If we must understand God’s injunction to us about loving each other, then we must understand the various kinds of love that are out there and understand what love we must express to each other and our neighbors. The word love is so overused in the society that it may have watered down its importance. It is so easy to hear people just mouth the word at every instance, without thinking about the implications. It turns out that the concept of love is very important for us Christians. Equally important is the type of love we profess. God expects us to exhibit Godly love but many times we mistake the other kinds of love for Godly love. The highest levels of love mentioned in the Bible are phileo (brotherly) love and agape (selfless) love and both of these are important for the body of Christ.
The word love itself is an ambiguous word that can describe or be motivated by different kinds of feelings. We can express love for each other because we are motivated by some pecuniary or emotional gains from the relationship. This kind of love is selfish love. There are many situations in life where we express selfish love. There are many friendships where the love expressed is based on the mutual gain that is inured to them. It is a tit for tat kind of love. I love you and you love me back. In these mutual benefits kinds of love, the recipient of the love is seen as a means to an end. The moment the expected end of the love is no longer there the love dissipates and ends abruptly. So, the object of love in this situation is just a tool that is meant to be used. The humanity in the recipient has been removed and the person has been depersonalized. This kind of love is not the love that Christians are encouraged to show.
Another thing that motivates us to love is romantic emotion. We call this kind of love romantic love. The romantic love is a little higher than the mutual benefit love in the sense that it can be altruistic in its most beautiful form. At the highest level of romantic love, a person who loves can die for the object of his love. People will often go to great lengths to satisfy the object of that love. Romantic love however still has a tinge of selfishness in it. We love romantically because there is something in the recipient of our love that attracts us. It may be the beauty, the intelligence, the way the person speaks, or whatever. The bottom line is that there is something that motivates us to extend our love to such a person. The romantic love is also meant to be reciprocal. Therefore, a lot of times people can easily fall out of romantic love because the attractiveness is no longer there, or the love is not returned. We are called to express romantic love to our spouses, but it is obviously not the love we are called to express to our neighbors.
The brotherly love is a higher-level love not because it is less selfish than romantic or mutual benefit love, but because it can be more inclusive. The romantic love is limited to two people who are attracted to each other, while the mutual benefit love is about two people whose love is motivated by what they can gain from each other. On the other hand, the brotherly love is wider in scope and can be expressed with many people at the same time. It is however still a selfish kind of love because it is usually motivated by friendship with those we profess to love. This is the kind of love that we often profess to each other in our local churches. So, I can be in a church and call all the men my brothers and all the women my sisters. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). This is brotherly love. The drawback, however, is that the moment someone does something against us, we tend to withdraw the brotherly love. While this kind of love is good for us in our local churches, the fact that it can be motivated by how we feel towards the brother or sister makes it less than the ideal love God wants us to have towards each other.
The highest level of love we can profess is the selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love. This is what we usually refer to as the Godly love. It is like the love that God has towards us which is much deeper than we can imagine. This love is expressed to someone even when there is no expectation of a reciprocal response. This love is expressed without motivation. This love is expressed without exception. It is an all-inclusive kind of love. It is love that must be expressed to both friends and enemies alike. “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). This love is the love of God operating in the human heart. This is the love we as Christians are called to profess. If we fail to love our enemies there is no way for us to fit into this category of Christian love. When we love as Christians our love must be inclusive. We need the help of God to do this right. When we do it right, we should be able to profess romantic love to our spouse, brotherly love to our friends and neighbors and selfless, sacrificial, unmotivated love to all.
January 10, 2021 – Pastor Simbo Odunaiya