Jesus of Nazareth has become historically famous for being a teacher who taught about love as well as lived a life which epitomized this quality. Most sincere Bible students and genuine disciples of the Nazarene are aware that the word Jesus used was agape. That word-group appears 75 times in the Gospel records.
We are interested in what the word "love" (agape) means. Who should be the object of our Nazarene love? How should we apply this love According to Jesus.
Love (or, agape) is generally defined as interest or concern for something or someone manifest in some Action. Two texts define love without Actually using the word: "Let everyone seek, not personal advantage, but what is advantageous to others." (1 Corinthians 10:24) "Concentrate, not on self, but consider the interests of everyone else." (Philippians 2:4) With this in mind, renowned Greek scholar William Barclay simplified the idea of agape: "Seek the highest good of another."
There is both a positive and negative love depending on the motive and the object of the love. For example, the Nazarene described the Pharisees as "lovers of money." (Luke 16:14) One may also wrongly love "darkness." (John 3:19) These two types of love -- selfish and selfless -- are illustrated in two parables. In the parable of the Good Samaritan the one who loves his neighbor does so without any selfish agenda. (Luke 10:33ff) In the parable of the shrewd servant the one who shows love by changing the amount of the debts does so for personal reasons. (Luke 16:1ff)
Jesus taught five different categories of persons who should be loved.
God. When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, his answer is to love God with the entire heart, soul, strength and mind. (Matthew 22:37) Such love of God would prove that to you God has become everything in your life.(1 Corinthians 15:28) This love would manifest itself in worship, praise, and obedience.
Jesus. The Nazarene taught, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15) This love for the Nazarene would manifest then in obedience to the over 60 commandments Jesus gave.
Friends. Jesus taught that love of friends was manifest in willingness to sacrifice one’s life. Jesus taught: "No one has greater love than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends." (John 15:14 NWT) How did one of the Nazarene’s disciples understand this? John wrote: "By this we came to know love because [the Son of God] surrender his soul for us; and so we are obligated to surrender our own souls for our brothers." (1 John 3:16 NWT) According to John this is done by sharing worldly means with a brother in need. If such tender affection is lacking then there is no love of God existing in such a selfish person. Nor will such a person ever benefit from the love of God.
Sinners. Jesus made it clear the way to spiritual perfection was to imitate God’s giving nature. Jesus taught: "There is no credit with God if you love only friends and not sinners." These sinners would include enemies, the unrighteous, the wicked, and the ungrateful. (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-36)
Neighbors and strangers. When Jesus answered the question regarding the greatest commandment, he continued with another commandment: "You must love your neighbor as yourself." He was challenged on this by a self-righteous rabbi, "Who is my neighbor?" The Nazarene’s answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan. If we relate this parable in a modern context it might go:
"[One of Jehovah’s Witnesses] was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He fell into the hands of bandits who stripped off his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead. It so happens that [an Elder of Jehovah’s Witnesses] was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. A [JW deacon] also came on the scene, and when he saw him he too passed by on the other wide. But then [a Catholic priest] came along to the place where the man was lying, and at the sight of him he was touched with pity. He went Across to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring an oil and wine. Ten he put him on his own mule, brought him to a [hotel] and did what he could for him. Next day he took out two silver coins [about $100 US] and gave them to the innkeeper with the words: ‘Look after him, will you? I will pay you back whatever more you spend, when I come through here on my return.’"
According to the teachings of the Nazarene how is this love of others manifest or applied?
