Updated: Jul 25, 2019
By Brother Joe Guinn - Gila Valley Lodge 9 F&AM
The morning of my Entered Apprentice Degree was full of awe and wonder as I made my way blindfolded by Brother Dewey I had this incredible sense of peace that everything was right in what I was doing.
I made my way around the lodge room listening to words that were said to me, the pause for prayer, the sound of the gavel as I passed the stations in the south, west, and east, kneeling at the altar repeating words that I understood to be a lifelong commitment. I came into the light, and I started receiving instructions, I was being taught Masonry through this highly symbolic, an ancient ritual that I was taking part in. I knew that millions of men had walked where I was walking, and I felt connected to them. I thought about my great grandfather and the connection that I wish I was able to talk to him about that morning. I sat listening to Daniel, a man that had become a friend and was now a brother as he gave an explanation and the correlation of so many of the symbols throughout the lodge. It was during this time that he said something that was so familiar to me, but at the same time was foreign.
Daniel was explaining the symbolism of Jacob's Ladder when he said Faith, Hope and… I was about to say it with him, he was quoting the last verse in 1 Corinthians 13, the LOVE chapter of the bible. He was going to say LOVE and I knew it. I’ve been to weddings even having been the performing minister who used this same verse, I grew up going to church memorizing scripture, I even have a seminary degree. These words are something that I know that I Know, that I KNOW. I was sure of it.
But he didn’t say, love. The next word was charity? Then he said the greatest of these is charity as if to finish the verse substituting charity for love in an otherwise perfect quote of 1 Corinthians 13:13. There was so much else being said that I didn’t at the moment have even a second to stop and think about it because I was too busy trying to take everything in. But later that evening at home I began thinking about the concept of Faith, Hope, and Love, and the difference of substituting the word Charity instead of Love.
Having taken hermeneutics in college I did what any trained theologian does and went back to the Greek. The reason for this is that just like the word whisky, love has many different meanings. You see when I tell someone that I enjoy whisky the educated listener might ask what type of whisky do I enjoy? They know that there are scotches, bourbons, rye’s, Irish, Canadian, Japanese, blends, and more. Yes, all are whisky and yet, they are all uniquely different. But love in our English language is used to convey many different feelings with but a single word. I use the same word when I say that I love pizza and to tell my children that I love them. How can this be? Do I have the same feeling about the pizza that I do about my children? I don’t. That's just silly but I daily use that same word to describe so many different feelings.
So back to the Greek. Ancient Greek had at least 4 distinct words for love. They can have varying meanings based on context further showing that even 4 words were not enough and as the Greek language developed there were as many as 4 more words added for love. I’m just going to focus on the 4 words in Ancient Greek as this is what the bible was written in.
These are the 4 words that were used at the turn of the first century.
Eros or the type of love involving mostly the physical passion between a man and a woman.
Philio describing what is best described as brotherly love towards friends, family, and even community. This is also used to express the enjoyment of an activity such as I love cooking.
Storge is most commonly used to express the natural empathy and affection between parents and children. Within context, this word can also be used to describe the affection for one's country or even a favorite sports team.
Agape the greatest of love, and the word that is found in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that was replaced by the word “Charity” in masonry and used in the explanation of Jacob's ladder. Agape is called the greatest love because it is an unconditional love for another that can not be earned through attraction, commonality, or family connection. It is described as the Love that God loves us with, and what we show to our fellow man when we give of ourselves with no expectation of return.
What I found was that Agape was the word for love in First Corinthians. I immediately thought, wow that makes total sense. You see I knew this word, as well as being very familiar with the other 3 words because I had spent an entire semester in college studying the book of John. Also known as the “love gospel,” and spend a fair amount of time focused on the word love throughout the book.
There is one place where this word is used that I immediately thought of upon my finding. It was a very powerful use of the Greek language that unfortunately is lost in translation in our modern bibles. It’s found in the 21st chapter of John when Jesus and Paul sit down and have what my grandma might call a come to Jesus meeting.
If you are familiar with Peter at all you might recall that Jesus after having dinner with the disciples proclaimed that one of those closest to him would deny him, not once, but three times. Among those wondering who it might be. Peter vehemently declares that he would never do such a thing. But when the opportunity came Peter proved that his actions were not as strong as his words, and ultimately he publicly denied Jesus 3 times.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and we find Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him. Peter says yes, I love you. This is exchange happens 3 times and each time the same answer is returned as the first. I have heard many a preacher attempt to unpack this and their explanation based on their own surface understanding always bring them to the conclusion that the 3 times was significant because Peter had denied Jesus 3 times. However when you break it down and look at the language that John used in writing this story we see something so much deeper than just simply 3 questions for 3 denials.
Jesus asks Peter the first time if Peter Agapes Him, and Peter responds with I Philio you. Jesus asks a second time Peter do you Agape Me, and Peter returns again you know that I Philio you. But on the third time Jesus asks, Peter do you Philio me, to which Peter responds You know that I Philio you.
You see this conversation Jesus asks Peter the first two times if he has an unconditional love for Him, but Peter wasn’t able to return that love yet so he told him that I love you like a brother. The third time was different. You see Jesus in a demonstration of this agape unconditional love lowers the question. Jesus realized that Peter wasn’t there yet, so Jesus asked Peter if he loves him like a brother, and Peter is finally able to respond to Jesus in the same way that he was asked the question.
We all know that charity can be used to describe giving to those less fortunate but if that is where you stop you miss out on something so much greater. I asked Google “what is charity,” and the 3rd definition I was given was “kindness and tolerance in judging others” and the synonyms under this definition included words such as compassion, concern, kindness, sympathy, understanding, thoughtfulness, tolerance, and decency. This is the charity that Jesus showed to Peter, and what we as men and masons should be demonstrating to the world.
Are you living a life as a Mason that people would use these words to describe you?