1) Object of love

3.3.1 The object of Christian love

Whom does the Christian love? Paul always assumes that the love that the Spirit produces within Christians will have God as one of its objects. “Moreover, for Paul the primary effect of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit and the highest expression of the new relationship which Christians have with God is precisely their sonship, seen by Paul as a participation in the intimate reciprocal relationship of the the Father and the Son (cf. Gal 4:6), which can only be a relationship of mutual love.”p.137

Paul also has “an immense personal love for Christ (cf. eg. Phil 1:23 [having a desire to depart and to be with Christ]), and that all Christians as such have an intimate and affectionate love for their Lord…”p.137

This dedication to God is the fundamental orientation of the Christian’s being, (cf. 2 Cor 5:15 “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised”). However, this is not different to what was required of a Jew in Deut 6:5, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart…”p.138

However, we have to ask if Paul did actually use the term agapê as directed either towards Christ or the Father?

  • Romans 8:28 Christians are defined as “those who love God”.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:5 reads “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of/for God and to the steadfastness of/for Christ. Should it be of (subjective genitive) or for (objective genitive)? Both phrases should be taken the same way. The second interpretation is preferable because:
    1. in an almost identical parallel in 1 Thess 1:3 “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”, Christ must be taken as the object of our hope.
    2. “Paul nowhere else speaks of ‘Christ’s endurance’ or of our ‘participation’ therein.”p.139
    So, if the second genitive is objective, so must be the first: “love for God”
    The wish that Paul is here expressing is that the Kurios will direct the hearts of the Thessalonians to love God, just has he elsewhere expresses the wish that he will ‘make them increase and about in love for one another and for everyone’ (1 Thess 3:12)p.140
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14 “For the love of Christ compels/controls us…” Again, the question is whether this is speaking of our love for Christ or his for us? A number of arguments can be made on both sides and for Paul the two are indissolubly linked together. However, one may conclude that:
    …Paul is saying, in effect: ‘For loving Christ (= ‘living to’ him, existing no longer for myself) is for me a matter of constraint, since my judgement of faith (made definitively at Baptism: κρίναντας, aorist) is that this was the whole purpose of his death’ (cf. Gal 2:20).p.141

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The above discussion leads to two conclusions:

  1. There is certainly some evidence that God is the object of the Christian’s agapê
  2. “Nevertheless, it is remarkable that Paul speaks so infrequently of the Christian’s love for God” p.141-142
    Never does he use the verb ἀγαπᾶν to urge Christians to love God; and when he wishes to sum up the total christian demand, he speaks exclusively of love for ‘each other’, for the ‘other’, or for the ‘neighbour’ (cf. Rom 13:8ff; Gal 5:14). Why this reticence about the Christian’s love for God? Did Paul forget the šema’ on his conversion?p.142

Updated 2009-10-20 (build:62) by Andrew Fountain