Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God

Do you ever feel like God just loves you because that’s something He does for everyone, not because He actually likes you?

That’s how I started the seminar I gave back in December, which I’m finally getting around to sharing on this blog. I’m willing to say that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this way about God’s love, at least some of the time. There are a couple different things that play-in to this idea, but I think at least part of it is that usually when we talk about love in the Bible, we focus on the Greek word agape, which describes God’s unconditional love for all people. But there’s another word for love that talks about God’s affection for His friends. Depending on which resource you look at there are up to eight different words for “love” in Greek, though most people focus on these four:

  • Agape — selfless, benevolent love
  • Philos —  friendly, affectionate love
  • Storge — natural, family love
  • Eros — passionate, romantic love

We’re going to talk about agape and phileo, since those are the two used in the Bible. Together, agape and the root word agapao appear a total of 263 times in the New Testament. Philos and the closely related word phileo are used only 54 times, though it also appears in several compound words like philadelphos (brotherly love) and philostorgos (family love).

It would be pretty easy to look at these numbers and say agape is the most important kind of love in the Bible. And considering it’s the word used in the phrase, “God is love,” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. It’s also the word for love that’s defined in 1 Corinthians 13. There isn’t any other word gets such a thorough analysis in scripture. But maybe our emphasis on agape, even though it’s correct, comes at the expense of a good understanding of another important word, phileo.

Do You Love Me?

The difference between agape and philos might not seem significant at first glance. But there’s a conversation in John’s gospel that illustrates how different these two words for love can be. This conversation takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. His disciples had gone fishing and He met them on the beach, had dinner with them, and then asked Peter a question. In most Bible versions I’m familiar with, both agape and philos are translated in these verses as “love.” I like the World English Bible, since it makes clear that there are two different concepts at play. Read more

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What’s The Church Supposed To Do?

If you ask the church that I’ve spent most of my life in what their mission is they have a ready answer: preaching the gospel and preparing a people. I can’t speak for your churches, but I imagine many (perhaps even most) of them would also point to some version of what we call The Great Commission as their mission statement.

Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20, WEB)

Is this a commission? yes, it’s “an instruction, command, or duty given to … group of people.” Is it great? since it came from Jesus and involves a responsibility given His disciples, yes. But is it really meant as the defining mission statement for the entire church from Jesus’ resurrection to His return? I’m not so sure.

What's The Church Supposed To Do? Looking At Scriptural Mission Statements For People Following Jesus | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Pearl via Lightstock

A Sobering Warning

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the group He spent the most time criticizing and correcting. They professed to follow God’s highest standards but were in reality hypocrites. They did righteous looking things just to get attention (Matt. 23:5). They went to great lengths to convert people only to pervert their faith (Matt. 23:15). They placed too high an emphasis on money received as tithes and offerings (Matt. 23:16-19). They neglected the “weighty matters” of God’s law and instead followed their own traditions. They even turned the temple itself into a marketplace where they exploited people coming to worship God (John 2:14-16).

The scary thing is, these people honestly thought they were the most righteous God-followers out there. That serves as a warning today that church leaders and organizations have to be very careful where they place their focus. And so do we as individual members of Christ’s body.

A Greater “Commission”

We certainly shouldn’t ignore Christ’s instruction to go, disciple, baptize, and teach. But we need to make sure we’re thinking of that command from Matthew 28 in its proper context. Because there are two other commissions that Jesus plainly told us are His greatest commands. Read more

God’s Friends

Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll
Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll

When we talk about love in the bible, the word we’re usually discussing is agape. It’s one of several Greek words for love, and is typically described as “godly” or “unconditional” love. There’s also storge (family love), eros (romantic love), and phileo (friendly love).

Agape is an amazing kind of love. It’s the one spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13 and the word used in the phrase “God is love. ” Most times when the word “love” appears in the New Testament, it is translated from a form of agape.

But the other kinds of love are amazing as well, and I think we can overlook the importance of phileo in our fixation with agape (storge and eros are not found in scripture).

Friend of God

Philos (G5384) is the root word for a whole family of words having to do with love. It’s basic meaning is “friend” — someone who is dear, a beloved companion. The derivative phileo is the form more often translated “love.” It means “to have affection for someone.” Zodhiates notes that it is rarely used of man’s love toward God, but is used of the disciples’ love for Jesus. Both agape and phileo are used of God’s love toward man. Simply put, phileo involves adopting someone’s interests as yours.

the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. (John 16:27)

Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll
Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll

By using the word phileo in this passage instead of agape, Christ is telling us that God feels affection for us. He is fond of those who love His Son, and He has shared interests with us.

