In this episode, we talk about love. Our opportunity to know God by faith is so remarkable the angels look at us to observe how we do it. And loving one another is a way to bear witness to the glory of God between one another. As we explore love, we will look at one significant difference between agape and phileo. The Bible implores us to continue in brotherly love, to be hospitable to strangers, and remember the prisoners as if chained with them. When we love, we proclaim the goodness of God to one another and to the world.
Agape and Phileo
I’ve been thinking about this agape and phileo some lately, and I’m starting to think that maybe the emphasis is a little different than what I’d thought in the past because the agape and phileo are used interchangeably some. They’re not really sort of really technically defined. I’m starting to think that maybe agape is transactional and phileo is relational.
And in both cases, we expect something back for us.
Now Paul says that this agape love in 1 Corinthians 13, that to do all these great things, like, even being a martyr is not beneficial without love because it’s not profitable.
There’s an immense profit to loving someone else who can’t pay you in return. Where does that profit come from? It comes from God. It comes now; it comes later. But it’s more transactional. You’re not building a relationship with someone that you’re investing in, and they’re not going to return anything but poking you in the eye for it. Which, you know, is a pretty frequent occurrence if you’re really going to live this way.
But there’s this phileo love where we serve with one another. And when we do things together in church, there ought to be a relational benefit that comes from that. We shouldn’t have to use this agape transactional love with each other. Really.
I shouldn’t have to say I’m going to love this prickly person, Andy, in spite of his being a jerk because I’m going to have rewards in heaven. I shouldn’t have to use up my agape love on Andy.
What I should be able to do is have interaction with Andy and actually get some benefit and say, man, I really enjoy working with Andy. He really ought to fill up my agape tank, when I work with Andy, and vice versa. Andy shouldn’t have to work with me and say, man, I’m glad I don’t have to do that again. You know, the less I have to talk to that guy the better. Because working together in a constructive way where we fill up each other’s tank, this is part of the way this works. This is part of life. We should not be a burden to one another.
What we want to do is when we meet together, when we interact together, when we work together, when we mission together, when we do activities together, we want to build each other up. We want to be the kind of person that other people like to see coming because they got some benefit from it.
You know all of us have different gifts. I just don’t have that Yogi-bear happy-golden-retriever personality. That’s just not me. I just don’t have that; that’s not in me. But there are other things I can do that are more my gifts and be constructive with it.
And all of us know how to be a jerk. We’re sort of born with that capability. We all have different ways to be jerks.
“Well, let brotherly love continue.” Now this is actually quite encouraging. We’ve been talking about this cosmic endeavor that we’re in, this massive engagement with angels and Jesus and the kingdom that’s to come. All this really high stuff: new Jerusalem, and God is standing there. You start feeling smaller and smaller and smaller. And you say, “How can I do this stuff? I’m not Abraham! I’m not Samson! I’m not Jesus! I’m not God come to earth! What am I supposed to do?”
Well, now he’s bringing it back to earth and saying, “This is what I want you to do. I want you to work with your fellow believers in such a way that they enjoy the interaction.” We can do that, can’t we?
That’s bringing it back to where we live. This is something I can do.
What to Do
And what the Bible is telling us here is when we are constructive with one another and we engage as teammates where we are doing life together constructively, we’re changing eternity. This is what God wants us to do to say, “That’s who I’m looking for for somebody to run the next world, somebody who’s a great teammate.”
“Let brotherly love continue.”
The second one is quite interesting. “Do not forget to entertain strangers.”
Hebrews 13:2 “—for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
It may be that you just never know when something amazing is going to come out of your just being constructive with people.
Look at 1 Peter 1:10. “Of this salvation—” This is Peter talking; this is his epistle. “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things which angels desire to look into.”
That’s interesting, isn’t it? So the angels are trying to understand this thing which we have been given to understand.
There’s a verse like this in Ephesians 3:8. “To me—” Paul here. “—who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
So the church is showing the manifold wisdom of God to the angels. It’s kind of an interesting thought because angels have been around a long time, they’re in the presence of God, they have full access to God, they’ve watched God all this time, God’s taught them, presumably; and yet they’re coming to look at us to understand God’s wisdom.
So there’s something really remarkable about the opportunity we have to know God by faith, to walk by faith and not by sight, to receive the grace of God, and to understand the majesty of his gift. And perhaps part of this “be hospitable even to strangers,” perhaps a part of that is that this is part of the angels coming to understand how amazing this is.
I’ll tell you the way I’ve taken this part of the verse is to share my stuff and to share my space.
We as Americans tend to have a pretty low tolerance for closeness in personal space. If you go to most other places in the world, if you travel around, one of the uncomfortable things is that people pretty much just hug you everywhere you go. They just stand right next to you. This whole idea of being a foot or two apart doesn’t set with them.
I was watching, one time, this little Toyota pickup, which are all over Africa. And this guy comes wheeling in. And he had guys that had hitched a ride with him in the bed of the pickup. And they were all standing up so they could get more in the back. And I counted as they got out.
