Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Two-Sided Coin Of Biblical Love

While there are other Greek words for "love," two stand out as forms of love that Christians must practice. One is agape/agapao and the other is philia/philadelphia/phileo (just highlighting the noun and verb construction). Like all word studies, it can get technical, and one can dig about as far as they would like into etymology, uses, shades of meaning, etc. Basically, for this discussion, it's enough for us to note the two-sided coin of biblical love.

One side is primarily a love of the mind. Agape/agapao is that love. It is a love of choice, of will, of intention. By exercising this love, one can love even when he/she doesn't "feel" like it. For this reason some have thought of agape/agapao as a "higher" kind of love. I'm not sure that is entirely true, but there is something about this kind of love that overrides and overcomes the limitations of other forms of love. This is the love that can be commanded, as Jesus did to his disciples. This is the love by which one positively engages his enemies for their good, despite the fact the enemies may be trying to destroy the person doing the loving.

The other side of the coin is the philia/philadelphia/phileo love. This love is close kinship, bonded friendship, emotional connection. It is the inclusion of the emotions that makes this love so very different from the first, and gives it the potential for limitations that are often hard to overcome. Emotions may cause us to hurt, to fear, to experience hatred, sadness, depression, and more. Emotions are often negative, not just positive, but when they are positive, they are among the strongest experiences of human life.

The problem is that we're very much like the proverbial coin. Flip a coin, let it bounce on the ground and it will come to rest with one side or the other up. The other side will be down. Human love is the same. Life flips us up, we tumble a bit, bounce around, and if we manage love at all, it is often one or the other. We struggle to balance the two kinds of love.

It is important that we love people by simply choosing to do so. At times, it is vital to exercise our will and love people despite the circumstances, the behaviors, the words, and more. This is the love that keeps marriage secure. Every husband and wife has awakened to the reality that the thrill of youthful emotion was left somewhere in the past, at least on any given day. It doesn't mean it can't be rekindled, or that those high emotions are necessarily lost forever. It means what married partners understand. Sometimes, you have to choose to love, for one or the other has lost their grip on the emotional bonds. Choosing to love is what moves us past our emotional limits. Deciding to love enables us to engage people who irritate our prejudices and our morals, and who aggravate and insult us.

It is also important for people to thrill to the highly emotional love of friendship and brotherhood. This is the love that ties us with bonds stronger than decisions or even will. When we are emotionally bonded to others, we are capable of loving with a strength, an energy, and a vitality that can shame the love of mind and will. This is the love that endures, reaches across distances and time, and links the hearts of people. Little wonder that the New Testament urges both kinds of love, for both are important to the life of God's people.

As I write this, I am forced to think of the people who fit the categories that require one kind of love or another from me. There are people who demand agape/agapao from me, for the only emotions that connect me to them are negative, not positive. Still, God would have me love even an enemy, do good to them, help them, and never do harm. That's a tall order for me when I put specific names to the test. But, there is another group, far larger, thankfully, for whom I have no trouble loving at all. These people fit the philia/philadelphia/phileo kind of love, and for me, it is exciting, positive, down-right good to love and be loved by those people.

Real discipleship takes both kind. Do not be afraid to love, with either side of the coin. Each calls for different abilities and produce different actions, but together they involve the two most important elements of a person's inner life: the head and the heart. People who love solely by the head often miss out on the sweetest experiences of all. People who live solely by the heart, also miss out on some wonderfully powerful experiences. Love with both your head and your heart.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts On Unity

Just about the time I think I've got the time to write for this blog, I prove that I don't. No more claims about being back on the blogging scene. I'll write when I have time.

I've been thinking some about unity. After all, those of us whose religious heritage rises from the American Restoration Movement have been immersed in thoughts, talk, and behaviors relating to unity. We are (were) a unity movement. At least we were a unity movement in the beginning. Somewhere along the way, unity began to slip away from us. Doctrine came to be more important. Differences and distinctions in doctrine began to identify how dislike we were from others. We narrowed our doctrinal focus. Our movement woke up one day and we were standing over here, with everybody else scattered over there, and the only way to solve anything was if all those other folks moved toward us. OK, I have greatly over-simplified some really complex issues, but you get the idea.

As many others have noted, the American Restoration Movement has produced numerous divisions, and every one of them over some point of doctrine. It appears to me that the effort to unify on the basis of common doctrine has limited possibility. It's not that doctrine is unimportant. It's that unity based on doctrine demands more than human beings seem to be able to manage. Unless, of course, everyone is willing to see everything my way, for that would solve all the problems.

I was reading from the book of Ephesians, chapter four and first few verses. Here's what it says:
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Eph 4:1-3 (NASB)

Here's what struck me. It is definitely a passage calling us to unity, but it is not a passage that sounds like a call to rally around the doctrine flag. Instead, it's a passage that calls for a response of the heart: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love. You could call each of those doctrine, for they are surely taught in scripture, but they aren't the issues that normally carry the doctrine flag. These are heart issues, attitudes, the building blocks of emotional bonds. Here are the tools of unity.

If we would step back for a moment and think about the people with whom we feel the closest, most secure unity, I think we would immediately recognize those building blocks. I am unified with people with whom I share a mutual humility. Let one of us become haughty and overbearing and unity begins to fade. I am most unified with people with whom I am gentle and who are gentle with me. Let one of us become harsh and mean-spirited and unity begins to ebb. I am most unified with people with whom I am patient, and who are patient with me. Let one of us disallow the other our shortcomings and misunderstandings, or our lack of insight or effort, and unity dims. I am most unified with people with whom I am tolerant, and who tolerate me. Let one of us become irritated beyond reason and unity weakens. I am most unified with people I love and who love me. Love enables us to put up with a lot, and unity requires that ability. Lose love and unity is a dead hope.

Perhaps we've got it backwards. The approach of the past has been to demand doctrinal uniformity before unity could exist. Maybe we need to unify on the basis of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love, and then it would be easier for us to resolve our doctrinal differences. I know this: I can have more worthwhile and productive discussions about doctrine with people with whom I enjoy a mutual spirit of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love. Get rid of any one of those elements, and you've upped the difficulty of even talking about doctrinal differences. Get rid of two or more, and unity is impossible and so is doctrinal agreement.

As the Psalmist would say, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1).