Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2005 February 14 -- Love, A Christian Perspective

Every year today it is customary to philosophize on "Love" but you will not find anywhere another one like what you are about to read here. You see, this is the real Christian perspective, the perspective taught in the Bible, not what a lot of people who don't really know their Bibles very well think ought to be there. Get out your concordance and look.

Pop quiz:

1.  Where in the Bible does the phrase "I love you" occur?

2.  What is the most important attribute of God?

If you answered "Love" to the second question, guess again. When you measure importance by how much space devoted to it in the Bible, or by how much time Jesus spent teaching it, or how much attention his early disciples gave it in the beginnings of the Church, love is so far down the list as to be completely off the radar most of the time. It's there, but it doesn't get the attention given to it by modern Americans.

My concordance lists a little more than 500 verses (out of a total 31,218 -- about 1.5%) in the Old and New Testaments with the word "love" in them. Looking at just the Greek word for divine love, agaph, there are 272 verses in all its forms. Less than 10% of these are about God's love, half of them in just five chapters from the pen of one Disciple John: two from his gospel and three from his short first epistle. The word does not appear at all in any form in the book of Acts, which is what the Twelve -- make that Eleven -- Apostles did and taught when the church was starting up. By way of comparison, there are about the same number of verses mentioning some form of "righteous" and again the same number mentioning "holy" but a much larger percentage of those verses are about God's righteousness, and almost all of the "holy" verses are about God or things related to God.

So why this emphasis on love? I don't know, but I suspect it's a modern form of self-righteousness: "I'm pretty good, it must be so because God loves me." Or as the popular children's song puts it, "Jesus loves me this I know, For the Bible tells me so." Well, the Bible says no such thing.

Are you ready for the answer to #1? Those three words do occur in the Bible, but not as a statement of present fact. Paul uses the phrase in a conditional, "If I love you, ..."  when he is scolding the Corinthian church. Jesus comes close: three times he says "I have loved you" (past tense) to his Disciples, and once "I will love you" (future), all in one evening, all in the context of urging them to remain true and faithful because he is about to be taken away. That's it.

In all fairness I should make it clear you can infer God's continuing love from the few verses that are there, just as you can infer the obscure and easily misunderstood doctrine of the Trinity from the (even fewer) verses that touch on it, but neither of them get the attention that repentance and doing the right thing get -- all through the Bible.

Nowhere, however, does the Bible even come close to teaching that people should tell other people how much they love them. It doesn't even teach that we should tell them how much God loves them. What we should teach, and what the early disciples taught, and what Jesus himself taught, is repentance. Stop sinning.