip hop in the ’90s. Sad. dc Talk

Largely I blame dc Talk’s 1992 song “Luv Is a Verb,” in which they looked up love in a dictionary and were apparently gobsmacked to discover yep, it’s a verb.

Pullin’ out my big black book
’Cause when I need a word defined, that’s where I look
So I move to the L’s quick, fast, in a hurry
Threw on my specs; thought my vision was blurry
I looked again but to my dismay
It was black and white with no room for gray
Ya see, a big V stood beyond my word
And yo, that’s when it hit me, that luv is a verb

Lots to pick apart there.

  • Other Christian songs can talk about the death and resurrection of Christ, the atonement of humanity, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation itself, in one verse. But dc Talk needed the entire first verse to talk about using a dictionary. It’s not a deep song, yo.
  • Seeing as dictionaries list many common definitions of the word “love,” there’s plenty of room for gray. So what is there to be dismayed about?
  • Didn’t hit him that love is a verb till he saw the V, meaning “verb,” in its listing. So… he never used the word as a verb before? As in “I love this audience”? “I’d love another taco”? “I love Jesus yes I do, I love Jesus, how ’bout you”?
  • Apparently the dictionary’s the absolute authority when it comes to parts of speech. Not so much spelling; they kept using “luv.”

But enough mocking a 28-year-old Christian hip hop oldie. The song’s about how love is a verb, and we Christians oughta exercise Jesus-type love. But nowhere in the song does it say, “Love’s a verb, not a noun.” It never denies the nounhood of “love.” It only reminds us the word’s also a verb, and therefore oughta be practiced.

Leaping from “Love is a verb” to “Love is a verb, not a noun” is adding an idea to the song which isn’t there. You know, like we Christians too often do with bible verses. Next we wind up defending our additional ideas instead of the original text, utterly lose the point of the original text… and forget to be Christlike while we’re at it, which is a whole other article.

Yes, love is a verb. And a noun. It’s both. Elevate both.

You’re gonna see both in the bible.

Those of us who’ve studied biblical Greek, as well as those of us who’ve maybe cracked open a Strong’s concordance and dictionary, know Greek has both noun and verb forms of the word.

  • The noun, you’ve likely heard of. It’s ἀγάπη/aghápi (which Americans tend to transliterate agape). It appears 116 times in the New Testament.
  • The verb is ἀγαπάω/aghapáo, “to love,” which appears 143 times (142 in the Textus Receptus).

Basic grammar review: A noun is a person, place, object, or concept. Jesus is a person, the airport is a place, robots are objects, strength is a concept. Now, none of those four items are passive. Jesus, the airport, robots, and strength, all act. As does love. Love has patience; love behaves kindly. 1Co 13.4 Still a noun though.

When Paul and Sosthenes wrote 1 Corinthians, they used the verb aghapáo twice, but the noun aghápi 14 times. Nine of those times are in chapter 13, where they defined it:

1 Corinthians 13.4-8 KWL
4 Love has patience. Love behaves kindly. It doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion.
It doesn’t draw attention to how great it is. It doesn’t exaggerate.
5 It doesn’t ignore others’ considerations. It doesn’t look out for itself. It doesn’t provoke behavior.
It doesn’t plot evil. 6 It doesn’t delight in doing wrong: It delights in truth.
7 It puts up with everything, puts trust in everything,
puts hope in everything, survives everything. 8A Love never falls down.

Note they defined love using verbs, not adjectives: How it behaves, not what its characteristics are. English translations tend to use adjectives, like the NIV’s “Love is patient, love is kind,” 1Co 13.4 NIV because English doesn’t have convenient one-word verbs for μακροθυμεῖ/makrothymeí, “has patience” and χρηστεύεται/hristévete, “behaves kindly.” My translation tried to avoid adjectives because the apostles didn’t use ’em.

And again: Just because we define aghápi with verbs, doesn’t make it a verb. Same as defining a noun with adjectives doesn’t turn it into an adjective.

Preachers wanna emphasize the active nature of love. As we should. But come on people, “love” is also a noun.

Love gone askew.

Whenever we claim love’s not a noun, we reveal two things.

First, and the most problematic of the two: We’re letting pop songs determine our belief systems.

That’s not a new problem; it’s a very old one. Music, especially for people who love music, gets into our heads really easily. As do the lyrics. People are regularly surprised to discover they actually know all the lyrics to pop songs—they can even sing along to it!—even years later. Those words managed to worm their way into our subconscious.

Sometimes that’s neat… and sometimes that’s disturbing, because there are a lot of things in our subconscious which we’ve grown to unthinkingly accept. Advertisers definitely take advantage of this, and try to make sure we’ve heard their slogans and catchphrases so they can influence us to buy their product.

