In the previous video of this series titled “Saving Humanity, Part 5: Can we Blame God for our Pain, Misery, and Suffering?” I said that we would begin our study concerning the salvation of humanity by going back to the beginning and working forward from there. That beginning was, to my mind, Genesis 3:15, which is the first prophecy in the Bible concerning human lineages or seeds that would war with each other throughout time until the seed or offspring of the woman finally vanquishes the serpent and its seed.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 New International Version)
However, I now realize I wasn’t going back far enough. To truly understand all things relating to the salvation of humanity, we have to go back to the very beginning of time, the creation of the universe.
The Bible states at Genesis 1:1 that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The question one hardly ever hears anyone ask is: Why?
Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Everything you and I do, we do for a reason. Whether we are talking about minor things like brushing our teeth and combing our hair, or large decisions like whether to start a family or buy a house, whatever we do, we do for a reason. Something motivates us. If we cannot understand what motivated God to create all things including the human race, we will almost surely end up drawing wrong conclusions whenever we try to explain God’s interactions with humanity. But it is not just God’s motivations we need to examine, but our own as well. If we read an account in Scripture that tells us of God destroying a mass of humanity, such as the angel that killed 186,000 Assyrian soldiers who were invading the land of Israel, or wiping out almost all humans in the Flood, we might judge him as cruel and vengeful. But are we rushing to judgment without giving God a chance to explain himself? Are we being motivated by a sincere desire to know the truth, or are we looking to justify a course of life that in no way relies on the existence of God? Judging another adversely can make us feel better about ourselves, but is that righteous?
A righteous judge listens to all the facts before passing judgment. We need to understand not merely what happened, but why it happened, and when we get to the “why?”, we get to motive. So, let’s start with that.
Students of the Bible can tell you that God is love, because he reveals that to us at 1 John 4:8, in one of the last Bible books written, at the close of the first century. You might wonder why God didn’t tell us that in the first Bible book written, some 1600 years before John penned his letter. Why wait till the end to reveal that important aspect of His personality? In fact, from the creation of Adam down to the arrival of Christ, there seems to have been no recorded instance where Jehovah God tells humankind that “He is love”.
I have a theory as to why our heavenly Father waited until the end of the inspired writings to reveal this key aspect of his nature. In short, we were not ready for it. Even to this day, I have seen serious Bible students question God’s love, indicating that they don’t fully grasp what His love is. They think that being loving is equivalent to being nice. To them, love means never having to say you’re sorry, because if you’re loving, you’ll never do anything to offend anyone. It also seems to mean, for some, that anything goes in the name of God, and that we can believe whatever we want because we “love” others and they “love” us.
That is not love.
There are four words in Greek that can be translated as “love” into our language and three of these four words appear in the Bible. We speak of falling in love and making love and here we’re speaking about sexual or passionate love. In Greek, that word is erōs from which we get the word “erotic”. That is obviously not the word used of God at 1 John 4:8. Next we have storgē, which refers mainly to family love, the love of a Father for a son, or a daughter for her mother. The third Greek word for love is philia which refers to the love between friends. This is a word of affection, and we think of it in terms of specific individuals being the special objects of our personal affection and attention.
These three words hardly occur in the Christian Scriptures. In fact, erōs doesn’t occur at all in the Bible anywhere. Yet in classical Greek literature, these three words for love, erōs, storgē, and philia abound though none of them are expansive enough to embrace the height, the width, and the depth of Christian love. Paul puts it this way:
Then you, being rooted and grounded in love, will have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19 Berean Study Bible)
You see, a Christian must imitate Jesus Christ, who is the perfect image of his Father, Jehovah God, as these Scriptures point out:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colosians 1:15 English Standard Version)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word… (Hebrews1:3 Berean Study Bible)
Since God is love, it follows that Jesus is love, which means we should strive to be love. How do we accomplish that and what can we learn from the process about the nature of God’s love?
To answer that question, we need to look to the fourth Greek word for love: agapē. This word is virtually non-existent in classical Greek literature, yet it far outnumbers the other three Greek words for love within the Christian Scriptures, occurring over 120 times as a noun and over 130 times as a verb.
Why did Jesus seize on this rarely used Greek word, agapē, to express the most superlative of all Christian qualities? Why is this the word John used when he wrote, “God is love” (ho Theos agapē estin)?
The reason can best be explained by examining Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew chapter 5:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love (agapēseis) your neighbor and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love (agapate) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love (agapēsēte) those who love (agapōntas) you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48 Berean Study Bible)
It is not natural for us to feel affection for our enemies, for people who hate us and would love to see us vanish off the face of the earth. The love of which Jesus speaks here does not spring from the heart, but from the mind. It is a product of one’s will. This is not to say there is no emotion behind this love, but emotion does not drive it. This is a controlled love, directed by a mind trained to act with knowledge and wisdom always seeking the advantage of the other, as Paul says:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3,4 Berean Study Bible)
To define agapē in one brief phrase, “It is the love that always seeks the highest benefit for the loved one.” We are to love our enemies, not by supporting them in their misguided course of action, but by striving to find ways to turn them from that bad course. This means that agapē often moves us to do what is good for another despite themselves. They might even view our actions as hateful and treacherous, though in the fullness of time good will win out.
