Submission and Obedience


"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." So wrote the apostle John in his first epistle. In fact, his whole letter is filled with references to love and the world. Over and over again, he admonishes believers to walk in love to God and toward each other, and to avoid the world.

What in the World is THE WORLD?

When the Holy Spirit impressed the above verse on my heart, I was troubled. What exactly did He mean by 'world?' Of what is it comprised? What should people avoid? The Greek New Testament used the word 'kosmos' for 'world.' If you look up 'kosmos' in Strong's Thesaurus, it has several definitions that point to the universe, our earth world, and its inhabitants. No specifics are given to further define what God means when He says we are not to love 'the world.'

I know people, well-meaning professing Christians, who believe they must dress a certain way so they are not of the world or worldly. Unfortunately, many of those same persons judge believers who do not adopt their same customs. Those 'other Christians' are not 'spiritual' enough. In effect, those making the judgment become legalists, as were the Pharisees. Their carefulness about their outward appearance and behavior turns into pride as they demonstrate they are better than professing believers who don't follow their example. They fall prey to an evil, religious spirit. That is not what John means here.

So, if that's the case and a pitfall to avoid, just what does it mean to not 'love the world?' What do we avoid? Even God does not define worldliness more specifically. Amid the quandary, the Holy Spirit said: Check out the meaning of 'love.' What Greek word for 'love' did John use when he penned his letter?

What's the Greek word for LOVE?

John could have chosen between four Greek words, each of which may be translated 'love' in English. The first is 'eros' or romantic love. 'Eros' is never used in the New Testament, so toss that one out.

The second word, 'phileo', means: to love, to approve of, to like, sanction, to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend, to show signs of love, to kiss, to be fond of doing, brotherly love, filial affection. Even when teaching about His Church, Jesus did not use this word to describe the love we are to have for Him and each other. Not John's choice, either.

A third is 'thelo,' which means to will, have in mind, intend, to be resolved or determined, to purpose, to desire, to wish, to love, to like to do a thing, be fond of doing, to take delight in, have pleasure. Jesus used 'thelo' to describe the scribes and their showiness of religion. Mark 12:38 is an example. "In His teaching He was saying: 'Beware of the scribes who love to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places..."

Finally comes the word 'agapao.' When used to refer to persons, 'agapao' means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly. It is the only kind of love God has for the world and for His own believers. It is the same kind of love we, as believers and children of God, are to have for each other. It is divine love. However, adulterated, we can also 'agapao' the world and that's what this warning is about!

Throughout his letter, John used the Greek word 'agapao,' the same word that proclaims God's love in John 3:16. There, John says that God so loved the world: He 'agapao' the 'kosmos.'

AGAPAO Love is not of the WORLD

When John made reference to himself in his Gospel, he called himself, 'the disciple Jesus loved (agapao).' John 13:23, 19:26 and 21:7, 20-24. John and Jesus had a heart relationship that was unlike that of the other disciples. It was John to whom Jesus entrusted His mother, Mary, when He hung on the cross. It was John, who after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, was boiled alive in oil for his faith---and lived! What torture and pain he suffered!

Jesus enlarged the depth of John's love for Him through that intense suffering, and John passed the test. His next assignment for which he had been found worthy and ready was what today we call the book of Revelation in the New Testament. Whenever we love much, we are tested more stringently to evaluate that love and its absolute devotion. There is a reward for persevering to the end.

In Revelation John documented what Jesus showed him. The church at Ephesus had left her first 'agapao' love and that's what Jesus had against her. He said she needed to repent or lose her place in His kingdom.

When we love God with 'agapao' love, we are not of this world, though we're in it. Jesus made that fact absolute in His Gethsemane prayer:

"I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." John 17:14-16.

Putting two and two together, when John tells us not to love the world and Jesus says His own are not of the world, we know that His own believers live in 'agapao' love for God. Ephesus had lost that first 'agapao' love. Therefore, she was in danger of having her candlestick removed from among the churches. That is fearsome!

AGAPAO Love Lives in Obedience

John wrote persistently and in depth about 'agapao' love, particularly in his first epistle. Over and over, he emphasized the importance of our remaining in our first love for God. We must guard against shifting from servanthood to God to a love for the world, the world in which we find ourselves with its responsibilities and concerns. Recall that it was those thorns of worry and deceitfulness of riches that caused the plants that sprouted in Jesus' parable of the Sower to give up and die. First love lost! 'The world' tries to shape us into its mold, and we must resist at all costs.

When Moses received the Ten Commandments in Exodus, he declared them to the whole of Israel in the wilderness. The Ten Commandments were given lovingly by God as instruction to the Hebrew nation, so they could know God and walk in fellowship with Him. We NEVER would know Him or even about Him if we were the ones responsible for finding Him.

Romans tells us that the Law or Torah (the Ten Commandments) were given, because "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" 3:20, the very travesty that separates us from God. Romans goes on to say of sinners, (that we all are or were): "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God..." 3:10.

No one naturally seeks God. We may think we're the one who initiates our desire to know Him, but God is the One who draws us to Himself. Every thing we are and have is because of God. That fact alone demands that we be in total submission to Him from Whom ALL our blessings flow. And that submission must flow from love for God!

Yet, as Romans avers. the Law points out that we are sinners and unable to meet its demands or to even search for God. We are all found guilty of violating the Law because of our humanness and the law of sin in our members. That's where the liberating voice of God calls to us, "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Jesus told His apostles, "I AM the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me."