When a Christian pop musicians write a bit of fluff, hoping it’ll get played on K-LOVE and sell a bunch of downloads, they’re generally hoping the same thing: They want the music and lyrics to be catchy, and make you want to listen to it even more, and buy it and play it on your phone or iPod all day long. And you might. But same as any pop song, those words’ll get in you… and influence you in unexpected ways.

I’ve already written on problematic worship music. I needn’t go into that again. I should just remind you to take those subconsciously-memorized lyrics out of your subconscious and take a good hard look at them: What are the musicians saying? And is it good stuff?—or is it really bad theology, which needs correction before it leads you in the wrong directions?

Second, and importantly: In our haste to talk about how love is active, we’re a little too quick to dismiss other things which are also love. It’s important for love to be a noun.

Certain teachings from the scriptures, from Jesus himself, require us to possess love, and hold onto it ’cause it’s important:

  • “The love you have with one another will prove to the world you’re my disciples.” Jn 13.35
  • “Remain in my love.” Jn 15.9
  • The Holy Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love. Ro 5.5
  • Nothing is meant to separate us from God’s love. Ro 8.35, 39
  • Our love oughta be sincere, Ro 12.9 do no evil, Ro 13.10 and build people up. 1Co 8.1
  • We should pursue love! 1Co 14.1

When we don’t possess love, we might perform some of the same acts which love does. It’s possible to act patiently, or pursue truth, even when there’s no love involved. But here’s the problem: When we act without love, we botch things. 1Co 13.1-3 We do ’em for corrupt, self-centered reasons. Like a criminal patiently waiting for his evil plans to unfold. Or a person researching the truth so she can use it as a weapon. Reducing love to a verb doesn’t take our motives into account, and our motives can be totally depraved. We need to possess love in order to act in love.

Lastly, God himself is love. 1Jn 4.8, 16 And God may be almighty, but he’s no verb.

Loving the world: Do or don’t?

by K.W. Leslie, 22 April 2020

Let’s start with some contradictory-sounding scriptures, shall we?

1 John 2.15-17 KJV
15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
John 3.16-17 KJV
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Nope, John wasn’t using one of the other Greek words for “love” in these verses. Same one, ἀγαπάω/aghapáo, “to love.” Don’t love the world, he advises in his letter; but Jesus states in the gospel God loves the world, and sent us his Son to save it. So… don’t love the world, but God loves the world.

Plus Jesus instructs us to love everybody:

Mark 12.31 KJV
And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
John 15.12 KJV
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Matthew 5.44-45 KJV
44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Between loving your neighbor, loving fellow Christians, and loving your enemies, that’s pretty much everybody on the planet. Sounds like we gotta love our world. So where does John get off telling us to not love the world?

Obviously it depends on what we mean by “world.” Same as English, the Greek word κόσμος/kósmos generally means “world,” but it has multiple shades of meaning: The planet we live on, everything on the planet we live on, just the people of the planet we live on, and those people’s power or wealth or interests or opinions. Calvinists add another definition—“the Christian world,” or Christendom—so they can explain how God loving the world really means he only loves the elect, and Jesus only died for Christians. Which is rubbish, but it’s one of their essential doctrines, and they’re kinda fond of redefining words to make the bible support their doctrines.

Anyway yeah, when John and Jesus are speaking of the world, they’re using different definitions of kósmos. You can figure out which by the context. Unless you don’t care about context, and are simply trying to justify loving the world, or not… and in both cases secretly plotting to love (or not love) the wrong world.

Jesus is talking about loving the people of the planet we live on. (Duh.) If you have the Holy Spirit, he loves the world, and when we follow him and produce his fruit, we’re gonna love the world. Even when the people of this planet are awful to one another and to us—and they do this quite a lot—we’re still gonna want the best for them, and want ’em to repent and be saved instead of getting destroyed by their own vices and stupidity. True of fellow Christians, true of neighbors, and with time and effort on our part it’s even true of enemies. Hey, a repentant enemy usually stops being an enemy.

John wrote about society. He lived in the pre-Christian and very pagan Roman Empire, where people worshiped and followed anything and everything. Heck, people are still that way, lip service to Jesus notwithstanding; note their fruit. You don’t wanna love that. It’s so contrary to God, you gotta wonder whether people who immerse themselves in our culture even know God; John certainly didn’t think so. I tend to give Christianists the benefit of my doubts and assume they just have sucky relationships with God; a really superficial knowledge of him at least. But many of ’em are pretty far gone towards “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” It hasn’t been about what Jesus teaches for a very, very long time.

