Affection in an Age of Disaffection

Perhaps love is like a resting place
A shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort
It is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble
When you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home

Perhaps love is like a window
Perhaps an open door
It invites you to come closer
It wants to show you more
And even if you lose yourself
And don't know what to do
The memory of love will see you through
Perhaps Love, by John Denver

For the song and lyrics see The Greatest of These is Love under the category, Original Research

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The following is is one of a three-part series on the doctrine of love in the New Testament:

  • The Two Greek Terms for Love in the New Testament

In this article, listed under the category Bible Exposition, I present the exegesis and exposition of the topic. I draw the conclusion that there are only two terms together with their cognates, agape and philia, that define biblical love.

  • Agape: The Love of Responsibility

In this article listed under the category, Christian Living, I apply to abiding principles of agape to the Christian life.

  • Affection in an Age of Disaffection

In this article listed under the category, Current Issues, I apply the principles of philia, to current issues facing the Christian in an age that not only experience alienation of affection but promotes it.
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Affection in and Age of Disaffection: Thoughts regarding Philia

In this series, I have presented evidence that there are only two terms for biblical love in the New Testament. Together they form a clear definition of the Doctrine of Love in the New Testament. As believer, we need to shed our unbiblical understanding stemming from the world view. There is little we can learn from the world, and in fact, must work against attempting to live in that world view.

Agape, in its simplest form is merely an act of the will, a choice. For the believer, it is choosing to do the will of God in every aspect of life. While it may involve choosing the unlovely or the underserving, as in loving one’s enemy, still it is a choice.

Philia, on the other hand, while involving a choice, stems not from the will be from the mind, heart, and emotions. While it may lead to sexual pleasure, eros, it is not sexual pleasure. In this age of the sexual revolution, we see that sexual pleasure may have nothing to do with philia from a biblical point of view.

Phileo, the verb form of philia, is never commanded, nor are the cognates of pheleo. This is because it is affection for the object to which it is directed. This may be mutual affection or simple one-way attraction. In this way it must be clearly differentiated from agape. Agape, the verb form is agapao, may involved love the object of one’s affection, but is often apart from, and, for the Christian, must be the foundation of affection based upon God’s revealed will. This is the only defense we have of falling into the trap so many have in the sexual revolution.

When I was engaged to the girl who was to become my wife, my future mother-in-law noted that I was much older than her daughter (3 1/3 year). Her question was could fall in love with an older woman? The implication being falling out of love with her daughter at some future time. As a new believer and not yet having the tools I would later developing seminary, I had the clarity of mind to answer, yes. I could fall in love with anyone I chose to. I was expressing what is obvious. Worldly, misguided love can be very capricious. However, few are willing to admit this. Instead, the world says that we are not in control of our love. Behaviorist have taught for over a century that man is the product of deterministic factors in one’s environment. That to correct the individual, one must change the environment. Understanding philia, refutes this false claim. We do have control over and are responsible for our behavior.

To be sure, our background, particularly in the formative years, will shape and even distort who we are. But the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can change, and even overcome our past. This is what James meant when he referred to soul salvation (Jas 1:21).

I will be presenting an article on the current use of angst, A.K.A. Cognitive Dissonance, as a tool for cultural transformation. Here is want to touch on angst and how it affects human interaction and particularly philia.

The Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, is considered to be the first existentialist. In its early form, existentialism was the belief that man has the ability and responsibility to construct his own meaning in the world. The necessity for this construct was due to the lack purpose presented by the world. Ironically, Kierkegaard the poet and social critic who wrote extensively regarding Christian love, began to detect the conflict between Christian theology and human existence. The doctrine of original sin and its effect on emotions and feelings and the disparity between the Christian faith and one’s inability to subjectively establish his purpose for existence led to a sense of dread.

Nearly a century later, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger coined the term angst when referring to this sense of dread in human existence. This dread was due a sense of the lack of purpose in human existence coupled with the seeming chaos and perils of life. In my book, Can We Talk: About matters of this life,[i] I note that many institutions now utilize angst to produce a desired change. Schools, from kindergarten through graduate school, use this believing it is an effective teaching tool. Create tension and you increase learning. In the workplace, leaders believe that adding stress adds to increased productivity. Even writers advocate creating tension between competing factions to promote change in the church.[ii]

Today the term existential is used in many ways beyond its original meaning to refer to any crisis leading to anxiety, depression, and stress. This can be personal, community, national, or international. This hyper use of the concept has become a tool for change. Buy this product because being that product will lead to disappointment. Elect this candidate because that candidate will not fulfill your expectations in life, my social construct is better than yours. Environmental changes will bring an end to existence as we know it.