A chapter earlier, Jesus tells His disciples, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). That word is philos. The disciples would have known about the connection between these two words, and I suspect what Christ was telling them was that they could be friends with the Father as well as with Him, just as Abraham was.

And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. (James 2:23)

James tells us that Abraham was called God’s friend after “he offered Isaac his son on the altar.” That situation was an example of works and faith going together in a way that perfected Abraham’s faith (James 2:21-22). At that point, Abraham had faithfully demonstrated for years that his interests were in line with God’s plan.

Abraham is not the only person in the Bible who God treated as a friend. We’re told “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). God called David “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). As their interests lined up with God’s and they moved in the direction God was leading, they became His friends. Christ’s friendship with His disciples followed much the same pattern, and that is the kind of relationship we are now offered with God the Father and with Jesus Christ.

Necessity of Brotherly Kindness

In most places where we are instructed by God to love other people, the word is agape or agapao. But there are a few places where a form of phileo is used instead.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another (Rom. 12:10)

Believers are to have this kind of love for one another. If the church is unified in Christ, then the members will share the same goals and interests, because they are also His goals and interests. The brethren will be friendly to one another, and love each other like friends who are closer than family.

 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:5-8)

Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll
Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll

Both “brotherly kindness” and agape are necessary for us to become the opposite of barren and unfruitful. We must set our hearts on right things, and focus on being friends of God rather than of the world, for whoever “wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

The necessity for a friendly kind of love between brethren is made plain not only by verses discussing phileo between believers, but also by verses like Philippians 2:1-4 and Ephesians 4:1-7 that talk about how we should be like-minded and care for one another. Other instructions for us to have phileo hearken back to our discussion about being friends with God. Turns out, having this kind of affection for our Creator is not optional.

If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come! (1 Cor. 16:22)

The King James reads, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” The word anathema (G331) means something accursed, or given up to destruction. It does not “denote punishment intended as disciple but being given over or devoted to divine condemnation” (Zodhiates). Maran-atha (G3134) is an Aramaic word which literally means “our Lord has come.” Taken together, it tells us that someone who does not love, phileo, Jesus Christ will be judged at the Lord’s coming, and probably not in the way they were hoping (Matt. 7:21-23). It could probably be translated, “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be set aside for condemnation when the Lord returns.”

Add Agape

As vital as phileo is in our relationship with the God-family, it is not enough by itself. We must have phileo, but we must also add agape, as we saw in 2 Peter 1:5-8.

Probably one of the most discussed passages where both phileo and agape are used is in John 21. Here, we find a conversation between Jesus and Peter, after Peter had seen the resurrected Lord and then went back to fishing. In the following quote, I’ve replaced the English word “love” with the Greek word it’s translated from, so you can see which one is used when.

So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you agapao Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you agapao Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you phileo Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you phileo Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileo You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. (John 21:15-17)

Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll
Disney explains Greek words for love, by Blair a.k.a. GraphiteDoll

Usually, when I hear people talk about this verse, it’s in the context of agapao being a much higher form of love than phileo. They say Peter just wasn’t quite able to measure up to that kind of love — that he kept falling short of what Christ was asking. From Peter’s perspective, though, I don’t think that was the case. He responded to Christ’s question about agapao by saying, “Yes.” Perhaps what he meant when he added phileo was, “Of course I have agape love for you. You know that — I love you like a brother. We’re friends.”

And yet, Peter had denied Jesus three times just a few days ago (John 18:15-18, 25-27). I think Peter initially thought phileo was a better kind of love because of how much it involves emotions, but phileo needs agape added to it. Agape is the kind of love that keeps loving when feelings are gone or when they are crowded out by fear. Peter did learn this lesson, for it’s in his epistle that we are told to add agapao to our brotherly kindness.

We need to learn similar lessons today. Our love for God and our fellow believers does need an element of emotion and feeling — we need to be friends with them. Our love also needs to be stable and unconditional — we need to act with love even when we don’t feel in love. Both are needed to maintain a friendship with God.

The Greatest Is Love

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comWhat’s the most important thing you can do as a Christian? What is it that sets followers of Jesus apart from the rest of the world? Is it baptism? professing Christ as their savior? doing “the work of God”? keeping the Sabbath? While these are all important, they are not what Christ described as the greatest commandments.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:35-40)

In Mark’s account, Christ says, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). Both these commandments begin with the instruction, “You shall love.” In Greek, the word is agapao (G25), and it “indicates a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something” (all dictionary quotes from Zodhiates). I also find it interesting that, even though the lawyer only asked about the most important commandment, Jesus told him about the second as well. It was important to Christ that His hearers knew they had to love each other as well as God.