People can be saved. But the culture’s gotta go. And it will; give it a decade. It’ll be replaced by something just as dumb. It’s why investing our time, our lives, our beings into it is so wasteful. Why loving it—why exhibiting that patience, kindness, forgiveness, grace, and passion towards it instead of people—is not just a massive waste of spiritual resources, but ultimately self-destructive as well. It’s like jumping out of a lifeboat because you think you saw a mermaid… and clearly all you know about mermaids comes from movies and comic books, ’cause in all the myths, mermaids eat sailors.

Humans are creatures of extremes, and sometimes that’s because we’re looking for an excuse to do as we please. So you’ll get Christians who sometimes insist, “The bible says to not love the world,” and use it as their excuse to utterly disconnect. From everything. Not just from popular culture, from social media, from reading the news, from even the electrical grid; from living like Mennonites where they obviously care about people, but make an equally obvious point of having nothing to do with worldly culture. Nope; it’s more of a bunker mentality, where they withdraw from society and withdraw from everybody else. Where they have nothing to do with anyone. They just stay at home, demonstrating with their very behavior why God once commented, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Ge 2.18

If you wanna be antisocial, the bible’s not gonna back you up. Loving your neighbor obligates us to get out of our bubbles and interact. Doesn’t have to be in person; we’ve got phones and internet. But it does have to happen, ’cause if Jesus isn’t teaching us about interacting with God, he’s teaching us to interact with fellow humans. So go find some fellow humans and love ’em.

The other extreme, naturally, is people who wanna justify being culturally immersed. Supposedly we can’t share Jesus with pagans unless we have points of common reference; we gotta know something about the culture in order to be “relevant.” And yeah, there’s wisdom in that: We should check out the news and know what’s going on in our world. But John’s instructions to his church was to not love it. Love God, love people; but if we love music and books and baseball and TV and politics instead of people and God, we’re blowing it big-time.

People are eternal. The culture, not so much. So let’s get our priorities straight.

The opposite of love.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April 2020

When Christians talk about love, naturally we’re gonna bring up the subject of the opposite of love.

But on this subject, we’re not entirely agreed. The scriptures contrast a lot of things with love. Obviously hate.

Ecclesiastes 3.8 KJV
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Amos 5.15 KJV
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
Malachi 1.2-3 KJV
2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.
Matthew 5.43 KJV
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Luke 16.13 KJV
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Here’s where teachers like me are obligated to point out when middle easterners contrast love with hate, they don’t always literally mean hate. Frequently they just mean “don't love as much as the other person or thing.” When the LORD said he loves Jacob but hates Esau, Ro 9.13 no he doesn’t hate-hate Esau, but favors Jacob more. He chose Jacob, and passed over Esau. The LORD still blessed Esau, made a nation out of him, even had close relationships with Edomites like Job; his “hatred” still looks a whole lot like great and gracious love! But the LORD had much greater expectations on Jacob and the Israelites, and offered ’em particular blessings as a result. Plus Jesus was born an Israelite.

Other Christians take note of this particular verse in 1 John

1 John 4.18 NKJV
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

—and conclude, not wrongly, that fear and love kinda oppose one another. And no, this idea isn’t only found in only one verse; Paul kinda hinted at it in a letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 1.7 KJV
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Hence Christians take this idea and really pound it into the ground. When other Christians state love and hate are opposite, these know-it-alls love to point out, “Actually no; it’s love versus fear.” And sometimes quote the proof text. And sometimes talk about their personal experiences which prove love and fear are opposite.

Yeah, you probably guessed I have an alternative answer. And if you ever studied logic, you already know what it is. The exact opposite of love, is not-love. The absence of love. It’s when love simply isn’t there. We don’t have it.

The absence of love can look like all sorts of things, including hate and fear. And selfishness, callousness, anger, violence; y’might think up a few more. But it doesn’t have to look like anything. If love simply isn’t there, it won’t really look like anything anyway. Pick any inanimate object, like a pencil on your table: Does it love? Only if you imagine really hard that it has a soul, and thoughts, and feelings; that it loves to draw, and hates getting sharpened. Which is all projection, of course.

Likewise a rock doesn’t love. A chair doesn’t love. Statues don’t; dollar bills don’t. Even “smart” objects don’t: Your phone doesn’t love, your car doesn’t love, your Roomba doesn’t love. Even when you program these things to tell you so, or get ’em to do things that our fellow humans do to demonstrate love, we recognize love’s gotta have an intelligence behind it. Artificial intelligence ain’t there yet.

So when a human lacks love, that person’s not necessarily gonna look hostile, negative, or dangerous. At our most benign, humans are gonna look as inert as a pencil. They won’t love you… and won’t hate you either. Won’t anything. You’re not a factor in their considerations. That’s all.

