Thursday, January 29, 2009

Love & Like: Agape & Philos

In a comment to a post at Cyberstones, Loneliness Met and Overcome, an anonymous commentator asked:

This is probably a stupid question, but does God really LIKE us. I know He loves us, but does He really enjoy us as you say? As you say, like a mother coos and ahhs over a baby?

This is a wonderful question. The answer is YES. But God’s Yeses and Amens are always found in Christ Jesus.

To understand this more fully, it is helpful to examine the difference between Love and Like: Agape and Philos. There is a genuine difference. The Scriptures teach us concerning both, and explain the difference.

After the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, after He had fulfilled all righteousness by His suffering, death, and burial, after Peter had denied Jesus with cursing, the time was both right and necessary for the distinction between Agape and Philos to be made clear to Peter. In John 21:15-19 it is recorded.

     So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
     He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
     He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
     Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Most people, reading from the English translations, do not realize that both agape and philos are used in this conversation. Moreover, the two are powerfully contrasted to one another, even though they are connected.

In this conversation which is actually more than a conversation, the Lord Jesus confronts Peter with what is lacking in Peter so as to fill him up with what was needed both for Simon, the struggling sinner/saint, and for Peter, the apostle of the Lord.

With the first two questions the Lord Jesus asks Simon, son of Jonas, whether he has agape toward Jesus. Both times he responded saying Yes, but qualifying it as philos. With the third question the Lord Jesus asked Simon, son of Jonas, whether he had philos toward Him. With this question Simon, son of Jonas, was crushed. Weeping he cried out that he did have philos.

But the Lord Jesus did not stop with this. Three times in response to the philos of Simon, son of Jonas, Jesus gave command to Peter, the apostle, regarding what agape would work in him and through Him. Jesus extends this with the assurance of verses 18-19, where He foretells just how far this agape will carry him.

Apparently Peter still struggled with what was explained to him as verse 20-21 says, “Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?” Then in verse 22, “Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”

Peter was still thinking philos. The Lord Jesus redirected him to agape.

St. John, in referring to himself in this part of his Gospel account, referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus agaped. The others saw philos, but John records agape.

The fact is that both are correct. Jesus did display philos toward John, and the rest of the disciples as well, but John rightly demonstrates that this recognition of the Lord’s philos can only rightly be known in connection with His agape.

Agape is of God. He IS agape. God has agape for all the world, so that He sent His only begotten Son into the world so that through Him the world might be saved. This agape has been declared from eternity and all the world has been redeemed in this agape through the atoning sacrifice of Christ crucified. This agape is poured into those who are baptized into Christ Jesus with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God’s agape dwells in the person and rules over the person, converting that person and making a saint of that person. It is in connection with this washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit and the restoration to God’s Holy Communion of agape that we also experience His philos.

Yes, God truly has philos toward those whom He has sanctified. For in Christ, we are made to be truly likable again. In Christ, all that is unlovely is taken away. In Christ the image of God is restored to us and He truly likes us according to the new Adam living in us. Yes, God is pleased with His saints. He speaks of this in many places. And His saints respond with His agape and then also with their own philos.

Agape is of God. As we walk in His agape we show His agape. We show agape because of what God has worked and continues to work in us. But we also show philos because of what we feel towards God as His beloved children. Agape is God at work. Philos is our emotional response to His agape and also to His philos. For God does show us His philos as well.

This is shown by the observations of those who commented on the philos of Jesus concerning Lazarus in John 11:3 & 36, and on John’s reference to himself in John 20:2. But in Revelation 3:19 Jesus Himself declares His philos toward those whom He rebukes and chastens/disciplines.

This is especially pertinent in connection with the anonymous commentator’s further question:

Let me explain what I mean by, "does God really LIKE us". There is a difference between like and love. For instance, I know my dad loved us and he was a great provider, although I don't think he really LIKED being around us much. Of course we know that our Lord loves us and died for us. But does he really think we are smart, funny and like us as you say? I guess I have been taught more to fear God and not upset Him.

Jesus says that those whom He likes he also rebukes and chastens.

The Lord Jesus also teaches us to begin our prayers, saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”

Luther’s explanation of this is truly and marvelously in keeping with what God declares concerning the communion that He calls us into.

God would thereby [with this little introduction] tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.

Does God like us? Does God like you?

Ask yourself whether or not you have been baptized. Ask yourself whether or not God’s promises are true. Ask yourself whether or not you are truly in God’s Holy Communion and not a false communion where His Supper is mimicked but not actually partaken.

If indeed you are truly a disciple of Christ, as He says in John 8:31-32, John 13:34-35, and John 15:8, truly God likes you. After all, who does not like perfection? He has made His saints to be perfect in connection with His Son. God truly likes what He makes of His children. He truly likes those whom He has converted from sinners to saints. God is truly pleased with the works that He works in and through His children.

This is not because of the choices that we make for ourselves or the works that we seek to do by our own strength. No, those are corrupt and rotting choices and works. Even we don’t like them when we examine them honestly. But what God makes of us and works in us and through us truly pleases Him, even as when we catch glimpses of it we, too, are pleased. And yes, we do see these things as St. John writes, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1 John 3:14) Yes, God works His love in us so that we look to one another with that same love, and thereby we are pleased with one another and like one another, too. And God likes what He sees being worked in us, too. He draws near to us and shows us that He both loves and likes us.

This is why it is necessary that we mark and avoid false brethren and false communions. For how can we know God’s love and pleasure toward us when we mingle with what He has declared that He hates and dislikes? No, His good pleasure is ours to observe when we abide in His words and love as He has said.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this post. I have been thinking about it all day. I truly appreciate your help.

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Ah, I do pray that it is of benefit. Isn't it amazing how broad and long and deep and high the love of God is to us in Christ (Eph. 3) and how it completely fills us and supplies us with all that we need?

God's peace to you in Christ Jesus.