The Romance Of Passover

Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.

In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).

This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).

Covenants and Romance

So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrash on Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).

Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea: Read more

The Bridegroom’s Pledge

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.

Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.

A Promise To Come Back

The Bridegroom's Pledge |
Photo by Brooke Cagle on StockSnap

The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).

In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.

A Gift For The Bride

When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost. Read more

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 that 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.

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [agape] me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection [phileo] for you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I have affection for you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you have affection for me?”

Peter was grieved because he asked him the third time, “Do you have affection for me?” He said to him, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I have affection for you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

John 21:15-17, WEB

The few times I’ve heard people address this passage, they usually say Jesus was asking Peter to reach for a higher form of love and Peter just wasn’t getting it. They think Peter couldn’t measure up to agape, so he used a lesser word to describe his love. But Peter’s the guy who stepped out of a boat and started walking across the water to get to Jesus (Matt. 14:26-29). He doesn’t hold himself back. And just a few days before this conversation he’d denied even knowing Jesus, so I imagine he’s anxious to show that he really does love Him.

I don’t think Peter saw phileo as a lesser form of love. I think he was trying to say, “Yes, of course I love you with agape. But even more than that I’m your friend – we share common interests and I care about you.” And that’s why he was so sad when Jesus used the word phileo when he asked the third time, “Do you love me?” Because it must have seemed like Jesus was asking, “Do you really care about me, Peter?”

A Closer Look At Philos

The difference between these two kinds of love isn’t as simple as just saying agape is godly love and phileo is friendly love. Both words are used of God’s love for people and of our love for God. There’s quite a bit of overlap in how they’re used, but we can still make a few general observations.

Agape doesn’t always involve emotion, although it can, but it always means being interested in the ultimate good of the ones you love. It’s the word used to describe the kind of love that prompted God to sacrifice His own son for the entire world, and which He commands us to show toward our enemies (John 3:16; Luke 6:27). God doesn’t tell us we have to have warm fuzzy feelings for our enemies, but He does want us to care about what happens to them and hope for a good outcome in much the same way He wants everyone to “choose life” (Deut. 30:19; 2 Pet. 3:9).

Phileo tends to be more specific than agape, since you only feel it for those you share goals and interests with. In fact, it’s often translated “friend” instead of love.” This word always involves affection and emotion. Jesus uses phileo when He talks about how He and the Father work together (John 5:20). Paul uses it to talk about the relationship between believers who have a common interest in following God (Tit. 3:15). But the thing about phileo that’s really amazing happens when it’s used of a relationship between God and a human being.

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

Friends of God

There are a few specific people who the Bible identifies as personal friends of God. Jesus had friends when he lived on this earth, such as Lazarus and John (John 11:11; 20:2). There were also people in the Old Testament who were friends with God. James tells us that Abraham was called God’s friend after “he offered Isaac his son on the altar” (James 2:23). At that point, Abraham had faithfully demonstrated for years that his interests were in line with God’s plan. That type of shared interests is part of phileo, the friendship love.

Abraham is not the only person in the Old Testament 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 also called David “a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). As these people’s interests lined up with God’s and they moved in the direction He 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’re now offered with God the Father and with Jesus Christ.

God’s Conditional Love

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

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:13 WEB). In this verse, “friends” is translated from phileo. Because phileo involves sharing common interests with the people you love, this particular love that Jesus offers is conditional upon us keeping His commandments (unlike agape, which is often, though not always, framed as unconditional).

God is going to have a certain amount of agape for you whether you keep His commandments or not. In other words, He has a love for all people that wants the best for them and hopes that they will choose to follow Him and enter a relationship so that our shared love can increase and become more affectionate and intimate. If you want God to be your friend and to enjoy a deeper level of love and connection with Him, then you have to share His interests. You need to be in covenant with Him (in that way, love is very similar to grace). God’s invitation to have a deeper relationship with Him through covenant isn’t something we’re supposed to think of as a strict/unkind “do this or I won’t love you” ultimatum. Rather, it’s about developing a real relationship based on shared interests, character traits, and goals.

God’s commands (and the whole Bible, really) are a guide-book for developing His character. They reveal the things that He cares deeply about and if we want to be His friends, then we need to care about those things as well. And that’s why it’s so important to develop a regular Bible study practice–so we can keep getting to know who God is and what He wants and how we can become like Him.

Developing God’s Interests

Shared interests and goals are an essential part of the type of love described by phileo. When we’re thinking about that in the context of developing a friendship with God, it means that we’re literally becoming the type of person that Jesus Christ is.

As our Teacher, Jesus is the template we pattern ourselves after. In a Hebrew mindset, someone who is following a teacher, or Rabbi, isn’t just there to learn what the teacher knows. Their goal is to become the type of person that teacher is. And this should also be our goal as we seek friendship with God. The more we become like Him in how we think, act, and speak, the closer we are to being full-grown Christians who’ve attained “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13 (WEB).

Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.

John 13:34-35, WeB

Just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior.