How Important is Love?

We’ve already seen Jesus describe “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor” as the two most important commandments. On His last Passover, He added another layer.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We are to love other people the way we love ourselves, and we are also to love our brethren the way Jesus loves us. Love among the believers is how Christ said “all men” would recognize His true church. It’s the key to how we should treat one another, as we talked about last week. We need to actively care for one another, to sacrificially love others as Christ did when He laid down His life for His friends (John 15:12-14). This sort of love isn’t just a feeling — it involves a choice to find our joy in our fellow believers and in our relationship with God. It is absolutely necessary for our personal growth and for peace in the church.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor. 13:1)

Paul had just been talking about spiritual gifts and unity in the church body. Now, he says that those gifts are useless without love.

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. (1 Cor. 13:2)

All these things that we find so impressive — inspired speaking, understanding the mysteries of God, knowing everything about the Bible, mountain-moving faith — they are all nothing without love. I know of a man who is convinced he’s close to having full knowledge of God, and he’s so caught up in this that he’s almost impossible to talk with. He’d probably scoff at the idea that love is more important than his pet Bible theories. Yet it was the person who knew that to love God “with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” to whom Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:32-34).

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. (1 Cor. 13:3)

Now Paul tells us that we can go through all the motions that look like sacrificial love, and still not have genuine love. Unless our actions are motivated by true agape, they don’t do us any good. Our good actions will benefit others, but if our hearts are not right we will not reap the benefits of practicing the kind of love that Jesus Christ models.

What is Love?

The Greek word for “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape (G26), a derivative of agapao. Zodhiates says this “word [is] not found in class Gr. but only in revealed religion.” He goes on to say that agape means benevolent love, which is “not shown by doing what the person loved desires but what the one who loves deems as needed by the one loved.” Think of God sending Jesus as the sacrifice for sins to a people who thought they didn’t want Him, or of Casting Crowns’ song Love You With The Truth. But this definition still isn’t a full picture of agape. For that, we need to read on in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love suffers long (1 Cor. 13:4)

“Suffers long” is from the Greek word makrothumeo (G3134). It means to be long-suffering and have endurance rather than giving up and losing faith or becoming angry. Specifically, “makrothumeo involves exercising understanding and patience toward persons” (there’s another word for patience with things and circumstances). It is used to describe God’s attitude toward us (2 Pet. 3:9), and is an attitude we should have toward every person (1 Thes. 5:14).

 and is kind (1 Cor. 13:4)

This verse is the only time the word chresteuomai (G5541) apears in scripture. It is, however, related to the word chrestos (G5543), which means “profitable, fit, good for any use.” Kindness is a willingness to be useful, a readiness to assist others. God is kind toward all (Luke 6:35; Eph. 2:7), and as with other attributes of God it is something we must also learn (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12).

love does not envy (1 Cor. 13:4)

The words translated “envy” is closely related to zeal, and can actually be used in a good or bad sense. Paul uses it both ways in Galatians 4:17-18, where zeloo (G2206) is translated  “zealous.” In 1 Corinthians 13, it means having a wrong kind of zeal that manifests itself in jealousy and envy (Acts 17:5-9).

love does not parade itself, is not puffed up (1 Cor. 13:4)

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comThese two attributes of love are similar. One involves not bragging about the things you have. The other involves avoiding pride and self-conceit. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that pride is an abomination to God. Humility is what He looks for in people who have His love inside them (1 Pet. 5:5-7).

does not behave rudely (1 Cor. 13:5)

To “behave rudely” is the Greek word aschemoneo (G807). It means to “behave in an ugly, indecent, unseemly, or unbecoming manner” that brings disgrace and reproach. Zodhiates says its use in 1 Corinthians 13 “succinctly means that love in its speech and action seeks to contain no evil, but seeks to change the evildoer.”

does not seek its own (1 Cor. 13:5)

Love isn’t concerned with accumulating wealth or glory for the self. Rather, those who love “esteem others better than himself” and look out “not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

is not provoked (1 Cor. 13:5)

The basic meaning of the word parozuno (G3947) is to sharpen, but in the New Testament it is used “metaphorically, to sharpen the mind, tempter or courage of someone, to incite, to impel … to provoke or rouse to anger.” This reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes: “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:9).

thinks no evil (1 Cor. 13:5)

Here again, looking at the Greek adds layers of meaning. The word “think” is logizomai (G3049), and it means “to put together with one’s mind, to count, to occupy oneself with reckonings or calculations.” This is telling us that love does not devote mental energy to wicked, evil, or corrupt schemes. Our minds must be occupied with good (Phil. 4:8).

does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6)

Iniquity, translated from adikia (G93), is “not conformable with justice” and exists in opposition to truth. Truth, aletheia (G225), is “unveiled reality,” often referring to divine truth in the New Testament. It exposes iniquity, which is what Christ is alluding to in John 15:22 when He says His words have left people with “no excuse for their sin.”

