This is a post from a forum about 2.5 years ago. Now my family and I actually live here in Omaha, and we attend the church I mention below.
While I’ve been apart from my wife and kids, sent TDY by the Air Force to learn an exciting new aspect of management in my career, I have been attending a great church in Omaha, NE. The Friday night young adult group is particularly special to me, because from the first time I visited, they exemplified a welcoming loving community.Tonight, the speaker shared about love. I am trying to jot most of it down from memory, so of course some of it is lost. It is long, but I found it to be a very good message, and I hope others do too.
More specifically, he shared about relationships and how we show love in the relationship (anything from “I love pizza” to “I love my good friend” to “I love my wife” to “I love God”). He went to Plato and Aristotle, and then of course to the Bible, discussing concepts of “love” and how it works in our relationships. Naturally, there was discussion of the various Greek words, agape, phileo, eros.
Aristotle broke down “phileo” into three categories of “friendship.” There’s the friendship of utility; this is what we see in business. When you have something I want and I have something you want, we have to interact in order to make a deal, and generally we will do so in a polite way, treating each other nicely, being “friendly.” But this friendliness is more like that of an acquaintance. When I walk out the door, I really don’t think about that person any more. They don’t think about me either. Our business is done; we both got what we needed from each other.
The next step up was something like “friendship because we share a common interest.” Some people will go out and drink together, and they have a bond while they do that. People who share the same hobby may get together to pursue that. While they are together doing whatever it is that interests them, they have that friendship. It’s a bit closer than mere acquaintances. Maybe it’s a workout partner, or a member of a band, whatever. The key is, when the association stops, so does the friendship… kind of like how far too many of us probably are when we walk out of the church building.
Then Aristotle says there’s the friendship of character. I appreciate your character, I get along with you, we think alike, I enjoy your company, we have a good time together. We may be the best of friends… so long as neither of us change too greatly. When that happens, people often drift apart. Whatever held us together no longer does so. In the most extreme cases, you can think of common excuses for divorce. “He’s not the man I married.” “I don’t feel for her like I used to.”
The key point is that all of thisphileo– all of this “friendly” or “brotherly” love — is still focused on “I” and “me.” What do I get out of this relationship? What do you do for me? Are my needs being met?
Even among Christians, the two answers to what is the most important expectation in a relationship are honesty and reciprocity. In other words, a lot of how we relate with whomever we relate to has to do with “give and take.” Put another way, “I will give in the relationship so long as I get something from the relationship.”
The unspoken but obvious end to such relationships is that at some point, I will NOT love you if you ________ (fill in the blank). All too often, if we’re honest with ourselves, there is some line, some situation where I will no longer love you… because I no longer get what I want out of the relationship.
If that is any part of how we view our relationships with others, if we find ourselves looking at people’s value in terms of what they do for us, then we will sooner or later be willing to cut them off when they don’t meet our expectations.
When you boil it down, all those different versions of phileo seem a lot like eros. He didn’t mean just the “erotic” form of love, but the passion, the lust, the desire for something, the yearning to possess or control something. The “Oh, I’ve got to have that” sort of “love” we might feel. When you see that all those other relationships, the friendships mentioned above, are so easily based on me getting what I want from you, then you can see how deep down, it’s all about what I want and what I feel I must have.
It’s almost like we’re consuming ourselves, trying to find our satisfaction. “I like you because you think like me, you get my jokes, you make me laugh, you talk with me about what I’m interested in.” Basically, that’s saying I like me, and I see enough of me in you that we can get along for now. Don’t go changing on me.
It’s so refreshingly different when we see people who care about us or who love us without any sort of expectation, without looking for anything in return. People for whom the relationship is not “give and take” but simply “give.” People who die to themselves a bit and exemplify Christ.
This is, of course, how God related and relates to us. He doesn’t cause the sun to shine on the good people, or the rain to fall to nourish the righteous. He doesn’t extend His grace only to those who earn it or who qualify. He qualifies and accepts the “whosoever.”
We were also singing a song with a chorus about how we can give God “my everything, all of my incompletes, the worst and the best of me.” The worship leader had invited someone to church, and the man’s response was, “Oh, I can’t go. I’d have to hide my sin.” Somewhere along the line, his picture of God got skewed to look like how we treat each other all too often. Somewhere along the line, he learned that he can’t be honest with God, and he can’t give God what God wants in order to earn His love.
That is a horrible shame, when we know that God’s way of loving qualifies and accepts and restores and welcomes all who come to Him. I’m very grateful to God for the sense that I do comprehend a little bit of just how deep and how far-reaching and how amazing His love and grace and mercy are. I do know that He loves me, all of me, and that I can come boldly to Him, just as I am, without trying to present myself a certain way in the hopes of being accepted.
But this challenges me to wonder about what kind of picture people get of God’s love through my relationships with them, especially those I deem difficult to love. It is all too easy to be forgiven an incredible debt myself, to be treated in terms of grace… and then turn around and treat others based on what benefit they are to me.
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…”
So who are we “dying” for?