1. Life. The Nazarene taught that a truly loving friend would be willing to give his life for his friends. This was the greatest manifestation of love. "No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends." (John 15:13) The Nazarene’s beloved disciple understood this to mean, not just literally dying for a friend, but sacrificing life-style if needed to give in charity. He writes: "We know and to some extent realize the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brother in want but shuts his eyes -- and his heart -- how could anyone believe that the love God lives in him? My children, let us love not merely in theory or in words -- let us love in sincerity and in practice!" (1 John 3:16-18 PME)
2. Charity. The Nazarene taught that his disciple should be willing to give to anyone who asked. "Give to the one asking you, and do not turn away from one that wants to borrow from you [without interest]." (Matthew 5:42) "Therefore, if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?" (Matthew 7:11) "You received free, give free. Do not procure gold or silver or copper for your girdle purses." (Matthew 10:8, 9) "If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come be my follower." (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21) "Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask [them] back." (Luke 6:30) "Sell the things belonging to you and give gifts of mercy. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, a never-failing treasure in the heavens, where a thief does not get near nor moth consumes." (Luke 12:33)
3. Prayer. The Nazarene taught his disciples to pray for enemies and persecutors. "Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you." (Matthew 5:44) Jesus did this while hanging from the executioners tree: "Father forgive them." The first martyr Stephen does the same: "Lord, do not charge this sin against them." (Acts 7:60)
4. Doing good. The Nazarene taught his disciples should do good to others, not only friends, but also enemies. Examples of doing good to another are seen in the parable of the Good Samaritan and that of the Sheep and Goats. In both illustrations the good that is done are examples of humanitarian kindness. (Matthew 25:40-46)
5. Lend without hope of restitution. The Nazarene taught no disciple was to give money to others expecting a return. "To the contrary, continue to love your enemies and to do good and to lend [without interest], not hoping for anything back." (Luke 6:35) "Give to the one asking you, and do not turn away from one that wants to borrow from you [without interest]." (Matthew 5:42)
6. Lend without interest. The Nazarene taught his disciples should never extracts interest from loans, including giving to enemies. "Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask [them] back. ... And if you love those loving you, of what credit is it to you? For even the sinners love those loving them. And if you do good to those doing good to you, really of what credit is it to you? Even the sinners do the same. Also, if you lend [without interest] to those from whom you hope to receive, of what credit is it to you? Even sinners lend [without interest] to sinners that they may get back as much. To the contrary, continue to love your enemies and to do good and to lend [without interest], not hoping for anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind toward the unthankful and wicked. Continue becoming merciful [in your charity], just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:30-36)
7. Give to all asking. The Nazarene taught his disciples should give to any who ask, including the unrighteous, the wicked, and the ungrateful. "Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask [them] back." (Luke 6:30) "And if a person wants to go to court with you and get possession of your inner garment, let your outer garment also go to him." (Matthew 5:40)
8. Do to others as you would have it done to you. The Nazarene taught the Golden Rule: do positive Acts of kindness to others as you would want done to yourself. "Also, just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them." (Luke 6:31) If you were hungry, thirsty, cold, without shelter, a stranger -- how would you like to be treated? Then go and do that to others.
9. Bless and greet. The Nazarene taught his disciples to be friendly and greet all. "And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? You must Accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:47, 48)
10. Non-resistance. "However, I say to you: Do not resist him that is wicked; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him. And if a person wants to go to court with you and get possession of your inner garment, let your outer garment also go to him; and if someone under authority impresses you into service for a mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one asking you, and do not turn away from one that wants to borrow from you [without interest]." (Matthew 5:39, 41, 42)
Thus, anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ will be manifest by his kind charity to both friends, strangers and enemies.
If a Nazarene disciple is aware of a brother in need it is vital that love and kindness be shown to such. This may take a variety of forms: drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothing to the ill-clad, a hospitable welcome to strangers, care in sickness, visits in prison.
"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I became hungry and you gave me something to eat; I got thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you received me hospitably; naked, and you clothed me. I fell sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous ones will answer him with the words, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and receive you hospitably, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to you?' And in reply the king will say to them, 'Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
The most religious person, zealously involved in his church, who refuses to care for widows and orphans or other fellow Christians, is practicing a religion which is useless and in vain. "If any man seems to himself to be a very religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man's type of religion is futile. The type of religion that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world." (James 1:26, 27 NCMM) "If a brother or a sister is in a naked state and lacking the food sufficient for the day, yet a certain one of you says to them: "Go in peace, keep warm and well fed," but you do not give them the necessities for [their] body, of what benefit is it? Thus, too, faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself." (James 2:15-17 NWT)
"But whoever has this world's means for supporting life and beholds his brother having need and yet shuts the door of his tender compassions upon him, in what way does the love of God remain in him? Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 2:15-17 NWT)
A close review of the teachings of the Nazarene on this subject of love shows Jesus has first in mind the use of one’s money or property in the charitable aid of those less fortunate. Religion or reverent devotions are useless if empty of genuine and regular charity to others. Indeed a major part of Christian "worship" is the care of others. We all have the choice of love in our dealings with others even in desperate situations. Consider: "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number. But they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way." (Victor Frankl (1905-1997), Psychiatrist and writer)
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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