If you want a one-word synonym for not-love, the best I can think of would be apathy. But apathy implies they know about you, yet don’t love you; more often they don’t know about you, or simply haven’t thought of you. Or it hasn’t crossed their mind to love you: Point this out to them, and they might! Point is, not-love is even more nonmalignant than apathy. No harm’s meant. No offense.

But not-love still creates problems.

Yep, not-love is in the bible.

First time I explained to a youth group how the opposite of love is not-love, one of the kids objected, “But love versus fear is in the bible, and your thing isn’t in the bible.” Ah, but it is. People quote it all the time, too:

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 NKJV
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

When we act without love, even when we supernaturally act without love, we’re irrelevant, we’re useless, we accomplish nothing, and we’re being jerks.

I’ve seen it firsthand aplenty. When people are working in a ministry, but have no love for the people they’re ministering to, they become massive jerks. They exhibit no patience, no kindness; it’s just “Move it along; I’ve got lots of people to serve and you’re holding me up.” It’s not about people; it’s just numbers. It’s not about getting people to appreciate, or get interested in, God’s kingdom; it’s about all the jewels you were told you’d get in your crown at the End. It’s all about racking up good karma for Jesus, not loving your neighbor… and it shows. And it sucks.

To those being “ministered to,” who get herded like cattle instead of helped and loved: They were expecting love. They got brusqueness, impatience, sarcasm, and mockery. Sure felt like hatred.

’Cause when love is absent, everything else, especially all the negative, self-centered, fleshly stuff, is still there. There’s no love to mitigate, nullify, or take the place of those things. People really feel the difference. It’s why Christians are meant to be identified as Christ-followers by, at the very least, our love for one another. Jn 13.35 But we suck at demonstrating that, and people definitely remember Christians who weren’t quite so loving to them.

Doing the opposite of hate and fear doesn’t count.

I’ve heard many a Christian claim they do so love their neighbors… because they certainly don’t hate them. See, if hatred and love are opposites, they figure if they lack hate, by default they gotta have love. And other Christians try the very same thing with fear: They’re not afraid, so it must be love, right?

Back to logic: The opposite of hate is not-hate. The opposite of fear is not-fear. An inanimate object doesn’t hate, doesn’t fear; it’s inert. And while it’s good that we don’t hate and fear others, simply not hating and not fearing makes us just as inert as a boulder on the ground. Once again, we have apathy. Which, I remind you, is just a blank slate… one where our fleshly works are all the more obvious.

Okay, you’re not doing evil! But we still gotta do good. Do something.

And love actually does stuff. Love has patience, behaves kindly; doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion, point out how great it is, inflate itself, ignore others’ considerations, provoke ill behavior, plot evil, delight in wrongdoing, etcetera. 1Co 13.4-5 The apostles defined love with lots of verbs, describing what it does, and describing what we oughta do. We don’t just love by default when we don’t hate and don’t fear: We gotta do love. Put some effort into it!

Love one another. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love everybody, basically; same as God loves the world. Jn 3.16 It’s a big job, so start small. But get started.

Love—as described in the Old Testament.

by K.W. Leslie, 01 April 2020

When we Christians talk love, most of the time we refer to ἀγάπη/aghápi, the type of love Paul and Sosthenes defined in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the love which God is. 1Jn 4.16

Now aghápi is a Greek word, ’cause the New Testament was written in ancient Greek; duh. But way more of the bible consists of Old Testament, which is mostly written in ancient Hebrew. Hence when we Christians preach on love, we take our ideas and teachings from the NT… and for the most part skip anything the OT has to say on the subject.

Which is problematic. See, there’s this persistent myth that God is love in the NT, but isn’t love in the OT; he was more wrath and anger and vengeance and flaring nostrils. 2Sa 22.9 The way too many Christians depict it, Jesus’s self-sacrifice sated his bloodlust, and now the Father loves us instead of wanting to crush us like cockroaches.

Some preachers try to preach love from the OT, but not always well. Usually it’s with a bad word study: They crack open their Nave’s Topical Bible and look up every verse which contains the word “love.” Then they try to read the 1 Corinthians definition into it. Which doesn’t always work. Y’see, rapists felt “love”: Shechem claimed he loved Dinah, Ge 34.3 and Amnon used to love Tamar till he had his way with her. 2Sa 13.15 Sorta impossible to claim this is the patient, kind, not-demanding-its-own-way sort of aghápi/“love” the apostles had in mind.

See, not every word for “love” in the bible means aghápi. Often it means one of the other eight meanings our culture has attached to the word “love.”

