All You Need is Love, But What is Love?

A recent survey said that only 9% of American adults have a “biblical worldview.”  I’m generally skeptical of polls unless I know how they were done.  After looking into this one, I wonder if I fall in to the 91% of American adults who don’t have a “biblical worldview.”  Why?  In their definition of “biblical worldview” the word “love” was nowhere to be found.  Maybe they thought “love” was too hard to define to base a survey on.  If so, I can understand because love is a complicated thing.

In this survey, “love” was not in the definition, but “absolute moral truth” is, which bothered me not because truth is a bad thing, but because moral law is what condemns us.  Moral law would still exist if Christ had not died for us.  The Gospel, or Good News, of Christianity is that we can be saved despite failing to follow the law. Truth without love is like describing Easter and leaving out the Resurrection.  If we have not love, we have nothing but condemnation.  Love is essential.

But what is love?  Love means many things to different people and is a word people like to leave undefined or use to mean whatever sounds good.  Often people agree that “we should all love each other” without knowing what exactly they’re agreeing on.

Confusion about what love is has been around for a long, long time.  The Bible itself talks about several different kinds of love, making a “biblical worldview” definition harder.  In English translations of the New Testament, the word “love” shows up over and over again, but the Bible wasn’t written in English.  I’m no Greek scholar, but what follows is how I personally understand “love,” and I hope it clarifies rather than confuses.

In Greek, there are at least 4 words for love, including these three:

  • Eros – sexual or passionate love
  • Phileo – this is a root of “Philadelphia”, literally the city of brotherly love.  Loosely, phileo means an affection for people who are “brothers,” who we like because we admire something about them, or because they are like us.
  • Stergo – This is a love toward kindred or family, typically between parents and children.  This love is like a loyalty to those we are related to by blood.

These words and ideas were part of the culture in which Jesus lived, died and rose again over 2,000 years ago.  However, the writers of the New Testament Bible couldn’t line the meaning of these words up with what they wanted to say about Jesus.  Therefore, they took a little-used word – agape – and poured new meaning into it.

A Better Love
Agape is epitomized by the act of Jesus dying on the cross, but also by His selfless love for others repeatedly demonstrated in the gospel records of His life.  Agape is putting the interests of others above the interests of yourself, even if there is no benefit to yourself, or even if there is a significant cost to yourself.  Even if those others don’t love you.  Agape motivates acts of benevolence or charity.

Why is love so important to a Christian worldview?  Not only because if God didn’t love the world, He wouldn’t have sent His only son, but also because if individual Christians leave love out of their worldview, they use “absolute truth” as a reason to judge.  Love that requires sacrifice may be less popular than love that doesn’t, but without it there is no cross.

As I see a Christian worldview, this kind of love is absolutely essential.  From it comes a framework of the entire history of God’s relations with man in three phases: love rejected, love redeemed, and love restored.

Love Rejected
While vague “love” is popular, true agape love is not.  When I took a college class on Interpersonal Psychology, one of the topics was the multiple meanings of love. The professor explained the multiple Greek words used for “love”, but when he got to “agape” he asked if anyone in the class could explain because he didn’t “understand” it (or so he said).  I raised my hand, answered by describing the self-sacrificial love of Jesus, and was snickered at by much of the class.  The professor smiled at me and moved on to the next topic.  He probably set up the same situation every semester.  So, yes, not only does the world often not know what “love” means in a Christian sense, but they actively ridicule it when it’s explained to them.

From Adam and Eve right to the modern day, agape love is the bonds that mankind seeks to break and find their own way.  In an earlier post, I wrote that the “bonds” and “cords” that the world tries to break free from in Psalm 2 are the laws of love for God and for our fellow man.  Jesus summarized all the commandments of the Bible as: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]

I recently wrote that “the problem with every person individually is that they are unable, no matter how much external pressure is put on them, to treat other individuals the way they should be treated.”  People like to ask or demand that others practice agape love, but usually for the benefit of themselves.  It is not in our nature to demand it of ourselves first whether or not anyone else reciprocates.