1 Peter 1:15, WEB

These verses are just a couple examples of how we grow to become like Christ. Loving others the exact same way Jesus loves us will show everyone that we’re really His students. And Peter reminds us that we’re called to become holy the same way that God is holy. In fact, the more we become like God, the closer a relationship we’ll have with Him. And the closer a relationship we have with Him, the more we’ll become like God. It’s a lovely cycle of increasing intimacy, commonality, and affection.

God’s Friendship Love For Us

Another part of developing God’s mindset and becoming friends with Him is having a proper perspective on who the Father and Son really are and how They both feel about us. This is actually one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. It’s Jesus speaking to His disciples on His last Passover. He says,

“In that day you will ask in my name; and I don’t say to you, that I will pray to the Father for you, for the Father himself loves [phileo] you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came from God.”

John 16:26-27, WEB

In John’s Passover account, Jesus uses philos to describe how He feels about His disciples several times. But this is the only place where it’s used of how God the Father feels for us. By using the word phileo in this passage instead of agape, Christ is telling us that God feels affection for us and He has shared interests with us on the condition that we love and believe in Jesus.

With these words, Jesus assures His disciples and us today that the Father personally listens to our prayers because of His friendly, affectionate love for us and because of our belief on His Son Jesus. If you can honestly say you love Jesus and believe that He’s the son of God, then God Himself wants to be your friend. God is agape and He has a baseline level of that kind of love for every person in the world (John 3:16-17). God’s phileo, on the other hand, is reserved for those He’s in relationship with–the ones who share His interests, believe in His word, and enter a covenant with Him.

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

Our Friendship With God

As I mentioned earlier, agape is used much more frequently than phileo, so there aren’t as many verses we can look at to keep expanding on this topic. But we do have a few that give us a glimpse into how God feels about us as part of His family.

“As many as I love, I reprove and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.”

Revelation 2:19-20, WEB

Now, I know that part about reproving and chastening doesn’t sound very affectionate but it’s part of us being in God’s family. If He didn’t care about us, He would just let us go off and do our own thing and reap the consequences. That’s not in His nature, though. He wants to see us choose good things because He has agape love for us. And once we start to choose Him, then His affection drives Him to build an ever deepening relationship with us. We get to experience His agape more deeply and we get to share phileo with Him as we draw closer to Him by entering covenant with Him and keeping His commandments.

Because this is a relationship, the friendship love has to go both ways. We’re supposed to reflect affection right back at God the Father and Jesus Christ. And even though people will tell you that agape is more important than phileo as a type of love, it turns out that having this kind of love for our Creator is not optional.

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.

1 Corinthians 16:22, KJV

The word anathema (G331) means something that is accursed or given up to destruction. Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates says it does not “denote punishment intended as discipline but being given over or devoted to divine condemnation.” Maran-atha (G3134) is an Aramaic word which literally means “our Lord has come.”

When you break this phrase down, it’s telling us that someone who does not love–and that is phileo–Jesus Christ will be judged at the Lord’s coming, and probably not in the way they were hoping. It could be translated, “If anyone does not affectionately love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be set aside for condemnation when the Lord returns.”

How To Become God’s Friends

We’ve covered quite a few verses about loving and being loved by God, so let’s start pulling it all together and answer the question implied by this blog post’s title: How do you become a friend of God? When you boil it down to the main points in the verses we looked at, it actually seems pretty simple:

  • What James writes about Abraham points out the importance of demonstrating your faith by how you live (James 2:21-22)
  • Jesus Himself said we need to keep His commandments if we want to be His friends (John 15:13)
  • Paul shared that it’s vitally important to love Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 16:22)
  • Jesus shared that His Father’s love is connected to our love for Him and belief in Jesus as the son of God (John 16:27)
  • Christ’s letter to Laodicea tells us it’s important to accept God’s correction and to let Him into relationship with you (Rev. 2:19-20)

And that’s pretty much it. That’s all you have to do if you want to befriend the creator of the universe. It looks simple in neat little bullet points, but I think we all know that when we start trying to put it into practice it’s not always that easy. The points about how to become God’s friends might be easier to grasp, though, when we think of our experiences making friends with other human beings. The same things that are important in healthy human friendships are important to a relationship with God.

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

And Now We Add Agape

Before we close, there is one more point I want to make. Let’s think back to when Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” I think Peter initially thought phileo was a better kind of love because of how much it involves emotions. But phileo is not complete on its own; it 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. In that regard, it’s very much like faith which keeps believing even though it can’t see exactly what’s going to happen next. And Peter did learn this lesson, for it’s in his epistle that we are told to add agape to our expressions of phileo for other people.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection (phileo); to brotherly affection, unselfish love (agape). For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately.

2 Peter 1:5-8, NET

We need to learn this lesson today just as much as Peter’s first readers did. Our love for God and our fellow believers needs an element of emotion and feeling–we’re supposed to be friends with them. Our love also needs to be stable and unconditional because we must act with love even when we don’t feel “in love.” Both types of love are needed to maintain a friendship with God.