But it brings up an interesting question: Where’d the apostles’ definition of love come from? Yes of course it came from the Holy Spirit. But shouldn’t the Spirit have revealed what love is long before Paul and Sosthenes had to spell it out for Corinth? Shouldn’t he have embedded the idea somewhere in the Old Testament, somewhere in the ancient Hebrew culture?

And I would argue he did, which is why Jesus, John, and Paul could independently talk about aghápi and all mean the very same thing by it, And not mean what the ancient Greeks meant by aghápi. It’s in there because God’s in there, and God is love. Always has been. Even in the OT.

God acts patiently, kindly, not enviously, nor boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, irritable, grudge-holding, faithless, hopeless, and unjust. (No matter how certain Calvinists might describe him.) That’s how God is actually described all over the Hebrew scriptures. That’s the God the apostles knew, the God whom Jesus reveals to us.

Now, how ’bout the OT words we’ve translated “love”? How close are the to aghápi?


The word most commonly translated “love” in the OT is the verb אָהַב/aháv and its noun-forms אַהַב/aháv, אֹהַב/oháv, and אַהֲבָה/ahavá. (Yeah, they’re all next to one another in the average Hebrew lexicon.) In the Septuagint, these words all tend to be translated aghápi. So they mean the same thing, right?

Wrong. Aháv sometimes means aghápi, same as our English word “love” sometimes means that. But more often aháv is closer to φίλος/fílos, the love between family and friends who share common interests. And sometimes it means στοργή/storgí, “affection,” like that between parents and children. And it can definitely mean ἔρος/éros, “romance”—it definitely does in the Song of Songs.

Like our English word, aháv means lots of things. Not just aghápi, regardless of how regularly the Septuagint’s translators utilized that word. Still, aháv is found in certain commands of the LORD

Leviticus 19.18 KWL
“Don’t avenge. Don’t cling to anger against your people’s children.
Love your fellow Hebrew like yourself. I’m the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 6.4-5 KWL
4 “Listen, Israel: Our god is the LORD. The LORD is One.
5 Love your LORD God with all your mind, all your life, and all your power.”

—which, when Jesus quoted ’em in his lessons, the writers of the gospels rendered them in Greek as aghápi.

Mark 12.30 KWL
“You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’” Lv 19.18

So in these instances, aháv does in fact mean the godly love Jesus and the apostles regularly referred to. But like I said, not every instance of aháv in the OT means this type of love. Sometimes it’s just friendship, and sometimes it’s carnal, lustful, and rapey. We gotta figure out, from its context, what the OT authors meant by aháv. Mix up the meanings and you’ll go horribly wrong.

Even in God’s commandments, we can’t just assume every instance of aháv means aghápi either:

Deuteronomy 21.15-17 KWL
15 “When a man has two women—one he loves, one he ‘hates’—and the loved and the ‘hated’ birth sons for him,
and the son with the birthright is born to the ‘hated’:
16 On the day the man grants inheritances to his sons which were born to him,
he’s not allowed to grant the birthright to the son of the loved,
over the head of the son of the ‘hated’ with the birthright,
17 for the birthright is for the son of the ‘hated.’
The man should be willing to give him two portions of all he’s acquired,
for he’s the most valuable thing he created. He deserves the birthright.

In this command, “loved” and “hated” are idioms for “more loved” and “less loved.” And it’s not really aghápi. It’s not the sort of unconditional, impartial love we Christians need to express towards everyone. Context, folks.


In contrast, חָסַד/khacád and its noun-form חֶסֶד/kheçéd is seldom translated “love” in most bibles. Tends to be translated “kindness” or “lovingkindness” or “goodness” or “mercy.” But every so often translators will actually, accurately call it love: “Steadfast love” or “unfailing love” or “faithful love.”

You might be most familiar with it in Psalm 136, and other passages where the author really wanted to hammer away at the idea God is all about the kheçéd.

Psalm 136.1-5 KWL
1 Throw your hands up to the LORD, for he’s good: His love lasts forever.
2 Throw your hands up to the God of the gods: His love lasts forever.
3 Throw your hands up to the Master of masters: His love lasts forever.
4 To the one who alone does wonderful, great deeds: His love lasts forever.
5 To the one who intelligently made the heavens: His love lasts forever.

And so on. You get the idea.

Kheçéd isn’t translated “love” too often, and you gotta wonder why. Because it’s probably the closest idea to aghápi we find in the OT. ’Cause look at the words translators so often use for it:

  • “Kindness”—and both God and love are indeed kind.
  • “Faithful love”—and both God and love are indeed faithful.
  • “Goodness” and “rightness”—and both God and love are good and right.
  • “Mercy”—which is a byproduct of love, for love forgives, as does God. And it’s God’s response to those who turn to him. Ex 20.6 For a thousand generations—it’s a generous love too.