I also find it interesting that the word for rejoicing in iniquity is a general word for being glad (chario, G5463), but the word for rejoicing in the truth is sugchario G4796), which involves rejoicing together with others. The rejoicing that love does it not isolated — it is shared joy.

bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:7)

“Bears” means “to cover over in silence.” Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 13, stego (G4722) means that “love hides the faults of others and covers them up.” The word “Believe” is from pisteuo (G4100), and it means to have faith or trust in something. In particular, “to be firmly persuaded as to something,” especially of belief in God. The Greek word elpizo (G1679) means to hope or “expect with desire.” It can also refer to putting hope or trust in God.

When we talked about the phrase “love suffers long,” I said that word referred to people and another word was for patience with circumstances. Hupomeno (G5278), translated “endures,” is that word. It means “to persevere, endure, sustain, bear-up under, suffer as a load of miseries, adversaries, persecutions, or provocations with faith.”

Things That Last

It is worth keeping in mind that, since “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), this definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is also a description of God. As we grow to have these characteristics of love, we are also becoming more like Him.

as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet. 1:3-4)

God has given us all the tools we need to partake in His “divine nature.” His process of building a family involves making us like Him and like His Son by changing our minds and actions now, and our bodies in the future.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

The Greatest Is Love | marissabaker.wordpress.comThere are many things that we can’t take into the next life, including our physical possessions and physical bodies. There are also attitudes and beliefs that God won’t allow in because they are incompatible with His nature. But there are other things — things we can “lay up” as “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20) — which we can take with us. That is why those who have hope of becoming like Jesus purify themselves “as He is pure,” because only the parts of ourselves that look like Him will endure.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. … And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:8-10, 13)

Even some of the good things we have now — like knowledge, certain gifts, and prophecy — eventually won’t be relevant in their current form because they will be superseded “when that which is perfect has come.” Our understanding of these things now is limited and child-like, and will be replaced by something deeper (1 Cor. 13:11-12).

This is not the case with love. Love transfers to the next world. It is not put away and it never fails. That is because God is sharing His very nature with us, right now. It is a gift so great that it doesn’t need to be replaced with something better. Indeed, it cannot be.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. … If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. …

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:7, 12, 16-17)

God has shared His love with us, and intends to perfect that aspect of Himself in us right now. He wants us to be “as He is” even while we are in the world. We started out talking about how important it is that we love all our brethren, and we see it again here in 1 John. Loving one another proves that we are born of God, and it is a prerequisite for God dwelling in us. In fact, John tells us that if we don’t learn to love our brethren, we cannot claim to love God (1 John 4:20-21). It is vital to understand this, dear readers, because if we don’t have God’s love in us we are missing the greatest attribute designed to carry over into God’s kingdom. If we don’t have love, will there even be any point in God having us there?

God’s Love Story — PDF online

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. - Ephesians 5:31-32The final version of what I’m going to call an “e-booklet” is now online. You can download “God’s Love Story” and read a chapter outline at this link.

Here are a couple excerpts. This first is from the introduction.

One reason we gravitate towards tales of heroism, rescue, and love is that there is a basic need in our souls for a relationship with God and His Son. Stories where the handsome prince rides up and rescues the fair princess speak to our longing to know the Prince of Peace, Who laid His life down to rescue His bride from captivity to sin. Jesus Christ is the most powerful, most loving, and most perfect hero-lover to ever exist, far surpassing even the most ambitious human attempts to fashion a story’s hero. The Bible is a living, dynamic book that includes instruction, history, prophecy, and a revelation of the plan of God which reads like a story. My personal theory as to why the Bible reads like a story is because our idea of what makes a good story comes from the sequential narrative God uses to reveal His plan.

This paragraph is from a discussion in Chapter 5 about the Greek words translated “love.”

While agape is a higher kind of love, I think there is something amazing in recognizing that it is not the only love God has towards us. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that after His resurrection, “ye shall ask in My name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved Me, and have believed that I came out from God.” (Joh. 16:26-27). The Father has phileo for those who have phileo for His son. This means the Father Himself has common interests and friendship with those who love and believe in His Son. In this context, it is certainly not a lesser love than agape. Philos is an incredible kind of love to share with the creator of the universe.

I hope those of you who choose to download and read the full e-booklet find it edifying and encouraging. I would love to hear your feedback.