Love Redeemed
People also usually like the idea that every person gets what they deserve – but we are less likely to talk about that for ourselves than for others.  The justice of God demands that anyone who refuses – at any time – to love Him and to love their neighbor should get what they deserve.  He does not miss anything but is perfect in His justice.  Jesus had to live the perfect life of agape love, under the loving guidance of Our Father, not so we won’t have to, but because we can’t.  Without Christianity and without love, the world would never be able to overcome the “Love Rejected” stage.

Christianity is not judgement, but the only way of escape from it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). If man had not rejected love, Christianity wouldn’t be necessary; but also, if Christianity does not restore mankind to agape love, it’s pointless.  Jesus, by willingly giving the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, satisfied God’s perfect justice and perfect love simultaneously.

By rising from the grave, He is able to share with us the power of agape love, which governs and redeems the other loves:

  • Eros – So many of the personal and societal problems in the world are driven by unconstrained eros.  In agape, God provides boundaries within which eros benefits, rather than harms, humanity.  See an earlier post on Godly Offspring for how God prevails over unconstrained eros even when we fail.
  • Phileo – Unconstrained phileo, which can become what we call tribalism, is behind a lot of the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other group conflicts in the world.  This also is nothing new – God through His Son will redeem us.  I wrote about agape overcoming tribalism in an old post about Jesus reaching out to Zacchaeus the tax collector.
  • Stergo – Families might be expected to be the easiest places to love each other, but they are often where passions run hottest.  James 4:1 says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”  Only agape provides what is needed to bridge the divide, a love to govern stergo.

A Christian in our world has a restored relationship with God but is only able to practice agape love imperfectly while awaiting a new body in a new heaven and a new earth.

Love Restored
The Bible does not contain a lot of specifics about the eternal life that Christians inherit and it is often misunderstood.  For example, those who think of Christianity as a set of rules that make us “perfect” think they are right to ignore the hope of heaven.  C.S. Lewis says sometimes “our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.”[2]

But thinking of heaven as love restored helps understand it better.  Elsewhere Lewis reframes heaven as: “When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.”[3]  By obedience he means obedience to loving God and man, and in heaven every person’s ability to love will be as the laws of nature, as reliable and predictable as the rising of the sun every morning or the return of leaves to the trees in the spring.

Also, we will not become something entirely other than what we are now, like an angel, but will be transformed and perfected, while retaining our individuality.  Pastor Tim Keller explains that “Our future, glorified selves will be continuous with who we are now, but the growth into wisdom, goodness, and power will be infinitely greater.”[4]

This is a future worth having.

How to Have This Love
For those who agree that the agape love we lost is the love we need back, Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He offers a world where every individual person uses their individual talents, gifts and creativity in the best interests of others.  All you have to do is agree to do the same, redeemed by His sacrifice and empowered by His Spirit to do the will of the Father.

How do we accept this offer?
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” – Romans 10:9-10

If you haven’t already, ask Him to be your Lord and Savior.

Nobody is more or less Christian than Jesus makes them.  No doctrine or experience can replace a loving, personal relationship with our Maker and Lord, who guides and empowers us to love as He does.  If we have not love, we have nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Fortunately, in Christianity we have His agape love if we will accept it above all other, lesser loves.  Christianity is not Christianity, and we are not fully ourselves, without it.


[1] From Matthew 22:37 and 39
[2] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1941).  P. 107
[3] Ibid.  P. 43
[4] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 170

Grandpa Solomon’s Retirement Advice

Have you ever asked yourself what Solomon, son of David, king of Israel, and author of much Biblical wisdom, would have to say about modern retirement?  Probably not, but I’m going to write about it anyway, because Solomon actually had some relevant advice.

