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Love in darkness vs. love of darkness

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that each one who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For each one, practicing what is worthless, hates the light and does not come to the light, so that he may not be convicted by his deeds - whereas one, doing what is true, does come to the light, so that he may be clearly shown to be in God, through his done deeds.” Words of Jesus Christ to Nicodemus around AD30 recorded in John 3: 16-21
The word “love” (in English) has many different meanings. Not so in John’s eye-witness account – written in Greek - of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In it, two very different Greek words are used for “love”.

On 44 occasions agape (the noun “love”) or agapao (the verb “to love”) is used by John. But on 13 occasions John uses phileo (the verb also translated “to love”). Phileo means “to love as a brother or as a very close friend”. Agapao means “to love in action”. Which kind of love would you prefer to have towards another person? The answer to that, of course, is “it depends on the kind of person and his/her love towards me.”

That seems correct. If a person loves me in action then I’m likely to follow suit in return. If a person wishes to go further and to love me as a very close friend then I am likely, if I am attracted to that person, to try to develop our mutual love-in-action into mutual love as very close friends. 


‘What a vast difference there is between knowing God and loving him.’ (Blaize Pascal, mathematician, 1623-1662)
Yes, I think that’s correct. Love-in-action is wonderful, truly wonderful. When a person (for instance) gives and gives and gives again - to me – then I am attracted to that person and wish to give in return, to love-in-action in return. What if that same person (other things being equal) then wishes to love me as a very close friend? Is the answer to that, again, “it depends”? It depends on what some call “the chemistry”.

Take a closer look now at the words of Jesus in bold italics above and note his two underlined uses of “loved”.  Both are agapao – loved-in-action.

On the first: "God so loved-in-action the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Yes, I can see the love-in-action of Almighty God in sending His only Son to be punished with death instead of me, in my place. I can see his love-in-action in actually going to a cross of shame so that I might have eternal life – not this present life which is rapidly coming to an end. Yes, I’m perishing. But he has, out of pure love-in-action, provided a way for me to defeat death.

And on the second: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved-in-action the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil." Can you see the love-in-action of people you know in Jersey? Who or what are they loving in their actions? Do any of your friends speak about Jesus or mention that they love him? The love-in-action of many, many people in Jersey today is not towards Jesus. Their love-in-action often shows that they wish to have nothing to do with this good man.

He has loved us in the darkness. We have loved the darkness.

But what about phileo? John does use phileo – love-as-a-very-close-friend. Yes, he records that Jesus used it several times. Here are two occasions.

Jesus used phileo here: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves-as-a-very-close-friend the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing." Yes, the Father loves as a very close friend the Son – Jesus Christ Our Lord. That I can well understand.


‘The true measure of God’s love is that he loves without measure’ (Anon.)
Jesus also used phileo here. “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves-as-a-very-close-friend you, because you have loved-as-a-very-close-friend me and have believed that I came from God.” Wonderfully both of these are phileo. Here Jesus is speaking to his disciples during the night before his cross. Because the disciples have loved him as a very close friend, Almighty God the Father loves each of them as a very close friend. One love has led to another.

Sinner Syvret

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