By Dr Harold Sala
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34
Henry Drummond was born in Scotland in 1851. As a boy he excelled in his studies and was eventually admitted to the University of Edinburgh, where he anticipated taking a degree in science. But on the road to the laboratory something happened which changed his life. An American evangelist by the name of D.L. Moody, an out-going, energetic, straight-talking evangelist, came to Edinburgh, and a young Henry went to hear the man who unabashedly talked about commitment to a higher cause, that of serving Jesus Christ.
Drummond was converted and eventually became involved in the ministry of D. L. Moody. He began reading his New Testament and God began changing his heart. His convictions overflowed in simple, convicting stories, free of the stodginess and stiffness which characterized the speech of many pastors in those days.
When Drummond was 23, he sat down with a group of friends before a glowing fireplace in a study one Sunday evening and began to share thoughts he had about 1 Corinthians 13—the great love chapter of the New Testament. What Drummond spoke of was eventually published in a little book, still in print, which has sold more than 12 million copies. Entitled The Greatest Thing in the World, the little book makes the boast that love is the most powerful thing in the world.
“Ah,” you may say, “that was a long time ago, but that’s not true today in a world of atomic power, superpowers, space war, and electronic imagery. Question: Is love still a greater force than the power which Mao Tse-tung described as that coming out of the end of a gun barrel? Can love still break down the walls, conquer our foes, and subdue our lusts which rage within?
In 194 Greek words Paul gave us answers to our questions, and provided a benchmark which allows us to understand what love really is, separating the true form from the spurious imitation, the genuine from the fraud.
First, some background. In Lewis Carroll’s book Through the Looking Glass there is a conversation between Humpty Dumpty and Alice, and ol’ Humpty Dumpty says, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less,” and Alice responds, “The question is whether you can make different words mean different things.” That’s why it’s necessary to define some terms. When we talk of love, often our definitions are vastly different. Actually, Paul had a choice of three different words, all of which are translated into love.
The first was eros—something the Corinthians knew a lot about. It was a sensual love, the kind that brings sexual satisfaction, that drives the multi-million dollar pornography market all over the world, that keeps pimps and prostitutes in business. But this world was neither used by Paul nor any other writer in the New Testament.
A second word is also found in the New Testament—a good word, too, but not the word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13. It was the Greek word phileo—a kind of brotherly love; and God knows we need a lot of this today.
But the word Paul chose to use was agapao. The noun is agape. Paul’s choice of words defined the concept of love he wrote about at the same time the concept defined the word. How so? He took a word which had been commonly used by Greek writers and put a new spin on it. He defined it in a different context, the kind which links us to God and gives us the power to love your enemies, to love those who are not very lovable, and to reach across the distance that separates us. That’s the power of agape love.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 13.