Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday's Essay - Two Loves

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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Later this week, we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day, and depending how you look at it, it’s either the perfect time to express deep and heart-felt emotions or a total scam cooked up by the Hallmark-American Greeting cartel. Of course, to stay out of trouble and to avoid any potential tears and/or thrown objects, it would be wise to make sure your significant other shares your opinion before affirming the second option.

Image result for valentine dayBut regardless of what you think or how you feel, I think we’d all agree that February 14 has something to do with love, either the love felt for another or the love experienced when your flower sales increase. But what we might not understand is that, according to those who wrote the New Testament, there are two very different kinds of love. Now this was something we talked about during a worship service a couple of weeks ago. You see, there are two different Greeks words used that can be translated love. There’s φίλος, a word that refers to something a person might feel, in other words, an emotional kind of love. And that’s why it’s the found in the English word “philosophy;” that literally means “love of knowledge” and in the name Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love.” Now that’s one kind of love, and I’ll tell you, it’s the one we generally associate with Valentine’s Day. You see, when the Greeks used the word φίλος, they were talking about a feeling, an emotion. And it’s this kind of love that’s going to motivate me to get some flowers and a card for my dear wife, if that is I don’t win the Valentine’s Day basket we’re raffling off at the church. Φίλος lies behind the heart-shaped box of candy.

Image result for love your neighbor
But you know, that’s not the only Greek word used in the New Testament to indicate love. In fact, when Jesus said, “you will love your neighbor as yourself,” he didn’t use φίλος. Instead he used the Greek word ἀγάπη. And to understand the meaning behind this word, just listen to how Paul used it in his first letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Now that’s the other kind of love; in fact, it’s the kind that Christians are called to show to God and to their neighbors and to one another. And what separates this kind of love from the other is that ἀγάπη really isn’t a matter of the heart. Instead it’s all about the mind and the will. You see, this kind of love is a decision. We decide to love, which means we can decide to love people that we just don’t like, because ἀγάπη love isn’t about our feelings, rather it’s about both our attitudes and our actions. I mean, we don’t have to be friends for me to be patient and kind with you, in other words, to treat you in a loving way. And if φίλος may be reflected in the box or the bouquet, we find ἀγάπη in the act of giving. It’s in the kindness and consideration we show others. And it’s demonstrated by a desire to help rather than to hurt. That’s ἀγάπη.

And I was just wondering what would happen if we incorporated a little more ἀγάπη into our celebration of Valentine’s Day. I mean, without purging any of the emotions, suppose on February 14, we made an intentional decision and effort to be more loving to everybody, even folks we don’t particularly like. I mean, just imagine what might happen if we made the decision that we’re going to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we’re going to do it by treating them like we want to be treated. And think about the impact we might have if we chose to do some things that we’re really able to do, you know, like being patient and kind and not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. Somehow I think our immediate world would become a much better and happier place, maybe even the kind of place we’d like to share with those for whom we feel affection. And if this attitude spread, my goodness, conceivably it could change the entire world.

And so, later this week, we can still buy the candy and the card and the flowers for those we love. But let’s not forget that for Christ, the most important kind of love is shown, not felt. And then, let’s decide to show as much love as we can to those around us.

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