The age seems to grow darker by the moment. Rioting in France, relentless bullying resulting in a string of teenage suicides, and headlines such as “Man Kills Wife, Five Others, in Rampage Over Cold Eggs” all make God’s servants ever more certain the “last days” are here.
While describing events leading up to His Return, Jesus mentioned earthquakes, widespread famine, disease pandemics, animal attacks, armed conflict and ethnic violence. As such trends increase in number and severity, these words seem to leap off the Bible’s pages.
The world is also becoming dimmer in more subtle ways. Children openly disobey their parents in supermarket aisles. Pedestrians along city sidewalks refuse to look anyone in the eyes, let alone offer a polite “hello.” Drivers maliciously cut one another off in traffic during their morning commutes.
These everyday happenings bring to mind another condition Jesus mentioned would persist at the end: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12).
Yet there is more to this verse than meets the eye, and it is crucial every Christian understands the deeper meaning of these words.
What Is at Stake
For a clearer picture of a society in which love “shall wax cold,” one must first understand the meaning of the three Greek words translated “love” in the New Testament. “Eros” refers to sexual love. “Philia” is natural human affection between family members or friends. “Agape” is spiritual love.
This last form is the love of God. Note I John 4:8: “God is love [agape].” This is the type of love that Christians are to exhibit: “the love [agape] of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5).
Reread Matthew 24:12 with this in mind: “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” The word for love here is also agape—“the agape of many shall wax cold.” Realize what this is saying: in the end times, many with the Holy Spirit will no longer exhibit the love of God in their lives.
This is a serious problem—one every Christian must fight!
Being living examples of God’s love is how the world knows that we are His people. Notice John 13:35: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love [agape] one to another.”
But what exactly is agape? Since God’s people are at risk to “wax cold,” we must know with absolute certainty what it means.
Traditional Christianity offers “fuzzy” definitions of love, such as “being a good person” or “giving time or money to charities.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines this term as “affection, good will, love, benevolence, brotherly love.” But none of these seem to specifically define what is God’s love. Why?
Thayer’s Lexicon provides a clue, stating that agape is “a purely biblical and ecclesiastical word.” This indicates the term was most likely first used in the New Testament. Since Jesus Christ inspired the Bible, He, in a sense, coined the word agape. Therefore, the only place to look for the true definition of love is in the pages of God’s Word.
When discussing the topic of love in the Bible, there is one place people usually turn first: I Corinthians 13, sometimes referred to as the “love” chapter. These verses, however, are some of the most misunderstood and misapplied in the Bible.
One of the main reasons for the confusion stems from the word for love chosen by the King James translators. Each of the 10 times agape is mentioned in I Corinthians 13, the word “charity” is used. While being kind and helping others is a part of God’s love, this English word severely limits its meaning. Because of this translation, many in traditional Christianity overtly focus on charity and their definition of “loving their neighbor,” yet miss the word’s true importance.
The first two verses of I Corinthians 13 show that agape means much more: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [agape], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (vs. 1-2).
In other words, one could memorize the entire Bible, but, without love, he is nothing!
The passage continues, disproving that love is simply “charity”: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing” (vs. 3).
Have you ever noticed this? You could sell everything you have and give the proceeds to the poor, and it means nothing unless you personally have love. You could even be persecuted to the point of being burned at the stake, yet if you do not have God’s love, you are nothing. This makes understanding love that much more important—if you are nothing, it means you do not receive salvation!
But how can you know if you have real love?
The next four verses define true godly love: “Charity [agape] suffers long, and is kind; [agape] envies not; [agape] vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [Agape] never fails” (vs. 4-8).
This is the biblical definition of God’s love, which can be summarized as “selfless, outgoing concern for others.”
Beyond the Academic
As with most spiritual principles, many people stop there, rather than delving deeper into the topic and going from the “academic” to the “actual”—living what they learn. While it is easy to read words on a page, love requires more than just understanding certain terms.
Read again the I Corinthians 13:4-8 definition of God’s love. As you review the points, break each down in your mind and examine how it applies to your life.
“Charity [agape] suffers long, and is kind”: Love often requires the one extending it to feel pain and affliction—to suffer. The ability to suffer long is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
Long-suffering and kindness go hand in hand. Colossians 3:12-13 states, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.”
Instead of petty disagreements, holding grudges, or constantly reminding another of past mistakes, we are to forgive as Christ forgave us.
Consider that God has been suffering long while allowing man 6,000 years to rule himself: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Pet. 3:9).
How many times have you sinned and the Father has forgiven you? Recalling God’s mercy for us makes it easier to tolerate an occasional unintended offense by another member or extend kindness to others who may have hurt us.
Remember, we are to reign with Christ. Therefore, we must learn to bear long with, and show kindness to, one another now. If we cannot do this with our fellow brethren, how can we expect to do it for all eternity?