Since this blog is not a source of income, I have a day job which happens to involve helping companies help their employees save and invest for retirement.  In American culture, retirement has in some ways replaced heaven as the future we hope for.  Advertisements promise retirees can do all the things they dreamed of doing during their working years.  Travel.  Relax.  Read those books you’ve been putting off reading.  If you can, buy a yacht.  After all, if you’ve worked so hard for it, you deserve it, they say.  Like many marketing schemes, something good and prudent (saving for retirement) is wrapped in a lot of gloss to get you to do something you might not do otherwise.  Sacrifices made now are worthwhile because of a later reward.

A guest at church this morning inspired me to write this post, since he was working with a ministry to grandparents.  The ministry is called Legacy Coalition (website link).  While talking with him, I made a connection and wanted to share it here.  That connection is that Solomon[1] when writing Ecclesiastes was acting in the role of a wise, Godly grandfather in a way that offers a sharp contrast to the story of retirement that goes unchallenged in our culture.

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon lays out an argument that he lived almost the exact life pictured in our retirement ads but learned to regret it.  While still a very young man, he had the power and wealth to try anything he wanted.  He planted vineyards and drank a lot of wine.  He built gardens and pools and acquired many servants and property.  He also had 700 wives and 300 concubines.[2]  He could have everything he desired – everything the retirement ads would show you if they could be R-rated – but he ended up disappointed.  Ecclesiastes is his advice to those who come after to not repeat his mistakes.

While a blog post can’t cover all of Ecclesiastes, I must add that Solomon did encourage us to invest for the future, but also not to place all our bets on one specific vision of the future: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”  (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2).  A long, healthy and prosperous retirement is one possible future among many, but eternity with God is a future certainty.  Earlier in the book, Solomon writes: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  God gives us a sense of what He has planned for us, but not many of the details.  We should not foolishly ignore the future, but we should not cling to one future we desire at the cost of the present God has given us and the future He already knows everything about.

Solomon encourages everyone – young and old – to live more in their own moment, enjoying the gifts God has given them and sharing those gifts with the people around them.  While Solomon is encouraging the young to not repeat his own mistakes, he is also encouraging the old to share their perspective.  In both cases, Solomon is telling us not to stress too much about what may or may not happen, but to invest what we have in light of what will be meaningful in eternity.  Joy comes from enjoying the relationships and things God has blessed us with now, not from sacrificing the now in light of a false vision of retirement.

Solomon recommends joy in God’s provision, and so I close with this quote, and pray that we all experience joy and thankfulness in the gifts God has given us today.  Don’t keep them to yourself.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” – Ecclesiastes 9:7-10


[1] I’m going to proceed for the sake of argument that Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes, although I know some debate that and it’s not explicitly stated.
[2] 1 Kings 11:3

Why This is (Mostly) Not a Political Blog

Fellow travelers,

In a world of soundbites in the media and memes on the internet, quotes get passed around regularly – often out of context, attributed to the wrong sources, and re-purposed for whatever the writer wants to say.  I’m not immune.  In an earlier post I used this quote from C.S. Lewis, but had to look up its source for that post’s footnote:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

During the pandemic, I spent more time reading and decided to continue to read and write more even after the pandemic ended.  Even though “regular” activities would resume, it seemed odd to me to come out of a global calamity like a pandemic the same way I went in, as if the pandemic didn’t matter.  I’m finally reading The Weight of Glory, the source of the above quote, and now I know what comes before it:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare…It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.” [emphasis mine][1]

According to Vida Health, during the Covid-19 pandemic one in six Americans started therapy for the first time, and nearly 90% of people in the US are experiencing one or more depressive symptoms.  Part of this was directly caused by the pandemic – sickness and death, job loss, etc.  But in addition, the level of disdain people have for each other went hyperbolic.  Many across the political spectrum are treating each other as “existential threats” and mortal enemies.  In the metaphor of my earlier posts on “He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs”, everybody was screaming Big Monster like the Hulk in the Thor:Ragnarok movie.   In fact, many were accusing each other of being the Big Monster!

