Christian Love and Unity

Have you ever been through a church break-up?

For years you meet together on Sundays and Wednesdays, wear out each other's carpet, cook meals for those who are sick, tell one another how much you love each other and how much Jesus loves us.  You even develop your own Christian jargon.  And then you find you disagree on something vital and everything starts crumbling. Suddenly, arguments are the order of the day and finally the congregation splits in two or more.  Those you thought were your best friends don't want to speak to you anymore.  The kids aren't allowed to see each other.  Resentment and unforgiveness rule supreme and you can't even seem to sense Jesus' presence anymore. What you thought was love turned out to be a religious pretence, a convincing act based on scriptural instruction, but nevertheless dependent on satisfying like-minded ideals.  And the pain is overwhelming.


What is true Christian love like?  Where does it come from?  How would you behave and feel in the above scenario if your love truly came from a source other than yourself, yet living inside of you at your invitation?  In Greek, there are so many different words for 'love', but in English we are so limited in our description of something so important.  We love ice-cream.  We love our dog. And we love our children.  We love that old movie. We love God. We love our neighbour. We love football.  And God loves us.

For years I misunderstood Christ's conversation with Peter.  'Peter, do you love Me?' Peter answers, 'Yes Lord, You know that I love You!' Jesus asks three times, truly frustrating Peter. But when we examine the original text in Greek, we discover meanings which were totally lost in the translation.

Jesus first uses the word 'agape' or 'charitable (divine) love'. Peter answers with 'phileo' or brotherly love.  I always thought Jesus asked, 'Do you love me' and Peter answered, 'I like You'.  It didn't make much sense.  It almost seemed like Peter was deliberately avoiding the issue. In fact, it turns out to be very much the other way round. Jesus asks, 'Do you have charitable feelings towards me?'  Peter answers, 'I have deep, emotional, loyal, brotherly feelings for You.'  As far as Peter was concerned, Jesus said 'like' and he came back with 'love'.  Finally it makes sense! The third time Jesus asked the question, He used the word 'phileo', probably because He realised Peter really hadn't grasped the true meaning of 'agape' love.


The Lord projected an image of what Christians would be like, which is a far cry from reality.  He envisaged people who would 


  • love their fellow man like themselves (Mark 12:31)
  • love our Christian brothers and sisters more than ourselves (John 13:34)
  • genuinely love their enemies (Luke 6:35)
  • not care for earthly possessions (Matthew 19:23-24)
  • give away their earthly belongings to follow Him (Luke14:33)
  • cast out evil spirits, speak in strange tongues, heal the sick (Mark 16:17-18)
  • who would be completely unselfish in all their actions (Luke9:23)
  • who would lead sinless lives (1 John 2:6, 3:9),
  • and the list goes on.

All those things, either individually or collectively, are still subject to interpretation or relative to a norm. Is there a test by which we can judge whether, as Christians, we are functioning the way God intended us to, something definitive but outside of our control, so we cannot possibly manipulate the results?  Two things Jesus said may give us the answer:

"All men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

"... that all of them may be one ... so that the world may believe that You have sent me." (John 17:21)

When the world recognises the divine nature of Christ, we will have hit the mark. Love and unity are the two crucial factors and go hand in hand.  It doesn't, or shouldn't, take much argument to establish that the world does not know or believe (go on, ask them), so I can only conclude we are doing something very basically wrong.


There is nothing wrong with brotherly love.  There is nothing wrong with deep emotional connection, in fact these feelings are most precious and created by God. But love based on feelings tends to be unreliable, because feelings change.

Neither does it mean God's love is without emotion or passionless, in fact very much the opposite. However, God's love is unshakable by feelings. The word for 'love' in John 13 is 'agape' or divine love. Could it be that we still only phileo one another? Could it be that in loving each other we are still motivated by our own spirit instead of God's Spirit?  Could it be that in most of our Christian life we are still drawing energy from our own spirit, so that our actions, though well meant, are still primarily selfish? 