Dictionary.com defines disaffection as, “the absence or alienation of affection or goodwill; estrangement.” It is no wonder this generation has become the generation of angst, the generation characterized by disaffection. This is contrary to how the Christian should respond to matter of this life, especially regarding other believers in the Body of Christ.

The term and its cognates coupled with additional terms originating with other terms to form new terms such as, brotherly love, love of strangers, love for mankind, love of wisdom, occur frequently in the New Testament. Paul wrote extensively regarding Christian affection. Many of these terms are hapax legomena, or new words, coined by Paul to express the extent of philia under the sun.

Some have failed to see the conversation between Peter and Jesus in John 21:15-17 in light of New Testament Greek and hence misunderstood the passage completely. Others, failing to do due diligence in the exegesis and exposition of the New Testament do not understand why Peter was so grieved at the third question put to him by Jesus, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him,’” Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You”[iii].

The lack of understanding is demonstrated in the answer to a question on the website, gotquestion.org:

Whatever the reason for the three-fold “do you love me?” question, Jesus was impressing on Peter how important his new role of tending the flock of Christ’s followers would be. When someone repeats instructions to us over and over, we quickly understand that it’s extremely important for us to heed them. Jesus wanted to make sure Peter understood this vital charge He was tasking him with and the ultimate reason for it, to follow Him and glorify God (John 21:19).

The commentator goes into the Greek terms, agape and philia, for love used in the dialogue and correctly notes the progression from one to the other. Clearly the answer is not based on a full understanding of the use of the terms in the New Testament.

Dr. Everett F. Harrison in his commentary on the gospel of John, while reflecting and clearer understanding of the Doctrine of Love with his reflections on John 21:17-18, draws an incorrect conclusion as to the reason Jesus uses philia in His third question: Jesus abandoned his word for love (agapao) and used the one Peter employed (phileo), a word indicative of warm affection but perhaps considered inferior to the other.[iv]

There is no superior/inferior in biblical love. One has to do with an act of the will. The other with the interaction between two people, between an individual and a group, or between a person and an object. While it is important to note the distinction between agape and philia, it is imperative that we do not separate the two.

This connection and association is clearly seen in text like, For the Father loves (philei) the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing;”[v] Is Jesus saying the Father has not chosen to love the Son but merely finds Him attractive? Far from it.

In another text, Jesus said, for the Father Himself loves (phlilei) you, because you have loved (pephilekate) Me, and have believed (pepisteukate) that I came forth from the Father.[vi]

Here is where translating from Koine Greek to English can raise theological conundrums which can only unraveled through careful examination and explanation of the grammar. The love of the Father is present tense active voice meaning action ongoing in the present. The love of the believer is action completed in the past and continuing in the present as is believing. We would not say that God loves us because we believe. That is a contradiction to the doctrine of saved by grace and not of ourselves. So, we cannot say that God loves us because we first love Him. Compare, “We love, because He first loved us.”[vii]

There is much more that can be said regarding the application of biblical love for the believer under the sun. However, the point of this article is that, while we live in a world of angst and the alienation of affection. This should not be the world of one who knows Jesus Christ as savior and lord. We must fight against worldly angst that only divides and never solves the problems we face under the sun. God’s Word teaches us to rise above the muddled masses and, despite the difficulties we face in life, to eschew angst and disaffection and, from the foundation of apape, the singular fruit of the Holy Spirit, show tender affection toward one another.

[i] Can We Talk: About Matters of this Life, Dr. Jerry Back© packaged by WinePress Publishing, 2000.

[ii] Cf. Lyle Schaller: The Change Agent, Strategies for change, etc.

[iii] Jn 21:17

[iv] (from The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1962 by Moody Press. All rights reserved.)

[v] John 5:20

[vi] Jn 16:27

[vii] 2 Jn 4:19