So why don’t bibles translate it “love”? Well, y’notice sometimes they do. But quite often, people prefer to call kheçéd “covenant love.” They figure it’s a particular species of love God has for people who follow his Law. A reciprocal sort of love, which kings would exhibit towards vassals who fulfilled their contractual obligations. Presumably that’s the sort of love the LORD had for his vassals: When they loved him, he’d love ’em back.

But to interpret it this way, is to totally misunderstand what covenants are about.

A covenant is a relationship. Not a contract. It might look contractual, but that’s only because a covenant isn’t a loosey-goosey relationship; it’s formal, and the parties spell out how our relationship works. The bible’s covenants explain what God brings to the table, and what we do. It looks like a contract, ’cause that’s how we do contracts. But in the Law, y’notice it’s far from reciprocal. God provides the Hebrews with everything: Land, flocks, crops, life, wellness, blessings, prosperity, abundance. In return, all the Hebrews gotta do is obey God’s commands. They brought nothing to the table. They had nothing to bring: They were Egyptian slaves, whom God selected not because they were mighty or worthy, but entirely because he loved them, and promised their ancestors he’d look out for them. Dt 7.6-8

In very much the same way, Jesus’s covenant with us is to die for our sins and grant us eternal life. Again, not because we bring anything to the table: He did this while we were yet sinners. Ro 5.8 In both covenants, God escalated mere aháv into kheçéd—and now he’s gonna love his people “for a thousand generations” Dt 7.9 which is a Hebrew idiom for “till you totally lose count.” In other words, forever.

Yeah, there are other Hebrew words translated “love.”

In case you worried I’m not being comprehensive, I figured I’d hit up all the other Hebrew words which bibles render “love.”

חָבַב/khovév: Only appears once in the bible, Dt 33.3 and means “to hide [in one’s heart].” Though the Septuagint translated it “spares,” as in “[God] spares his people.”
חָשַׁק/khašaq: Literally means “is strapped to,” and is a metaphor for love.
עָגַב/agáv: Literally means “breathes for,” and is a metaphor for lust. When Jeremiah referred to idolatrous Israel’s “lovers” Jr 4.30 he really meant their lusters.
רָחַם/rakhám: Means “bowels” (and often “womb”) and therefore is a metaphor for compassion, mercy, or pity. Which are forms of love.

Still, my vote for where the apostles got their concept of love would be kheçéd. Its definition in 1 Corinthians 13 becomes more and more obvious whenever the writers of the Old Testament used the word.

Isaiah 54.10 KWL
“For the mountains might fall down and the hills shake,
but my love won’t fall away from you, and my covenantal peace won’t shake,”
says your compassionate LORD.

’Cause love doesn’t fall down. 1Co 13.8

What passes for love among Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 March 2020

In C.S. Lewis’s 1960 book The Four Loves, he wrote about four ancient Greek words which English-speakers consistently translate “love.” They aren’t the only four. I found a fifth when I was poking through my bible software’s Greek dictionary. I’ve found others since. But here’s that fifth love:

ΞΕΝΊΑ (xenía) zɛ'ni.ɑ noun, fem. Welcoming attitude towards a guest; receptiveness, hospitality, love for strangers.
2. A guestroom. Ac 28.23, Pm 1.22

Ever heard the myth of Philemon and Bauçis? They were a old married couple, and one day two strangers visited their farm. They showed their guests such hospitality—such love—the strangers later rewarded them for it by rescuing them from a flood. Turned out the strangers were the gods Zeus and Hermes. The Greeks loved to tell this story as an example of how we need to be hospitable to everyone—for you might be entertaining gods unawares. Or as the author of Hebrews reworded it, angels. He 13.2 KJV In any event, this story is exactly why the people of Lystra started worshiping Barnabas and Paul Ac 14.8-18 —they thought it was happening again.

The reason why xenía, or “hospitality,” isn’t straight-up ἀγάπη/aghápi, “charity”—the sort of love we Christians oughta practice—is because of the motive for reciprocity. It’s not unconditional. You don’t do it, expecting nothing in return. Exactly the opposite: You do expect something in return. Gratitude at the least, extremely generous remuneration at the most. Children’s fairy tales always have some tiny act of kindness getting repaid with vast fortunes, kingdoms, or you get to marry a prince. Be hospitable, and the universe owes you one. Yep, it’s all about karma.

And if your hospitality isn’t received with at the very least a “Thank you” …well, those people are jerks. Bad karma on them. Rate ’em zero stars.

