John 13:35 (NKJV):
By this, all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
I’m sure we’ve all heard that love is the distinguishing mark of Christianity, yet why does it seem so elusive? There are plenty of scriptures that encourage us to love, to grow in love, or to exemplify love (Hebrews 13:1, Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, 2 Peter 1:7-8, and of course 1 Corinthians 13). Yeshua himself states in Matthew 22:36-40 that the sum and substance of the Law and the Prophets (in other words, the entire Old Testament!) is to love YHWH with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.
We know from John 8:39-44 that, without (and before) being born again, we are not sons and daughters of YHWH, but rather sons and daughters of our illegitimate “father” the devil. And he, being the father of lies and incapable of love, did not teach us how to love, but rather how to lust.
Upon being born again and receiving the Holy Spirit, we are equipped with the tools to learn how to love, but like any other spiritual discipline, love must be practiced. We must also discern between the different kinds of love. There are three kinds most Christians are familiar with, along with a mysterious fourth kind I might propose.
The most familiar kind of love, and often the kind we think we have an easy handle on, is eros, the erotic type of love between physical lovers (i.e., man and wife). This type of love is also the type most easily perverted by the devil and turned into lust, and indeed a great deception of our time is the notion that human sexuality is “natural” and that it is “healthy” to explore it and have as much casual sex as one desires. This is not supported in the scriptures, as sex involves soul ties, spiritual unions and “two flesh becoming one” – not something to be done casually. Sexual addictions are often extremely damaging to the people that suffer from them. And as Yeshua taught in the Sermon on the Mount, looking lustfully can be just as spiritually damaging as fully engaging in the act – I can attest to the truth of this having been in bondage to a pornography addiction, which, among other things, corrupts one into viewing the opposite sex as objects and makes it difficult to treat them with true love.
The second type of love familiar to most Christians is phileo love, the kind of love demonstrated between very close friends (such as David and Johnathan). Service in the military is a great place to learn phileo love, as you learn to be willing to sacrifice your own life in preference for the lives of your battle brothers and sisters. Phileo love promotes harmony and unity, as described in Philippians 2:1-4.
The third type of love, exemplified in 1 Corinthians 13, is agapē love – a determined kind of love, a kind of love that says “I am going to love this person unconditionally, no matter the circumstance.” The scripture speaks for itself on this point, so I don’t think I need to elaborate on it much.
The fourth and somewhat mysterious kind of love is called sorgé love, and it is the Father’s love. Yeshua carried the power of sorgé love when he was on the Earth, and imparted sorgé love to heal and to cast out demons and to perform other miracles.
Just as Yeshua said the world would know his disciples by the love they shared for each other, he taught people can be known by their fruits. Because, if you’ll permit the word, real Christianity is about a living and loving relationship with the Creator of the universe, mediated by His Son through His Spirit, the fruit people bear in relationships with other people speak about the fruit of their relationship with the Father and vice versa. 1 John 4:20 attests to this principle.
How do we actually go about demonstrating our love for God? Read and reflect on the book of 1 John – but the sum and substance is, His love abides in us, is perfected in us, and we demonstrate our love for Him if we keep His commandments.
Of course, like anything, intellectual understanding only profits so much. Indeed, re-scripting the mind according to the scriptures and meditating on Biblical examples of love is a necessary first step towards becoming a loving person. But it can’t merely be an intellectual exercise; love must be put into practice. The mind thinks loving thoughts, the mouth confesses loving expressions, and the heart begins to swell with compassion and the same love Yeshua carried on earth.