2016-02-06 - An Act of Will
Originally Published 1997-05-15
What Wondrous Love is This
What wondrous love is this, oh my soul, oh my soul,
Notice that the songwriter, does not ask a question. It is not "What wondrous love is this?" It is an exclamation of the wondrous quality of the love. This verse is sometimes heard in a very plaintiff, minor key, which is very haunting and beautiful indeed, but can leave the listener with a question, rather than a declaration.
The English language is not always very accurate. In this particular area it is somewhat lacking. In the Greek language, there are five distinct words for love, three that are commonly used:
First, there is eros, or erotic love. It is physical or sexual love. And while some call it base, a taking rather than giving concept, or think of physical love in a negative context, it was created by God. It has a place in marriage. And in that place, it can be a giving thing too.
Then there is phileo, which references Philadelphia, or brotherly love. This is where the root for "The City of Brotherly Love", Philadelphia, derives its name. I have dear friends who I think, and even refer to as brother or sister. In that it is an act of my will, but it is based in emotion too. These people fill a need in my life. Even if it is the faithful ability to get in my face when I blow it and correct me, they fill a need that I recognize. It is a love between friends and family.
Finally, there is agape, which is a love that is described best in 1 Corinthians 13. It is a love that gives, with no regard for reciprocation, or return. It is an act of will. It is a decision to love someone, even if they walk way in anger, even if they attack or do harm. It is the love that Jesus asked Peter twice, "Peter, do you agape me?" A much more humble Peter could only answer, "Lord, I phileo You." Peter had learned his limitations and answered honestly. Can we agape as human beings? Certainly not on an continual, ongoing basis. It is the standard Jesus held out for us, making it the goal.
I John 4:18-19 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.
Parental love is close to this goal. Children are added to the family by the Lord and the bond that is formed between parent and child is unexpectedly powerful. The desire that is typically generated within a parent to protect and nurture a child is a love that tolerates the many abuses of childhood, and the teen years. Do parents punish children who disobey? If they want them to learn right from wrong, they must correct them. Does God reprimand his children? He has promised to do so for our good. So, what is the punishment referred to in this verse? When a child playing in the living room breaks a favored vase or lamp, does the child fear? Perhaps that they will be corrected, even scolded or punished, yes. But, they never fear that they never fear being told they are no longer the son or daughter of the parent. Just as Jesus will never send us away.
John 10:27-28 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
Not even our own misdeeds, or declarations can wiggle us out of the loving hand of God. Like Jonah, we may run and hide from our duties, or attempt to hide from God. David tells in Psalm 139 that there is nowhere we can hide from God, even if we were to make our bed in Sheol. As parents, of course, we are not perfect and do make mistakes even in handling our love for our children. It is an imperfect picture of this agape, but close.
Rom 8:1-4 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
As an ultimate manifestation of this agape love, Jesus came to earth and lived a perfect, sinless life. He became the perfect Passover sacrificial Lamb of God for all mankind. It was planned from before the beginning of time (Rev 13:8). It could not be derailed though the enemy of our souls did everything he could to keep Jesus from reaching Golgotha and being raised on the cross. In being obedient to the Father, Jesus completed the plan to satisfy the requirement of the Law. That requirement was absolute perfection. Something we fallen people have no ability to do. Paul reminds us that all our righteousness is as 'filthy rags' or menstrual cloths, which make reference to uncleanness in the ceremonial law.
That means that our best efforts are an affront to the Lord. So Jesus fulfilled the Law. In doing so, He gives us His perfect, sinless life in exchange for the ruined tatters of our own lives. This act makes us righteous before the Father. Jesus will hold us accountable to Himself one day for our rewards, but never for our salvation. He will never tell us we are not His children. His patience, correction and love toward us are perfect. And, as we grow in Him, that love is manifested in our lives.
John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
God did not wait for us to be good enough to pour His love out on us. We were dead, unable to do anything for ourselves, in our transgressions against His perfect law, God did for us what we could not do. We were idolaters, liars, thieves, sexually immoral, drug users, angry, proud, hurtful creatures. The wages of sin, transgressing the Law, is death, and we were dead. Jesus showed us perfect love and exchanged places with us. He rose on the third day, the first of many brothers.
Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The church has been described as brothers, children, and a bride. These are all very intimate, powerful references. If someone thinks God is cold and aloof, or distant; if someone says God doesn't care, show them the love that Christ showed you and see if it doesn't make a difference. In some cases, it will require an act of will to love this person. They can be unlovable, but so were we. This is the nature of agape.
AGAPE - [ah GAH pay]-- a Greek word for love used often in the New Testament <John 13:35; 1 Cor. 13; 1 John 4:7-18>. Contrary to popular understanding, the significance of agape is not that it is an unconditional love, but that it is primarily a love of the will rather than the emotions. The New Testament never speaks of God loving unbelieving human beings with emotional love or a love which expects something in return. But He loves with His will-- with agapao <John 3:16; Rom. 5:8>. The reason for this is that God can find nothing enjoyable about a sinner on whom His wrath still abides. So He loves by His will; it is His nature to love. Also see LOVE, LOVE FEAST.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ©1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
Lord, You have presented the standard for the love we are to have for others, all others. No matter who they are, no matter what they do or say, You died for them and love them. Fill us with the patience and love to care for these people as an act of will, submitting to Your will. Amen.
Grace & Peace,
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.