Yep, hospitality isn’t unconditional love. It’s entirely conditional. And because humanity believes in karma, xenía is what we see among people instead of aghápi. Including what we see among Christians, who haven’t always learned our expectation of compensation is not real love. Love doesn’t demand love in return. Love doesn’t look out for itself. 1Co 13.5

It’s what the world calls charity.

Here’s a passage which tends to confuse Christians.

1 John 4.7-10 KWL
7 Beloved, we can love one another
only because love is something which comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been produced by, and knows, God.
8 Everyone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, because God is love.
9 God’s love for us was revealed like this:
God sent his one and only Son into the universe, so we could live through him.
10 Love is like this: Not because we loved God,
but because he loved us, and sent his Son to cover over our sins.

Why it confuses us is because John matter-of-factly wrote: If people love, it’s ’cause they know God.

Problem is, we know an awful lot of pagans who really do appear to love! They love their families, they love their friends; some of ’em even love strangers and do grand acts of charity. In fact, some of ’em are way more charitable and kind than our fellow Christians. So what’s up with John?

Simple. The love these folks have for one another isn’t aghápi. It’s xenía.

They legitimately do love their family and friends and strangers… as we English-speakers define the word “love.” But they don’t love ’em selflessly. They don’t love ’em unconditionally. There are strings attached. All sorts of strings.

THEY LOVE THEIR KIDS. Because these kids are their kids: They’re an extension of themselves. They made these kids, and raised ’em to make ’em proud, or at least not bring shame on them. Now, wait till the kids do bring shame on ’em, and you’ll discover just how much love they actually have for their kids.

THEY LOVE THEIR FRIENDS. It’s because these are valuable, beneficial, entertaining, helpful people. These friends make their lives better. Do they keep, as friends, people who don’t make their lives better? Usually no; they unfriend ’em right away. Anybody who keeps ill-behaved friends are considered either people of low character, or emotionally and mentally unhealthy.

Our culture—and even our churches!—regularly teach us it’s okay to divest ourselves of difficult people. If someone’s falling apart, and we see no hope for their situation, it’s okay to just give up on them, and let ’em hit rock bottom. It’s “tough love.” It’s what they need.

THEY LOVE THE NEEDY. But only when they recognize these people as the deserving needy. When needy people are rude, greedy, choosy, or appear to be needy because they’ve made evil choices, they certainly don’t wanna help them—“Don’t give that guy $100; he’s only gonna spend it on booze!” But when needy people appear to be good people who just happen to be suffering, it offends people’s sense of reciprocity: Why, these people deserve help. Karma owes them big-time. No problem; we’ll fix things. We’ll help the universe out.

Plus it looks good. Plus tax deductions. Plus good karma: Someone might remember our act of generosity, and help us when we’re in a bind. At some point this karmic investment is gonna pay off… unless we can’t see how it could, and don’t bother.

In fact, thanks to karma, certain individuals are fine if they get nothing back. They get a perverse pleasure from feeling like a put-upon, under-appreciated martyr. And they expect God may grant them some form of heavenly consolation prize at the End. I mean, they earned it, didn’t they? ’Cause you know, martyrdom.

These expectations of reciprocity pervade our culture. We see it every Christmas: People expect the presents they receive will be more or less equal to the ones they’ve given. Whenever we get something beneath our expectations, they feel wronged. When we get something far, far above our expectations, we’re delighted… unless it’s too generous, “too much,” something we now feel obligated to match, ’cause we don’t wanna be in anyone’s karmic debt!

We see this every time someone refuses charity: They can’t afford to give back, so they’d rather do without the gift. We see this every time a politician refuses a contribution to their campaign: They know people expect to get something back, and don’t wanna be (or look) beholden to that contributor. We see this every time a date refuses an expensive gift that’s “too much”—they don’t wanna be beholden to their suitor. We see it in America’s divorces: When one partner slacks on the marriage, the other feels shortchanged, decides to end the relationship, and get theirs back—in dollars and cents.

Hospitality is never done selflessly. There’s always meant to be some reward. Forget to offer a simple thank-you, and people will be irritated for weeks thereafter: “What is wrong with people? Doesn’t anyone practice courtesy anymore?” Courtesy’s not actually the issue: Someone was practicing hospitality, not love, and wasn’t repaid. Because xenía looks out for itself.

Aghápi doesn’t.

Christians do it too.

So. Scratch the surface of any pagan which practices what they call “love,” and I guarantee you’ll find hospitality. Heck, scratch the surface of many a Christian.

Most of us Christians are practicing hospitality instead of charity, and can’t tell the difference. After all, hospitality appears to be all the things Paul described love as. 1Co 13.4-8 It’s patient, kind, gentle, humble, others-focused, good, truthful, faithful, hopeful, and consistent. Looks exactly like charity!