Courage To Feel

I recently finished reading, and then immediately re-reading, Fill These Hearts by Christopher West. It’s a powerful rebuttal to the lie that Christianity is a joyless religion of laws and suppressed desires. West touches on many points regarding marriage and the plan of God that I hit in my book God’s Love Story, a subject you know is dear to my heart. I could probably write half a dozen posts inspired by Fill These Hearts (I already quoted from it in last week’s post), but here’s the part I want to focus on today:

Christianity is the religion of desire — the religion that redeems eros — and its saints are the ones who have had the courage to feel the abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open … all their desires for love and union to the Love and Union that alone can satisfy. … the saints have learned to open eros (their yearning for love) to Eros (God’s passionate love for them).” (p. 39)

Seeing God’s love described as Eros might make you a little uncomfortable at first (it had that effect on me). Eros is the Greek word for passionate or sexual love. This word doesn’t even appear in scripture, although erotic love is alluded to. The word we usually associate with God’s love — and rightly so — is agape. Read more

Love On Fire

Sometimes, Bible study ideas can come from an unexpected source. One of the speakers at our Feast of Tabernacles site last month was a man whose messages rarely catch my attention, but he gave an excellent sermonette about falling in “true love” with God.

Though the holy days for this year are several weeks in the past, these subjects are relevant year-round. Since the Feast, or Sukkot, pictures Christ’s millennial reign, it’s also connected with the marriage to His church, which takes place a little earlier. We will be living and reigning with Jesus as His bride, teaching and serving alongside Him (Rev. 20:4). But first, we have to get there.

Love On Fire |
photo credit: Indi Samarajiva, CC BY via Flickr

True Love

God is love. it’s not just something God has like a person can have feelings of happiness or a sense of humor. Love (and the word is agape) is God. All real love — that selfless seeking of another’s good because you care about them so much — is of God.

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. (1 John 4:16)

When we’re filled with love, we’re filled with God’s essential character. “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). The opposite is true as well: it’s impossible to love God or abide in Him while harboring an attitude of hate (1 John. 4:20).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. … If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:21, 23)

Love creates relationship with God. It’s also inseparably connected to commandment keeping — if we love God, we’ll live as He said to, thereby showing love for God. This results in a relationship Jesus described as “abiding in” Him and His Father, and Them in us.

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10)

Perfect love results in perfect unity — mutual indwelling like the Father and Jesus have together and want to share with us (John 17:21-23). God’s love is the only love that can build the kind of relationship that leads to eternity, and that’s why we have to keep sharing the same love we’re being given (John 13:34; 15:12).

Burning Love

We’ve spent quite a lot of time on this blog, and in my God’s Love Story ebook (which you can download free), talking about what God’s love is like. Our love for God and each other is supposed to be exactly like God’s love for us. It’s selfless, sacrificial love. it’s unabashed seeking of what is best for the beloved. It’s love shared between the best of friends. It’s the highest form of romantic love (non-sexual; we’re talking about agape, not eros).

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a flame of YAH. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised. (Song 8:6-7)

You might say these lovely verses from the Song of Songs are the Old Testament companion scripture to 1 Corinthians 13. Love is a fire fueled by YAH (which is a poetic form of YHWH usually hidden in English translations of this verse). Love like that can’t be put-out by anything the world throws at it, and it can’t be bought anymore than you can buy the holy spirit (Acts 8:18-21).

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). He walked with them incognito and “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” After they were allowed to recognize Him over dinner and He “vanished out of their sight” these disciples make an interesting observation (which I’m indebted to the aforementioned sermonette for connecting with the subject of God’s love).

And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”(Luke 24:32)

They recognized that “burning hearts” was a sign of Jesus being alongside them. When we’re abiding in Him and walking in obedience, we will be filled with the unquenchable love of God like a burning fire.

The Greek word translated “burn” in Luke 24 can refer to a literal flame, but there are several other places in scripture where it’s used to describe a condition inside people (G2545, kaio). John the baptist was described as “the burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). We’re told to be watchful servants and ordered, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning (Luke 12:35). Kaio is also the word used when Jesus talks about us letting our lights shine like a burning lamp in the world (Matt. 5:14-16).

Love On Fire |
photo credit: Ashton, CC BY-SA, via Flickr

We need to let our lights, fueled by God’s love, burn so they can be seen. As we walk in the love of God, keeping His commandments and abiding in Him, unquenchable love should flow out from us to our brethren and neighbors.

Updated “God’s Love Story” E-Book

In honor of the fall Holy Days season, which we kicked-off yesterday with Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets), I’m re-releasing an updated version of my “God’s Love Story” booklet. It’s now available in multiple e-book formats through Smashwords and Amazon (the book is free on Smashwords, but Amazon doesn’t have that option when you’re setting up a new e-book).Updated "God's Love Story" E-Book by Marissa Baker

Throughout history, God calls out to His people asking one simple question, “Do you love Me?” Christianity isn’t a boring “let’s go to church and sit in a pew for an hour” sort of religion. It’s a romance with the creator of the universe; a “fairy tale” staring the Prince of Peace, Who laid down His life to rescue His bride from captivity to sin.

Click here to download “God’s Love Story” for free on Smashwords