I really do believe that there is quite a difference between “loving” somebody and being “in love with” someone. Now, I know, some of you out there are, no doubt, rolling your eyes and thinking to yourselves, “Here we go again — the goofy ole wordsmith wants to engage us all in another battle of semantics!” But, hey, give me a sec… I could really be on to something here. Don’t you think there is a difference between the command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NASB), and the command to, “love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, NASB). No? Well, consider this: If you and I had been captured by the Romans and found guilty of actually being Christians — assuming their was enough evidence to convict us — and we were about to be thrown into the coliseum with a band of hungry lions, don’t you think your love for me in that moment might merit a little different ranking in your heart than your love for the guards who were about to shove us through the arena door? Or, more likely, you’ld be thinking about how really mad at me you are for getting us into all of this — yikes! Okay, bad illustration — never mind!
But, seriously, without launching into a big, long, word study of all the different Greek terms for “love” — you’re welcome — how hard is it to grasp the concept that love truly does exist within our hearts and minds in a variety of different modes and at any number of varying levels of intensity? There is agape (love) — the kind we can have even for our enemies if we’re willing to care enough about them that we seek their best interest — and there is phileo or philia (brotherly love) — that speaks of that fondness or kind affection that we have for people who are dear to us. There is storge (familial love) — the kind of natural affection we have for our children, our siblings, and other family members — and there is eros (romantic love) — the sexual attraction God intended to exist between a man and a woman. And this is only the tip of the iceberg — talk about fifty shades of “grey,” how about a thousand shades of “love”? Anyway, I think most people, if not all, are inherently aware of these facts. After all, I may love my mailman — as a friend, as a neighbor, as a precious soul for whom Christ died — but you would probably raise an eyebrow if I said that I am “in love with” my mailman; unless you knew that my mailman was actually the women to whom I was married; or even my son, or my daughter, or granddaughter, or SOMEone intimately connected with me.
I remember how that, when I first found out that we were going to have a baby — some umpteen years ago — I felt an instant love in my heart for that tiny little being that I knew was growing and developing within the womb. I don’t know exactly what all shades of love it really was, but I know it was real. So real, in fact, that I would have given my life in a heartbeat for that little being who I wouldn’t even get to see for another seven or eight months down the road. But, things changed even more dramatically when the little guy actually arrived and I held him in my arms for the first time. What had once been “love,” suddenly became a “love affair” that continues to flourish to this very day. Getting to see him, getting to hold him, getting to know him, moved my heart from “having love for” this little being to actually being “in love with” my little guy — (now a big guy). And just when I didn’t think I could ever love anyone else like that, along came a second little guy; and this whole “love affair” thing started all over again. I stand convicted by the fact that God has created the human heart with a greater capacity for love than any of us will ever fully comprehend, or can even imagine.
Now imagine — God’s love for us! We are created in His image, remember? That means we are like Him in certain respects. We can even love like Him — subject only to the limitation that He, of course, is God and, therefore, unbounded in His capacity to love. But I am convinced from scripture that even God loves different people in different ways. For example, we are all familiar with the verse: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NASB). But another passage of scripture that, perhaps, many are not as familiar with, says: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (I John 3:1-2, NASB). The difference between these two passages of scripture is not the meaning of the word used for “love” — it is essentially the same word in both texts. But it isn’t always the definition of a word that speaks so powerfully, so much as it is the way in which a word is used. Word studies often do not relate that which only the context of a passage of scripture can reveal. It is an immeasurable love that would allow the only begotten Son of God to go to a cross and die there for the sins of the world. But, it is “how great a love” — immeasurably immeasurable — that compels the only true and living God to call each of us individually into a close, personal, intimate relationship with Him — so close, in fact, that He calls us His children.
That’s what the new birth is really all about, isn’t it — becoming a part of God’s forever family? It is one thing to know that I am loved by God so much that He allowed His Son to die for me. But when that fact becomes more than a mere fact, when I respond in kind and reciprocate His love by surrendering my heart and life to Him, and allow myself to be “born again” of “water and Spirit” (John 3:3-8), and God takes me to Himself as one of His very own children — ah, that’s a whole new facet of indescribable love. Now, because I am “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,” and am “able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NASB).
It’s one thing for me to know that someone loves me — that they have, at least, some smidgeon of an inkling that I exist and, therefore, care a little bit about my wellbeing. Thank you! But, it is totally something else again when I know that someone is in love with me — to some degree or another they actually desire some level of intimacy with me; and, weaknesses and failures notwithstanding, they value me as someone important in their life. That’s how God values and treasures every one of His precious children. He “loves” and is “in love” with each of us to a degree that the Apostle Paul says “surpasses knowledge” — word studies aside, His love just defies comprehension!
As the little song goes, “I keep falling in love with Him, over and over, and over and over, again!”
~ Philip ~
2 Corinthians 5:14