But frequently the patience runs out. The hospitable person throws up their hands and shouts, “Y’know, I’m all these things to everybody else. And just once I’d like someone to give me a little bit back!” Payback is overdue.

When “love” expects compensation, it’s not charity. Charity keeps no balance sheet. 1Co 13.5 Love gives, and doesn’t expect back. You know, like God does. We can’t possibly repay him for the gift of his Son, much less his kingdom. And he doesn’t expect payback anyway. If he did, man alive would he be bitter.

There’s our guideline for how we know whether we’re actually practicing the charitable sort of love God is, 1Jn 4.8, 16 versus the hospitable self-seeking love the world does. We look to God’s example. The Spirit’s fruit is nothing more than God’s own character traits, overflowing into us. Our ability to love is entirely based on God’s activity among us. If our love doesn’t look like God’s love, we’re doing it wrong.

How do we know what God’s love looks like? Read your bible. Read the gospels. Follow Jesus’s example. And when you find his example practiced among our fellow Christians, watch that too. (It’s not gonna be infallible like the bible stuff, but it’s concrete, so it definitely helps.)

Bible? Sure I’ll quote some bible. More from John:

1 John 4.10-21 KWL
10 Love is like this: Not because we loved God,
but because he loved us, and sent his Son to cover over our sins.
11 Beloved, this is how much God loved us.
We’re obligated to love one another.
12 No one’s ever seen God, yet when we love one another, God’s with us.
His love’s been expressed in us, 13 so this is how we get to know we’re with him and he’s with us.
He’s given us his Spirit.
14 We’ve seen, we’ve witnessed, how the Father sent the Son to save the world.
15 When anyone agrees Jesus is the Son of God, God’s in them and they’re in God.
16 The love God has is in us. We’ve known and believed it. God is love.
Those who stay in love, stay in God, and God stays in them.
17 Love is expressed this way among us, so we can be confident on Judgment Day:
In this world, we can be like he is.
18 There’s no fear in love. Total love throws fear out,
because fear focuses only on hellfire. The fearful don’t express love.
19 We love because God loved us first.
20 When anyone says they love God, yet hates their fellow Christian, they lie:
Those who hate their fellow Christian, whom they can see, can’t love God, whom they can’t.
21 Plus we have this command from him: If you love God, love your fellow Christian.

God obviously doesn’t expect payback. He loved us first—when we were in no position to pay him back, when we were (and are) totally unworthy of his love. He sent his Son to sort us out, and make us worthy.

True, God expects us to love him, and commands it. But it’s not to pay him back; our level of love can’t possibly. We’re ordered to love because really, it’s the only healthy thing for us. In fact, his instructions are to pay his love forward: Because he loves us, we’re to love one another. We’re to love as he does: Generously, self-sacrificially.

We’re spurred to do this because God’s in us. He’s not just observing from the outside, from some lofty position outside of time and space, cheering us from the stands as we run the race of life. He’s here, empowering us, making us able to love. He corrects us when we don’t, supplies us when our love is deficient. He drives out our fears so we learn to love from pure motives—not because we’re worried about hellfire, about the consequences of displeasing God. He drives out our desire for reciprocity, for compensation, for getting something back.

People who don’t know God, totally don’t understand this. How on earth can we Christians love people so utterly selflessly? How can we forgive murderers? How can we give charity to the unworthy, to people who won’t even say thank you, to people who exploit us and try to take more than their fair share?

They assume we must be doing it because we expect divine reciprocity: Some heavenly reward for all our good deeds, some pie in the sky when we die, by and by. They’re offended when we create charities which do this stuff, and they’re outraged when those charities can access government grants. (Worse, when government programs act charitably too.) ’Cause that’s their tax dollars, which they only want spent on killing terrorists with drones.

This outrage is our tip-off that we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know the difference between charity and hospitality. When we see pure, selfless aghápi coming from a person—and we likewise have God’s love coming out of us—we can immediately identify them as someone who actually knows God. They might not call themselves Christian, but it makes no difference: They know God. You can’t love like God unless you live in God.

And, at the same time, you can’t live in God unless you love like God.

No, it’s not a formula. It’s a relationship.

So that’s the way we maintain the proper godly sort of love: Stay in God. Don’t so much concentrate on making sure the love we practice fits precisely with Paul’s definition. Don’t get legalistic about love; that’ll really warp it. Instead, concentrate on the relationship with God. Let him make sure we stick to Paul’s definition. As we live in him, we exhibit true, pure, charitable love. As well as all the other fruits of the Spirit.