For the “Tale of Two Covenants” finale, it is fitting that it would be close to Valentine’s Day. There are several legends of a “St. Valentine” or multiple “St. Valentines”. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome.
Regardless of the true background of Valentine’s Day, it’s a day that has been set aside to celebrate love, more specifically romantic love. There are actually four kinds of love mentioned in the Bible. Of course, they are translated from ancient Greek. Here they are with a brief definition.
- Eros: romantic, passionate love.
- Philia: love of friends and equals.
- Storge: love of parents for children.
- Agape: benevolence, selfless, goodwill, esteem
Most of us are more familiar with the Greek word “agape”, although, we are really aware of another usage of the word without realizing it. “Philia”, love of friends or equals, is where we get the name of one of our major cities in the US, Philadelphia or the “city of brotherly love”. The other two are less common unless you’re really hip to Greek mythology. Eros is the Greek god of carnal love. In Latin it translates as “amor” (love) or “cupid” (desire).
I know here I go again with the vocab lesson! So what does this have to do with the “two covenants”?
Well, the central theme of all of God’s covenants, new and old, is love, God’s love for us. Without us there would be no need for covenants of any kind. We are special to God. He created us.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT
I love that the New Living Translation says that we are God’s masterpiece. We are the pinnacle, the centerpiece, or the greatest of all His creation. We were created with a purpose. In Ephesians 2:10, our purpose is to do good things, things God planned for us long ago or in the beginning. However our ultimate purpose is to love God. As a former Presbyterian, I am partial to the first question asked in the Westminster Confession of Faith as an explanation. I had to memorize it and more when I took catechism many years ago. The first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism are well known: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” In other words, what is our basic reason for existence? The answer is to be in relationship with God, to glorify and enjoy him forever. In order to enjoy something, it really helps if we love it. What are some things that you love? Family? Friends? Children? Grandchildren? Hobbies? Food? There is an abundance of things that we “love”, but very few things measure up or equal a parent’s love for their children. How many of us have said or heard it said, “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my children”? This kind of love is on a much higher level than say how much I love hamburgers. Well, duh Robby! Ya think?
If we go back to the four Greek words for love, we discover that there are different levels of love, and according to their definitions, they increase in value and intensity with each level. The level that I just mentioned, “storge” or a parent’s love for their children, is the third highest, and yet in the Greek love gets kicked up another notch to “agape”. How can there be a higher form of love than parent to child? It is hard to imagine a love that is greater than that, but God has got “super duper love”. It’s the “most-est”. Unequalled. Unparalleled. I know you love it when get technical and use big boy words like “super duper” and “most-est”. It’s very academic and mature. (Sarcasm alert!)
AGAPE IS IT! I mean, the GREATES LOVE OF ALL TIME!!!
We can try to achieve or emulate this level of love, but I would venture to say that it is rare from a human perspective. I believe there was really only one human that nailed it, literally, and that was Jesus. Agape love is the ultimate act of selflessness. It is a willingness to sacrifice or give up everything for another. Agape is ALL IN! It is self-denial in its ultimate form. There are a few people throughout history who have paid the ultimate price, as in their own existence for others, but none like Jesus.
Before I close this out I just want to point out that “agape” in the original Greek is not defined as “unconditional”. The word unconditional is never used in the Bible. Like you, I have been taught that agape means “unconditional love”. I’m not trying to burst any bubbles here because God’s “unconditional love” for us is overwhelmingly implied throughout the Bible. Romans 5:8 is just one example. It’s probably one of the best in my opinion.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV
There is an expression in Christendom or the holy huddle that I have become less and less fond of over the years. I try not to use it anymore. I’m not saying it’s bad. It is true, but it’s just one of those religious platitudes that non-Christians really don’t like. It’s seems to put people off, so I avoid it. If you want to use it, feel free, but I’ve given it up for lent. Have I built up enough tension yet? Drum roll please.
“God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”
While it is absolutely true that God hates sin, it is also true that God ABSOLUTELY LOVES sinners, of which I am one. So the fact that God sent His son to die for a sinner like me is almost unbelievable. Sometimes, I catch myself asking God, “Really God, are you sure? No foolin? You really love me, even after all the stupid stuff that I’ve done and all the times I’ve let you down?”
This kind of love is incomprehensible and unbelievable because humans don’t love like that. Yes, we can get close, but are we willing to die for someone who has sinned against or hurt us, especially if they haven’t apologized? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but that kind of love is “other worldly” as in divine, heavenly, or Godly.
Holy cow! This is HUGE! Are you jumping up and down yet? Can I get a hallelujah? I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. This is COVENANT! This is God’s love for us! It’s beyond anything that we can comprehend or explain. God doesn’t expect us to understand it, but He desperately wants us to believe it. In fact, He got some of His guys to write an entire collection on the subject. It comes in two testaments. They are God’s will and testament or His covenant to and with us, His masterpiece. Don’t you want to read it? It’s a real page-turner.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC