“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you,” John 13:34
Love One Another – Jesus is an Old Testament expositor. When He describes the action that sets His followers apart from all others, He refers to a “renewed” old commandment. You will find the foundation in Leviticus 19:2: “Love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself.” Of course, God’s idea of neighbor is not quite the same as our idea. We like to redefine the Hebrew word ahav in terms of the Greek phileo. That makes it easy to love our neighbors because that allows us to love the ones who are like us. But this will never do. If God’s display of ahav is the standard, then ahav cannot be about loving those like us. God loved us while we hated Him. God’s love is the perfect display of ahav (agape) because it is all about enemies.
The Bible amplifies this theme, just in case we thought we could overlook it. Proverbs 25:21 tells us what ahav looks like in action. If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he’s thirsty, give him something to drink. If his animal is in trouble, help. (Exodus 23:4). Jesus says the same thing (surprise, surprise) when He describes love toward those who are hungry, thirsty, naked or abused. Until we treat our enemy with the same regard as we take care of ourselves, we have not understood or practiced ahav. All of this is built into the torah. That means that the love commanded by God is not natural to human beings. Yes, you might be a humanitarian. You might care for those in need. But to offer your enemy shelter, sustenance, good-will and rescue finds no basis in normal human emotions or actions. The only basis for this kind of love is God Himself. I am to apply the effort that I exert to care for myself to those who oppose me. This is the Golden Rule in its widest application. From a biblical perspective, it is impossible to love God (ahav) and hate your enemies. Ahav compels action on behalf of the other, particularly if the other opposes you.
Marriage is the practice field for the application of ahav. Of course, marriages include all three Hebrew words for love. In the Song, we find dodh, meaning the beloved, the lover, the sensual soul mate (compare Proverbs 17:18 and Ezekiel 16:8). This word comes closest to eros, but in the biblical view, it has boundaries that protect it from possessive lust. In the Song we also find ra’yah. In fact, this word is only found in the Song. It is translated “darling” or “lover.” It is more than phileo although it contains the idea of common bond. It is not eros because it rests on giving my self away, not taking to enhance myself. Finally, there is ahav, the most frequent and deepest word used to describe love of God and love in marriage. A marriage without ahav is but a shadow of the true intention. Yet the actions of ahav seem to be absent from most marriages. What are these actions? First and foremost, ahav is unbroken faithfulness. Ahav is covenant love. That means it is a commitment to the benefit of the other over a lifetime. It is unwavering regardless of the actions of the other. It is trustworthy, earning its status in consistent goodwill. Ahav does not regard its own needs or desires ahead of the needs and desires of the beloved, but at the same time, ahav holds up the highest standard for the beloved and does everything necessary to bring the beloved into full enjoyment of that standard. Ahav sets its eyes on God’s character – and acts accordingly.
Paul understood the Hebrew context of love. His classic definition in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is really a description of the character of God. Paul’s poetry is the positive rendition of the Ten Words that God revealed from Horeb. Both passages describe who God is and ultimately, God is love.
We have a lot to learn. Fortunately, God has equipped us with the ability to learn how ahav affects our relationships. But it will not happen by reading these words. Words can only confront our misunderstandings. Now we must put this renewed commandment into action for the learning is in the doing. If you want ahav to empower your life, you must become the agent of ahav where you live today. You can do it because God will provide the ability for you to release His Spirit in your efforts. God will thrust you into circumstances where the opportunity for ahav action interrupts your well-planned existence. You must take that opportunity. All God can do is arrange it. But as soon as you embrace it, the Spirit is there to rush reinforcements to your aid. Combat never felt so good.
Topical Index: Love