There is no shortage of Big Monsters.  There never has been in all of history, and some of them have been real.  James Montgomery Boice said that many “end of the world” scenarios such as atomic holocaust, worldwide famine, rule by machines, or apocalyptic climate change, might actually come to pass.  But he adds: “this will not be the end.  The Bible teaches that there is a future beyond them when the Lord Jesus Christ…will reign in righteousness and will establish a social order in which love and justice prevail.”[2]

On this future hope, the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15: “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”.  Peter implies that a life truly lived based on eternal hope gets noticed.  People who don’t panic in the face of every Big Monster seem abnormal to this world and it opens the door to sharing Jesus as the Answer.  It was true then and its true now.

The people reading this blog may be reading it today or 20 years from now and may be in favor of any number of political or economic solutions.  I definitely have opinions on politics and economics and if I write honestly here, I can’t avoid them, but why is this blog (mostly) not a political one? 

Because I used to have a more political blog where I screamed “Big Monster!” on a near-daily basis.  It’s still out there, but when I re-read it, I see myself as the impulsive Peter drawing his sword to prevent Jesus from being arrested.[3]  Today, I’d rather write about the progress that turned Peter into the Apostle who wrote: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”[4]  In my earlier two-part post on “He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs” I wrote about Peter’s progress, and I recommend re-reading those posts in light of this one.  Part 1 is at this link and Part 2 is here.

Economic and political systems do matter, and if we don’t care about them, we disregard our responsibilities as citizens of the places where we live, ignoring the words of Jeremiah 29:7 – “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  But eternity matters more, in all places and times.  If we disregard it, we ignore that in all times and all places we “live in a society of possible gods and goddesses” who our Father asks us to treat with the love His Son demonstrated on the cross.

So, back to the now-in-better-context C.S. Lewis quote:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

I pray that this blog is a reminder that eternity matters.  That the work of Christ changes everything – no matter your circumstances when you read this.  That the 24-hour news cycle is not unimportant but is less important.

Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.” – Mark 12:17

Coming up: a History Bit for March 5th from early American history, a weekend thought on the “Psalms of Ascent”, and a return to “Blessed are the meek.”


[1] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1941).  P. 45-46.
[2] From “May 12.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).
[3] John 18:1-11
[4] 1 Peter 2:1

The Part of Us That Matters

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Note the contrast between what is: outer, wasting away, light, momentary, affliction, seen, transient.

And what is: inner, being renewed, eternal, weighty, glorious, beyond all comparison, unseen, eternal

Both are part of us, but one matters infinitely more than the other. Don’t confuse the two, or you may lose heart.

Living Faithfully in the Times You Have

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

“while the [Old Testament] prophets train their attention on the eternal, kairos drama of God’s words and actions, they remain intimately involved in the events of their historical time. Being caught between these two times can be quite painful and disorienting, particularly when it is difficult to see the hand of Providence in the daily news. Near the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien articulates this predicament well. When Gandalf, acting in many ways as an heir to the biblical prophets, tells Frodo that Sauron has risen and is searching for the ring that Bilbo gave him, Frodo’s reaction to this news is quite natural: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Frodo would prefer to step out of his time, to escape the confusing and frightful events of chronos. In this regard, he is much like King Hezekiah, who is pleased when Isaiah tells him that his sons will be carried into captivity and made eunuchs- at least, Hezekiah thinks, “there will be peace and security in my days” (Is 39:8). Gandalf’s reply to Frodo balances empathy with a bracing call to courageously and faithfully inhabit the tension between the messy demands of chronos and the divine call of kairos: “‘So do I;’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The biblical prophets likewise repeatedly urge their hearers to decide how to respond to the events of their time by the standard of God’s eternal word.”

From “Reading the Times”, by Jeffrey Bilbro, P. 95-96