For instance, before leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, I spoke to a number of my close friends about the truths I had learned. This upset them. They believed I was a traitor to my faith and my God Jehovah. They expressed the feeling that I was trying to hurt them by undermining their faith. As I warned them of the danger they were in, and the fact that they were missing out on a real chance at the salvation being offered to the Children of God, their animosity grew. Eventually, in compliance with the rules of the Governing Body, they obediently cut me off. My friends were obliged to shun me, which they did in compliance with JW indoctrination, thinking they were acting out of love, though Jesus made it clear that we as Christians are still to love anyone we perceive (falsely or otherwise) as an enemy. Of course, they are taught to think that by shunning me, they could bring me back to the JW fold. They couldn’t see that their actions really amount to emotional blackmail. Instead, they were sadly convinced that they were acting out of love.
This brings us to an important point we must consider regarding agapē. The word itself is not imbued with some innate moral quality. In other words, agapē is not a good kind of love, nor a bad kind of love. It is just love. What makes it good or bad is its direction. To demonstrate what I mean, consider this verse:
“…for Demas, because he loved (agapēsas) this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:10 New International Version)
This translates the verb form of agapē, which is agapaó, “to love”. Demas left Paul for a reason. His mind reasoned him that he could only get what he wanted from the world by abandoning Paul. His love was for himself. It was incoming, not outgoing; for self, not for others, not for Paul, nor for the Christ in this instance. If our agapē is directed inward; if it is selfish, then it will ultimately result in harm to ourselves in the end, even if there’s a short-term benefit. If our agapē is selfless, directed outward toward others, then it will benefit both them and us, because we don’t act out of self-interest, but instead, put the needs of others first. This is why Jesus told us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 Berean Study Bible)
In Greek, the word for “perfect” here is teleios, which doesn’t mean sinless, but complete. To reach the completeness of the Christian character, we must love both our friends and our enemies, just as Jesus taught us at Matthew 5:43-48. We must seek what is good for us, not just for some, not just for those who can return the favor, so to speak.
As this study in our Saving Humanity series continues, we will examine some of Jehovah God’s dealings with humans which may appear anything but loving. For example, how could the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah be a loving action? How could turning Lot’s wife to a pillar of salt, be seen as an act of love? If we are truly seeking truth and not just looking for an excuse to dismiss the Bible as myth, then we need to understand what it means to say that God is agapē, love.
We will attempt to do that as this series of videos progresses, but we can make a good start by looking to ourselves. The Bible teaches that humans were originally made in the image of God, just like Jesus was.
Since God is love, we have the innate capacity to love as he does. Paul commented on that at Romans 2:14 and 15 when he said,
“Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” (Romans 2:14, 15 New Living Translation)
If we can fully understand how agapē love occurs innately (in ourselves by our being made in God’s image) that would go a long way to understand Jehovah God. Would it not?
To start with, we have to realize that while we have an inborn capacity for godly love as human beings, it does not come to us automatically because we are born as children of Adam and have inherited the genetics for selfish love. Indeed, until we become children of God, we are children of Adam and as such, our concern is for ourselves. “Me…me…me,” is the refrain of the young child and indeed often the grown adult. In order to develop the perfection or completeness of agapē, we need something outside of ourselves. We cannot do it alone. We are like a vessel capable of holding some substance, but it is the substance we hold which will determine whether we are honorable vessels, or dishonorable ones.
Paul shows this at 2 Corinthians 4:7:
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:7, New Living Translation)
What I’m saying is that for us to be truly perfect in love as our heavenly Father is perfect in love, we mere humans need God’s spirit. Paul told the Galatians:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, 23 Berean Literal Bible)
I used to think that these nine qualities were the fruits of the holy spirit, but Paul speaks of the fruit (singular) of the spirit. The Bible says that God is love, but it doesn’t say that God is joy or God is peace. Based on the context, the Passion Bible translation renders these verses this way:
But the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit within you is divine love in all its varied expressions:
joy that overflows,
peace that subdues,
patience that endures,
kindness in action,
a life full of virtue,
faith that prevails,
gentleness of heart, and
strength of spirit.
Never set the law above these qualities, for they are meant to be limitless…
All of these remaining eight qualities are facets or expressions of love. The holy spirit will produce in the Christian, Godly Love. That is agapē love directed outwardly, to benefit others.
So, the fruit of the spirit is Love,
Joy (love that is jubilant)
Peace (love that is calming)
Patience (love that endures, never gives up)
Kindness (love that is considerate and merciful)
Goodness (love at rest, the inner quality of love in the character of the person)
Faithfulness (love that looks for and believes in the goodness of others)
Gentleness (love that is measured, always just the right amount, the right touch)
Self-control (Love that dominates every action. This is the kingly quality of love, because a person in power must know how to exercise control so as to do no harm.)
Jehovah God’s infinite nature means that his love in all these facets or expressions is also infinite. As we begin to examine his dealings with humans and angels alike, we will learn how his love explains all the parts of the Bible that seem to be incongruous to us at first glance, and in doing so, we will learn how to better cultivate our own fruit of the spirit. Understanding God’s love and how it always works for the ultimate (that is the key word, ultimate) benefit of every willing individual will help us to comprehend every difficult passage of Scripture which we’ll examine in the next videos in this series.
Thank you for your time and for your continuing support of this work.