Guess how many? 35! Five in the front and 30 in the back! They were in there like match sticks. Honest to goodness. They got there, and they, actually, couldn’t get out for some time because one guy had to kind of wiggle himself out, and get out. And that created enough space for three or four other guys around the edge to get out. Then finally there was enough space for everybody to get out. And, you know, to them, they got to ride instead of walk. It didn’t bother them.
Americans would never do something like that! There’s no telling how long they rode.
But, you know, I think what this is telling us is share your space.
One of the things we’ve done—we host people in our house. We’ve done it even before our kids left home. That’s just one thing we do. There are many other things you can do, and I know a lot of you do various things. But that’s one of the things we do.
So the third thing is (Hebrews 3:13) “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.” Well, at this point in time, they’ve got a church that is under persecution, and there are people being scattered throughout the whole world for their faith. There are people coming under fierce hostility for their faith. Paul ends up being martyred for his faith, as did every other disciple except John, who probably died in prison for his faith.
So, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—” When I saw this one—I’m really starting to grapple with these things—I really want to do this stuff. And I said, “God, how am I supposed to do this? We don’t have this in America.”
Well, we actually do. We actually have an increase in hostility towards Christianity that’s quite stunning. I’m actually on the board of a group called the Liberty Institute. And what they do is defend people who are under attack for their faith.
One of our recent cases is a school teacher, and he was holding the door open for his kids, and the last one in line came through, and he said, “The last shall be first.” And the student said, “Where does that come from?” He said, “It’s a Bible verse.” And the kid said, “Can you show it to me?” And he said, “Sure.” And he showed him the verse. The kid said, “I don’t have a Bible.” The teacher said, “You can have mine if you want to.” They fired him.
So there is increasingly an opportunity to practice this in America, tragically.
For me, though, just as I was looking at this, and I thought I was probably off the hook for this one, Bob Fu came to town and asked me to help with China Aid Association, which, of course, is speaking for the persecuted church in China.
And I took it as kind of a joke that God was having fun with me because what am I supposed to say? How can I do this? I want to participate, but I can’t; I’m off the hook. Then all the sudden Bob comes to town. And, so, obviously I took it as a sign and have been engaged with China Aid.
There are many other things you can do. There are all kinds of organizations involved with the persecuted church. The Voice of the Martyrs. And there’s opportunity to pray. There’s people that you can support that are engaged in these operation.
“But remember the prisoners as if chained with them” is a very vivid image. If you’re chained with someone, you’re experiencing what they experience, and you’re where they are.
So I think this is an admonition not to take for granted the benefits and freedoms that we have but to be diligent about sharing whatever prosperity we have. In this particular case, it’s the prosperity of freedom with those who are not so fortunate.
We Can Do All These Things
Now, just think about this list so far. These are things nobody can stand in your way of doing. There’s nobody that can stop you in any of these. There’s nothing in here about being a great preacher. There’s nothing in here about how many people come to Christ through your testimony. There’s nothing in here about witnessing door to door and getting a certain number of conversions. There’s nothing in here about giving enough money to where something is named after you. There’s nothing in here about being famous for your faith.
These are all living life on a daily basis in the sphere you’re in with the people you’re around in a constructive manner. Now isn’t that encouraging?
If we do that, we’re changing the world. If we do that, we’re changing eternity. If we do that, we’re qualifying ourselves to be kings and queens in the new administration, the better earth. If we do that, we’re serving a priestly function of showing Jesus’ way of constructive living to other people.
Be constructive with one another. Be constructive with people you don’t know. When someone’s persecuted, hurt with them.
I looked up a poem that you’ve all heard, I’m sure. This was a guy who was in Nazi Germany. He says in Germany they came first for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a protestant. Then they came for me. And by that time no one was left to speak up.
He was a prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor.
So, there are ramifications to our lives that go well beyond just our little sphere. I think we severely underestimate the impact and influence that we have. We tend to look at what the world says is great for our definition of whether what we do matters. But what the message here is that when we live life constructively, and when we speak up, and when we remember those who are persecuted, and when we do what we can in our sphere to stand for what’s true, then we’re following where Jesus wants us to follow.
We’re going to continue on with the list, but I can tell you in advance that we’re going to see things that are all things every one of us can endeavor to do. The next one we’ll talk about is marriage, having a constructive marriage is something that changes the world.
So we have a better priest with a better sacrifice and a better covenant, one that is written on our heart. By living that covenant in and around the sphere we actually have then we’re doing what God has asked us to do. We have a better king with a better administration for a better world. We qualify ourselves for that inheritance when we take the law that is written on our heart and actually employ it with the relationships we have with fellow believers, strangers, coworkers, spouses, family members.
And all of this takes place because we have this word that God has given us mixed with faith. If we hear and don’t do, then we’re missing the opportunity.