A Limit to Love

In our previous post we consider that loving one’s enemy might lead to behaviors such as donating to the ACLU, which has proven to be an enemy of Christianity, or acting negatively toward those in the military because their profession entails killing our enemies.

This led us to Philippians 1:9 in which the Apostle Paul teaches the need for knowledge and discernment in the application of agape. We noted that tough love might be one example of such knowledge and discernment. Tough love calls us to consider not merely immediate impact of kindness to an individual but rather the ultimate outcome. Allowing a soldier in basic training to rest because he is fatigued might ultimately cost him his life.

However, there are other significant considerations related to the application of love, including love for our enemies. One of these comprises our topic today.

Limited Resources

You are on the church missions committee. The committee has received many requests for financial support. However, every church is confronted with the problem of limited resources that it can assign to missions. This means that you can give to some and not others. The Jones family believes the Lord has called them to South Africa while the Smiths are raising support for Peru. Your church missions policy requires supporting families at a minimum of a $500 per month level. Currently there is only $650 left in the budget. Since agape love has to do with the will and action, in that regard you are limited to displaying agape love either toward the Jones family or the Smith family.

Confusion between Agape and Philia

The immediate response of most Christians is, “Well, we love them both even though we can’t support them both.” This response entails a retreat from agape love to philia, emotional type love. Of course, you have warm feelings for both of these dear families, but your limited resources restricts the display of agape as represented by financial support to one and not the other.

(In my experience, in almost every discussion of agape love this shift from agape to philia takes place, confusing the issue. This confusion is caused in large measure by English being limited to one primary word, love, that covers both Greek terms agape and philia. Discussing this topic clearly and accurately requires that we use care to not unwittingly switch from a discussion about apples to one about oranges, leading to the conclusion that a person with two eyes can see that an orange has a bright red peel. I have observed often this type of error resulting from a discussion on agape imperceptibly switching to philia.)

Limited Resources and Lots of Areas

This same limit in the display of agape love resulting from limited resources applies to prayer support, which we can extend in a meaningful way only to a restricted number of people and causes, there being only 24 hours in a day. Likewise, your neighbor might need help with cleaning out his garage, but your limits of time and energy will only allow you to help George who lives down the street and not Bob who lives on the next block. Or you can help them all by quitting your job, but that prevents you from extending agape love to your family by meeting their needs.

Hard Choices

This limitation of resources, coupled with Paul’s admonition to love with knowledge and discernment, requires us to make hard choices in determining who we will love in the agape sense with our finite capacities. We must apply biblical principles, and many exist, to determine where God would have us invest our resources.

This principle applies in the macroscopic sense of spending one’s life ministering to people in Zimbabwe as opposed to those in Indonesia. We face the same challenge in the microscopic issues of life. Last night at the YMCA I encountered a dad who had a son playing in one basketball court and a daughter in  another. In the philia sense he loved them both, but his incapacity to be in two places at once only allowed him to display agape to one or the other at any given time.

An Easy Choice

Therefore, if we decide to love our enemy by giving to the ACLU, this is money that we will not be giving to a needy family in the church. For most people this limitation easily eliminates the ACLU. Such a decision would be compatible with Paul’s teaching in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

But limited resources comprise just one limitation confronting us in our desire to exercise agape love. Tomorrow I plan to address another one.

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