I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled with how to define love and how to know what love is. I believe everyone must work out their understanding of love through scripture and through the lessons of life.
When looking for a quality diamond, there are four aspects (4 C’s) to consider – color, clarity, carats, and cost. In a similar manner, I have learned what I call the 4 C’s of love, and that they are in progressive measure – compassion, caring, commitment, and covenant.
The first level of love (compassion) is situational, but it does not necessarily involve any kind of relationship, great cost, or commitment. Nevertheless, the recipient will often feel cared for as a result.
Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,” He told him. “Be made clean.”
Compassion is represented by the Greek root spl├ñ’nkh-non meaning from the spleen or bowels (G4698), and by the Hebrew root racham (H7356), meaning from the womb (as if cherishing a fetus), from the bowels, having pity or mercy on someone.
Most of the healing and miracles that were recorded in scripture were done out of compassion.
I am not someone who has a natural bent towards mercy or compassion, but if my heart is soft, the LORD’s compassion can flow through me from time to time.
I am learning to try to be more available for the LORD’s compassion to move through me.
The next level of love is caring. This goes beyond being compassion towards someone in a moment of need.
Last year, I had been wrestling inside with the probing question of whether I loved or cared for people. Shortly after that time of wrestling, a situation came up affecting my rheumatologist whom I had known for the past sixteen years. We had gotten to know about each other’s lives, families, and she had let me share my faith with her. I had prayed for her and her family daily. She had recently been diagnosed with a rare immune disorder of the blood, was in the hospital, and nobody knew if she would be coming back. I was furious. I was ticked off at SatanΓÇÖs strategies to steal, kill, and destroy. He couldn’t have her or take her life. Out of this, I realized that I do care. I stepped into the gap and stepped up interceding for her for a period of six months. After that season, the burden lifted, and sadly, she has since gone to be with the LORD. I believe she came to know Jesus before she passed on. She was a blessing to me.
I can think of no better example of caring in the scriptures than the parable of the Good Samaritan.
33 But a Samaritan on his journey came up to him, and when he saw the man, he had compassion.
34 He went over to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on olive oil and wine. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him. When I come back I’ll reimburse you for whatever extra you spend.’
The third level of love is commitment. It is easier to say I love you and much harder to do. Spend three days with me and then see if you still love me.
Commitment has an element of loyalty. Most of us have limits of how long we will be loyal to a person, institution or cause. In the Hebrew, the word ‘chesed‘ (H2617) sometimes translated as mercy is best described as the intersection of kindness, goodness, and steadfastness.
Long-term friendships, children, and marriage are good examples of loving commitment.
In a marriage which is a long-term commitment, one of the ways we show our love for one another is our commitment, fidelity, and our faithfulness to one another. Marriage is God’s design for sexual expression, faithfulness, and commitment. There is a level of commitment in a marriage (how many times must I forgive?), that aren’t in most relationships. Jesus had the following to say:
4 “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,”
5 and He also said: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?
6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
In the new covenant scriptures, the Greek word ‘agape‘ is introduced. It is commonly described as unconditional love. However, when love is tested, this is really difficult to do. ‘Agape’ is also described as God’s kind of love, for loving anyone unconditionally often becomes impossible when the going gets tough.
34 “I give you a new command: Love (agape) one another. Just as I have loved (agape) you, you must also love (agape) one another.
35 By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love (agape) for one another.”
For example, I can purpose in my heart that I will always love my daughter. However, there are times as a teenager that my love and respect are tested and for a while seem to disappear. I have learned that I need the power of the Holy Spirit for me to forgive, to soften my heart, restore the relationship, and to love again.
When Jesus over on the earth as Son of Man, He demonstrated love in different ways and measure.
15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love (phileo) You.” “Feed My lambs,” He told him.
16 A second time He asked him, Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love (phileo) You.” “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) Me?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, ‘Do you love (phileo) Me?’ He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love (phileo) You.” “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.
Peter had previously learned that his efforts to be faithful, ultimately would fail (he previously denied knowing the LORD three times). When Jesus asked Peter, will you love me without condition (agape), Peter knew in his heart that loving him as a friend (phileo) was the best he could offer.
It has been said that it takes God to love God. There will be life events that we go through where we are disillusioned or disappointed.
I would also submit to you that it takes God to love someone without condition. There are ways we are treated (e.g. disrespect, betrayals of trust, disappointment, unmet expectations, harsh words, sinful behavior, being condemned) that on our own we simply can not tolerate. All that we can do is to forgive and pray for those who mistreat us.
Covenant is the fourth and greatest level of a love commitment. Covenant requires the shedding of blood to ratify it. It goes beyond a contract which is legally binding; it is to be a commitment that is to last for the life of the one making the commitment. Marriage is to be an example of this kind of loving relationship. At an even more profound level, Jesus offers his own blood to bind our hearts to His as an everlasting covenant.
Many books have been written on the subject of covenant. I recommend studying the book of Hebrews. I would suggest the following to summarize the covenant that Jesus offers to us, knowing that any attempt will be complete.
1) The forgiveness of sins
Matthew 26:28 (HCSB)
For this is My blood that establishes the covenant; it is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.
2) Establishment as a first-born son (there is no gender in the spirit), and being considered, and called family
Hebrews 8:10 (HCSB)
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.
3) The faithfulness of God
2 Timothy 2:13 (HCSB)
if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Hebrews 10:23 (HCSB)
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB)
Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.
Like a good diamond, love has different facets, ways of expression and ways of considering value. I believe that Jesus showed different levels of love commitment, depending on the context that He was in. He demonstrated the 4 C’s of love (compassion, caring, commitment, and covenant), and invites us to do the same.