There are other misconceptions about the nature of God's love - that it is the kind of love that asks for nothing in return. If you believe that, you are wrong.  Sure, God is patient and ever so understanding and merciful. But when His patience finally runs out, (as it will when Jesus returns), He will destroy those who have refused to return His love (Genesis 7:21, Revelation 20:12-15).  Even so, we are to love those who do not love us (Matthew 5:44-46).  Where do we get that kind of love from?  Only by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other, thus releasing the Jesus we have locked inside (Matthew 18:20).  I cannot stress this too strongly: It is not possible, by yourself, to obey the new commandment to LOVE ONE ANOTHER (John13:34). Our love for each othermust be mutual. To this end we need each other and each member of the body of Christ is dependent on at least one other for the true release of the Spirit. 
Not only must our love be mutual, but it follows that it must be continual (Hebrews13:1). The occasional expression of love is as useful to the Lord as a single heartbeat is to the physical body.

There are three stages to agape love.  When we are born again we receive Christ, so technically we also have His love.  Over time, that love changes us. It works its way into our being, to modify our behaviour to be pleasing to Him. At this stage Satan is not greatly worried.  As far as he is concerned, we are spilt milk anyway - he's already lost us.  But when we start expressing that love, Satan is truly threatened.  For through the expression, others will recognise that we are His disciples. Through the expression we will bear fruit. Through the expression, he is going to lose many who still belong to the world.  The more we express His love, the more use we will be to the Lord. Because the expression IS the Lord coming to life.


Another vital clue to the riddle of Christian love is contained in no less than three of the gospels: -


"Whoever tries to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:25-26, also see Mark 8:35-36, Luke 9:24-25)

The Greek term used for all four underlined words is 'psuche'. No adjectives or modifiers of any sort are used at any time to suggest it does not have exactly the same meaning each time.  But, presumably because there is no exact English equivalent and the translators had preconceived ideas, two different words have been used in the translation.  Yet, to know what 'psuche' really means is of vital importance, because, if we don't give it up, we'll lose it!

The most accurate translation of psuche appears to be a mixture - soul-life. The life of the soul is the human spirit and it seems to me, based also on many other scriptures supporting such conclusion, that Christ is asking us to give up that which makes us go our own way. Our will, so that His will may be done, our spirit, so that His Spirit may live through us.  This has been addressed in my earlier essay, “Body, Soul and Spirit” and will be discussed in great detail in my essay “Crucifixion”.

Suddenly scriptures like 'Take up your cross daily’ (Luke 9:23) and 'You are dead' (Colossians 3:3) begin to make sense.  If our selfish motivations are discarded, if the spiritual energy for all our actions comes from the Holy Spirit, wewill be 'crucified with Christ' (Galatians 2:20) and the expression of God through the believers will finally become a reality. We will become one.  The world will believe. The energy that has been locked inside us so long will be released. 
And finally His true agape love will be able to flow.


You would expect we would find it in the church. But we go to church for so many different reasons, which on the surface may seem commendable, yet most of them are fundamentally either selfish or legalistic:


  • To obey Paul's instruction not to forsake the assembling
  • For a sense of belongingA position in the church gives us a sense of importance
  • We want the kids to mix with others with a similar value system
  • The kids need to learn about the Gospel
  • Promotion of a culture that appeals to us and our value system

All these things are commendable and right.  What is wrong is that these things tend to take the place of the real reason we should be meeting, and that is to get in touch with Jesus and let agape love flow. As long as we attend church or have fellowship for the wrong reasons, the Spirit will be quenched.


Jesus expected us to love one another with a kind of love that convicts the world.

So, where is it, you may well ask? Where is this great love that will convince even the most hardened atheist of God's existence?  I believe this age has not yet seen it.  We have tasted small samples here and there.  But the true love cannot flow until we re-prioritise all our personal agendas, all the things which are imitations of the real-time flow of the Holy Spirit, and put Jesus first.  

Like Peter, we still haven't grasped the true meaning of agape love. We still prefer the familiar connotations and implications of phileo love. It comes from our own spirit, and therefore it is under our control. 


Jesus keeps asking: 'Do you agape me?' And we are stumped for an answer.

The good news is this: We still have an incredible revelation of divine love and a mind-blowing experience with the Holy Spirit yet to discover.  We can look forward to the awakening of latent spiritual realities far beyond our imagination. And it is God's greatest desire to see that happen.  The search for that love is the essence of this website, and I sincerely hope that, by the end of my writings, many of my readers will be inspired to do what it takes to bring it to fruition.