“Envies not”: The Greek word for “envies” means “covet” or “be jealous over.”
A common example of envy happens when another member is put in charge of a specific duty at services or is ordained. Rather than being happy that the person is growing and rejoicing with him, it can be easy to nurture a jealous attitude—secretly coveting what the person has been given.
Proverbs 14:30 states, “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.”
“Vaunts not itself, is not puffed up”: Vaunting oneself is much like “vaulting” oneself ahead of others, believing you have all the answers. People with this attitude feel self-important, and often talk about themselves incessantly or boast about what they have done. Believing they are better than those around them, they rarely take interest in others’ lives.
But God is not a respecter of persons. He loves all His children and places everyone into the Body of Christ as He sees fit, to teach them to become God-beings in His kingdom. Similarly, we should always strive to esteem our fellow brethren better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3).
“Does not behave itself unseemly”: Translated from the Greek, unseemly means “to act unbecomingly” and is related to the word disgrace.
Did you ever consider that loudly blowing your nose in public, crassly stretching during services, and talking with your mouth full are all unloving acts? In the age of “anything goes,” etiquette and proper dress are regarded as old-fashioned. People do not care about what others think or if their physical actions or clothes are offensive.
We must be different. We should strive to remove the quirks in our personalities that may distract others in any way and practice moderation at all times (Phil. 4:5). While God does not list every irritating and unseemly habit in the Bible, He leaves it up to us to examine where we can improve.
As in all things, we must reflect the God we serve and realize that we will one day reign as kings in the God Family. Therefore, our behavior now must fit our description as “ambassadors for Christ” (II Cor. 5:20).
“Seeks not her own”: When someone “seeks her own,” the person is selfishly focused on his own needs and goals, which can result in him not taking a genuine interest in another’s life and nurturing a selfish attitude of get.
Conversely, a person who “seeks not her own” is interested in getting to know fellow brethren and looks for ways to serve or help others. Such a person is also willing to go out of his way to sacrifice his time by helping brethren with things such as auto repairs, mowing an elderly member’s lawn, or cooking a meal for someone in the congregation who is ill.
Romans 12:1 commands: “…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
“Is not easily provoked”: We live in an age in which people take offense over the smallest things. Yet it should not be so with us.
Remember that we are still in the flesh, meaning everyone makes mistakes. Knowing this, Christians must be ready to forgive when someone wrongs them.
This is one of the greatest challenges in life. It directly relates to our Christian calling and our future reward—and involves our ability to become effective with people and exercise patience.
Perhaps someone says something you perceive as offensive or inappropriate. Instead of immediately becoming defensive or jumping to conclusions, stop and think about what the person is saying. Strive to give him the benefit of the doubt in all matters.
“Thinks no evil”: This verse connects thinking no evil with not plotting against anyone or wishing harm on them. “Thinking no evil” is also tied to reconciliation. If one is not wishing evil upon someone else, he has forgiven an offense.
As it states, God “has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world into Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 5:18-19).
If we are striving to be like Christ, who does not hold trespasses of people against them, we must learn to reconcile with others.
“Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth”: Modern society enjoys when people “get what they deserve.” Movies depict characters that often take revenge on those who have wronged them and the audience relishes in their victory.
This wrong attitude can carry over into our own lives when we see someone who may have acted in a haughty manner humbled by life’s circumstances.
True Christians do not rejoice in the trials of others. Instead, they should rejoice in the truth they have been given. Each day, we in God’s Church should wake up and excitedly rejoice in all the truth available—and the blessings we receive as a result of knowing that truth.
Love Never Fails
Toward the end of I Corinthians 13, God summarizes that His love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…”
God’s people are to bear one another’s burdens—all of them—and suffer long as they grow with one another—which demonstrates His love. They are to believe all things—meaning all that is in His Word. They are to hope for all things in God’s Word and in His Plan. They are to endure all things—including every trial that comes their way.
Take this at face value: all things means all things!
In the years to come, our love will be tested in profound ways as the world turns against those doing the Work of God. As it states, the “love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12).
The verses immediately preceding this statement describe the conditions we will be up against: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted…and you shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Matt. 24:9-10).
Amid this time of hatred and betrayal, the Church will be forced to come together to support one another and bear each other’s burdens. Instead of allowing the fruit of God’s love to dwindle from our lives, we must “endure unto the end” (vs. 13). Remember, God’s love suffers long!
Each of us must strive to demonstrate godly love in every aspect of our lives while we push toward rulership in the kingdom of God. As we prepare to serve our fellow man in a greater way, this is our continual commitment—our reasonable service.
Verse 8 of I Corinthians 13 includes a promise that should sustain us as the age grows darker and push us to love one another and the truth more fully: “Charity”—the love of God—“never fails.”