Modern Jewry counts over 300 rules or laws to keep the Torah. That is mind-boggling and wearying beside being impossible. Thankfully, Jesus summed them into two: "...and you shall love (agapao) the LORD your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love (agapao) your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12:29-31. In both instances of His using the word 'love,' Jesus defines the depth of love we are to possess: divine love!

It's a matter of deduction to recognize that before Jesus' ascension, the apostles were not loyal to Him. Peter denied Him three times when Jesus was tried in the Jews' kangaroo court; all of them fled while Jesus hung on the cross; and, following the crucifixion, the fishermen among them went back to their nets and boats. They floundered!

Obedience to the Law written on our Hearts

But, Jesus had given them a promise before He died. During the Last Supper, He said, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." John 14:16. The promise of the Father came on Pentecost and transformed the apostles into flames of fire! It was not them, but the Holy Spirit within them Who transformed the world as they lived and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They all remained true to Him, regardless of how persecuted they were, even becoming martyrs in death for Him and His name.

"'But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days' -- it is a declaration of Adonai -- 'I will put My Torah within them. Yes, I will write it on their heart. I will be their God, and they will be My people." Jeremiah 31:33. Paul quoted that verse in Hebrews 10:16, as well. The Torah, the tablets, were kept in the Holy of Holies in the Mercy Seat. So holy was that sanctuary that the High Priest went in just once a year. God's presence abode there in power and glory...the precious Holy Spirit!

As believers in God, we may not cling to our rights, our possessions, anything we call 'ours.' Instead, we are to become 'a living sacrifice' to God, totally His, so there is no division within us. Romans 12:1-2. There can remain no 'mine' and 'yours', referring to God. All must be His, and that demands a dying to ourself and all we claim to be ours. At the root of it all is our will. But the Helper, the precious Holy Spirit, makes that death possible, and He will fill us instead with Himself. He brings within us the 'agapao' love for God that the Old Testament Torah required and Jesus summed in ""you shall love God..."

When we walk with God in 'agapao' love, we keep His commandments because they are written on our hearts and we love (agapao) Him. That truth Jesus declared when He said, "If you love me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever." John 14:15-16.

Revelation 2:4 to the church at Ephesus says, "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love." Again, this was written by John according to what Jesus revealed. And, again, John used the word 'agapao' in this sad declaration made by Jesus to the Ephesian church. What would be the result of their departure if the church at Ephesus did not find her first love for God again? Jesus says, "I am coming to you and will remove your lamp stand out of its place--unless you repent." We read the same admonition in II Chronicles 7:14, where God says His own must repent from their idolatry (the outcome of departing from first love) and THEN He will heal the land.

What does AGAPAO Love look like?

When I was a student many years ago, a girl in my class whom I'll call Sheila was in love with a boy back home named Randy. She talked about him all the time. Sheila was in love! She and Randy were sweetly in love. He was all she talked, thought and dreamed about. As soon as they could, they married and "lived happily ever after."

How did we, her classmates, know Sheila was in love? Besides her talking about Randy a lot, she always found time to write love letters to Randy no matter how much homework she had. In spite of our tight schedules, Sheila made time to go home to see Randy as often as possible. He was her priority, always.

That's just a small idea of what 'agapao' love looks like! Eyes only for him. Thoughts only of him. Time for him alone. Is that what your love for God looks like? By Jesus' own declaration, you cannot have 'agapao' love for God and, at the same time, 'agapao' the world. It's either God or the world, not both.

What consumes you every day? What do you think about in your quiet moments? How do you use your personal time? Do you long to spend time with God alone in prayer and in the Bible? or is it hard even to take ten minutes to read a few verses from the Bible and pray a short prayer? If God is not uppermost in your thoughts and priorities, you must question if your first love is alive or not. If the answer is 'no', you need to repent and be set free from the world's attractions, whatever they are, that keep you tied to it instead of to Jesus and the Father.

Jesus said you cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24 quotes Jesus' words: "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love (agapao) the other; or he will be devoted to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (an object of worship)."

How to love God with AGAPAO LOVE

The secret to loving God with 'agapao' love is to become God's servant, His love-slave. The above verse states plainly that regardless of where our love resides, we are a servant to the object of our love. It's either God or the world.

In Old Testament days, a servant in a Hebrew household could be set free after six years of servitude. However, if the servant's master was kind and just, the servant could elect to give himself in servitude to the master for the rest of his life. He signified his submission to the master by putting his earlobe against the doorpost of the master's house. Then the master drove an awl through the ear into the wood of the doorpost, forever leaving a scar in the servant's ear and a mark on the door. The servant was never his own again.

The servant became a love-slave to the master of his own will. He was not forced to make such a decision. It was a decision of his will. For the rest of his life, the slave would receive necessities of life from the master, and the slave would do the master's every bidding. It was a love relationship.

God looks for such a dying by us to our own wishes and desire to maintain control over our own destiny. He wants us to will to come to Him and let Him drive that awl through our ear, so we are forever marked as belonging to our Master in a love-slave relationship. We become His forever because we choose to be!

Not of the world! A member of the household of God forever! And, as such, we keep His commandments gladly, willingly, out of love for our Master by the power of the Holy Spirit's infilling. What a blessed state that it!

So, let's repeat what John said in his epistle: "Do not agapao the world (kosmos) nor the things in the world (kosmos). If any man agapao the world (kosmos), the agapao of the Father is not in him."

Just as God sold out for us when He gave His only begotten Son as a ransom for us and our sin, so let us sell out everything we are, have and hope to be by our own desire. Give yourself completely, totally to God for His service out of love. 'Agapao' love for God. Forever! Oh, yes!

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Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®
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