In my last blog, “When Relational Love Becomes Toxic,” I shard about how the Love message of Leonard Evans, based on I. John 4:7-11, had transformed my life (Read the blog for background related to this blog). It also laid the foundation for High Mill Church’s world view and foundation, back in the mid 1970’s. While Lenny’s message, then and even now,has transformed many lives, shortly before his death, we went to lunch, and Lenny told me that he had left something very important out of that message; He went on to say that it troubled him. As I stated in my last blog, I have wondered for years what that could have been. Then, just a short time ago, in the mountains of Armenia and Switzerland, the Lord revealed to me what Lenny was saying- the one part of “the Love Message” that completed the Message of Love that Jesus intended. He took me to John, chapter 21.
The disciples had gone fishing and caught nothing all night. Dawn arrives and from the beach Jesus asks about their catch.They had caught nothing. So, He tells them to throw out their net on the right side, and they would catch some. The haul was so many that they couldn’t haul in the net. Peter realizes that it is the Lord, and jumps into the water and heads for shore ahead of the others who pulled the loaded net to shore. There, breakfast was waiting for them. Jesus told them to bring some of the fish which they had caught. Something amazing happens here that most commentaries don’t comment on. Simon Peter brings a net with 153 fish in it. Have you ever wondered why the fish were numbered? The story continues with none of the disciples daring to ask Him who He was, because they knew. One part of the evidence was from the number 153, because when the number is broken down in ancient Hebrew, it states,”I Am God.” After breakfast, not only would Peter be restored from his betrayal, but would also be taught an amazing lesson about love; a lesson that I believe was the heart of Lenny’s Love Message that he failed to include.
In the American church today, the word love is tossed around a lot, but I believe is not understood in the way that Jesus lived and taught it. The beauty of this story was in Jesus’ willingness to restore Peter. As you read the chapter, Jesus asks Peter, ” Do you love me?” Peter responds emphatically,” You know Lord that I love you!” Jesus responds, “Then feed my sheep!” Three times Jesus asks the same question so that Peter truly understands what Jesus was asking. Jesus patience with us is mirrored in His patience with Peter in that He is willing to go any length to restore us, if we are willing. The understanding of what Jesus was asking of Peter is found in the meaning of two Greek words. When Jesus asked about Love, He was using the Greek word Agape, which translates boundless, unconditional, covent-al, and deeply loyal. Whereas, Peter used the Greek word Phileo as the word for love. Phileo love, while portraying brotherly love and care, is more emotion centered and can fluctuate depending upon circumstances such as performance and personal response to situations and experience. Simply, while Phileo love is relationship centered, Agape love is covenant centered. The difference is immense. The role of covenant, all throughout the old and new testament, is considered to be central to man’s relationship with His God and and with his brothers and sisters. This is made clear in I. John 4:7-11 where God is referred to as Agape Love. So How can relational love become become toxic creating idols in the heart, where relational soul ties replace our covenant relationship with God the creator of all relationship. Let me explain.
First of all, when personal church relationships become more important than hearing God’s soft still voice, God’s calling and destiny for us are replaced by how my friends act and respond to their surroundings physically and spiritually. The Holy Spirit is subsequently replaced by relational idols of the heart in the form of relationships that are neither healthy nor Biblical. Secondly, when relationships with others replace a personal relationship with God, unhealthy soul ties form where our spiritual walk is dictated by the responses and actions of others around us. Here, the “herd mentality” becomes the norm, as people’s personal commitment to a local church can be dictated by what their friends do. In my many years of experiencing “church life” in my church, as well as many others, I’ve seen churches become like country clubs, where people come to church to see each other and not hear from God; try preaching to that kind of crowd! Thirdly, in this setting, the focus shifts from God, to what have you done for me lately. I saw a cartoon recently that speaks truth to this issue. Someone quipped, ” I went to church today and didn’t really like the worship.” His friend responded,” Well that’s too bad, but we weren’t there to worship you!” Finally, Covenant love chooses to see the bigger picture in relationships and what God is up to. It’s roots are grounded deeply in unwavering love, loyalty, and commitment. It puts relationship with God before man, which in turn helps us to understand those around us. It models God’s unwavering love for us. In the old and new testaments, as the hands and feet of Jesus, we are referred to as a “kingdom of priests.” When defined by it’s Hebrew roots, the word priest literally means to show the world what God is like; to show off God! In a world of inconsistencies, lack of authenticity, commitment, and shallowness, it is so vital that if we are going to reach this generation, it becomes vital that our spiritual resume cannot be filled with a bunch of broken relationships but one of showing off our God to the world that we are different; that we are willing to reason with one another, be loyal to one another, and most of all be in true covenant relationship with one another. This is what Jesus taught , this should be what the church is reflecting, and I believe this is the missing component of Lenny’s incredible message of love- namely that it’s Covenant love that reveals the nature of our God, and it is that kind of love we must model if we are going to meet the challenge of reaching this desensitized generation for Christ!