Behave Like a Christian: Philia and Agape

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore

 “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
 If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
 For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

—Romans 12:9-21

This is the second part of my continuing series about the message contained within Romans 12:9–21, often labeled “Behave Like a Christian.” Last week, we looked at how to love without hypocrisy. This week, we will be looking at brotherly love, or philia and unconditional love, or agape, two of the four ancient Greek words for love. The others are storge (familial love) and eros (sensual, passionate, romantic love).

The New Testament discusses the universal principle of philia in several of its books. One of those passages is Romans 12:10-13 (the underlined verses above). Philia, or brotherly love, conveys the kind of love expressed towards other people as a fellow-human, our neighbors. Brotherly affection can mean the cozy feeling of belongingness. As a gay man, I have often found this belongingness in LGBTQ+ gatherings. I can be very socially awkward around people I do not know, but even the social awkwardness cannot take away the feeling of being among people like me in these settings. I grew up knowing few, if any, LGBTQ+ individuals, so when we gather together, it presents a calm atmosphere of serenity like kinship or friendship.

In the Biblical context, philia is a love seeking the best interest of all men, women, and children and counting them as more significant than oneself. Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” God loves the flawed and sinful, which we all are. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We make sacrifices in our lives, ask for forgiveness, and do good deeds in an effort to atone for our sins and be of service to God. We know this because we know of the love God gave to us. In 1 John 4:19, John writes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” We can only love because we are loved. God shows us the way. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Love is not about that we have loved God but that He loved us. Our ability to show love is due to the love He has shown us. 

When asked, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The parable tells of a traveler who is stripped, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First, a Jewish priest and then a Levite passed by, but both avoided the man. Finally, a Samaritan happened upon the traveler. Although Samaritans and Jews despised each other, the Samaritan helped the injured man. The conclusion is that the neighbor figure in the parable is the one who showed mercy to the injured fellow man—that is, the Samaritan. Jesus shows that brotherly love is to be shown to all men and women who need help. Everyone needs assistance from time to time, and we are commanded to help in anyway we can. Paul wrote in Hebrews 13:1, “Let brotherly love continue.” In Romans 12:10, we are commanded to  “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”

Romans 12:11-13 describes who we should show brotherly love. We cannot take a pause or delay our diligence. This means we have to show love at all times. Hate is the enemy of God, and it is one of our greatest sins. We may not like someone, but we should never genuinely hate. This is one of the hardest things to do, but we must love with a fervent, zealous, and passionate spirit. This is the way we need to show we are serving the Lord. We have to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and continue steadfastly in prayer. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” If we rejoice in hope, then we are strengthening our faith. 

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” A friend isn’t afraid to tell us the truth and doesn’t worry about offending us when we are wrong because Proverbs 27:6 tells us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” The most brotherly thing we can do for a friend is to be honest and tell them the truth when they are wrong so we can all grow and learn something. Insincere flattery gets us nowhere, which is why Solomon wrote in Proverbs 28:23, “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” for it is far better to “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” (Psalm 141:5). 

In 1 John 4, John uses the Greek word “agape” (as a noun) or as a verb “agapaō,” and this is the highest level of all loves mentioned in the Bible. It is much higher than brotherly love. It is the same love that Jesus showed on the cross and spoke of that God loved the world so much that “He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The word used for love is “agapaō,” and it is a love that someone has where they are willing to die not only for our loved ones but also for those who hate them and are unworthy. John understood this love because he was there with Jesus during His earthly ministry and observed Him dying on the cross. This must have been what John was thinking about when he wrote in 1 John 4:7-10:

Beloved, let us love (agapaō) one another, for love (agape) is of God; and everyone who loves (agapaō) is born of God and knows God. He who does not love (agapaō) does not know God, for God is love (agape). In this the love (agape) of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love (agape), not that we loved (agapaō) God, but that He loved (agapaō) us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Here we see that God loved us first. God made the first move, and so we should love our fellow humans in a self-sacrificing way, and even if it costs us, we must love.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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