It’s Valentine’s Day 2018, and love is in the air. As the couples enjoy their chocolates, cards and dinner dates, let’s also remember the kind of biblical love that should fill the life of each follower of Christ.
Here is a passage of the Bible that teaches several different ways that love takes shape in the Christian life. It’s from Romans 12, a section of the Scripture teaching the transformation of life by the renewing of the mind. It’s a word to the Christian community. From it we can learn three ways to love…
“ Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
This short portion of Scripture is loaded with teaching about love. Several Greek concepts for love are at work.
In English we basically have one word for love that we use in many different ways. I can say to you, “I love my wife. I love peanut M&M’s. I love surfing.” Now when I say that, I hope that you know that I do not love Peanut M&M’s nearly as much as I love my wife. There are very different forms of love taking place there.
On the other hand, the Greek language had a whole assortment of words for love. They are very rich in meaning. It just so happens that several of them are used in this passage. This passage is like an “everything bagel.” It’s a varied compilation of the different kinds of love.
Let’s look at how the different Greek words are used and what we can learn from them. Here are three ways to love.
1. Be authentic with agape.
“ Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
The Greek form of love in verse 9 is agape. Agape is self-giving, sacrificial love. You are willing to give yourself and make sacrifices to serve and bless someone else. You are unconditionally devoted to their greatest good. Agape love is willing to serve, to help, to defend, and to support, even at great personal expense.
We are to practice that kind of love in a genuine way. It’s to be real. The Greek says literally, “let love be without hypocrisy.” A loving person does not wear masks. They are true, sincere and up front.
But let’s be honest… This kind of sacrificial love can be HARD.
I am reminded of how a local pastor and friend signs off every email he writes. His name is Pastor Tom, and he concludes each message with the phrase, “Learning to love.” I appreciate both the humility and the desire that expresses. We all consider ourselves by default to be loving people. But as we look to the pages of Scripture, and as we see the grace and sacrifice that love requires, we might think again. We need to learn how to love. Let’s be honest about it.
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is be honest with someone else about your own struggle to love. Don’t try to come off as a perfect person, more virtuous than you really are. Don’t wear masks. Don’t fake things. Be honest with people. Let love be genuine. It just may be that as you’re real with your struggle, they will be relieved and helped all the more that you’re the same as them.
2. Be familial with phileo.
“ Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Phileo is a Greek word that speaks of natural warmth and affection. It’s the kind of affinity you can have not only with people, but toward a faithful dog, or your favorite sweater, or a place a patch of woods you grew up in during the days of your youth.
That first sentence in verse 10 is a two for one combo package. There are two words rooted in phileo that have to do with family. There is philastorge, which is understood as the warmth parents have toward children. There is also philadelphia, which is the affection siblings have for one another.
We have a special bond as Christians. On the one hand, it’s sacred. When we worship together, it’s as though we are before the throne of God. But this language requires that there be informality in our love for one another. We are family with natural warmth and joy toward one another.
This meme I saw on Facebook pictures it well…
I think snorting with laughter should be a regular experience in the family of Christ. Love in the church is to have some informality to it. Go ahead and crack each other up. Enjoy being together. That’s love!
3. Be bold with philoxenia.
“ Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
See that word, “hospitality”? It’s “philoxenia.” The root meaning is love for strangers. In recent months, politicians have been using the language of “xenophobia,” the fear of people who are foreign. This is the exact opposite. This means have a warm love and regard for strangers, for people foreign to you.
Christians need love people from a wide variety of backgrounds. That was critical back among the believers of 1st Century Rome. There were blue-color, working-class Jews from a strict, conservative, monotheistic background. Many others were coming fresh out of the pagan temples of Bacchus, Aphrodite, and Zeus. They were so diverse. They were so different. Yet they were called to love one another, not only with the sacrificial love of “agape,” but with the warmth of “philadelphia.”
We 21st Century Californians are also to love in this way. We followers of Christ are to have warmth toward people who are different from us. The church will always be diverse. The church is always bringing new people in. And they need to be received warmly and welcomed with love.
Seek to show hospitality and love to different kinds of people. If you see strangers, run after them. Pursue them. Go after those newcomers. It’s so much easier to run after the people we know and love already. That’s so much more comfortable and easy for most people. Have some boldness. It’s another indispensable aspect of love!
God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Let’s pour that love out on others. Happy Valentine’s Day!