God IS love. That is, behind everything that He has or will do, He IS love. Without a God of love -- our theology, all our correctness of scriptural understanding, and all our outward acts of trying to be like Jesus remain cold and sterile, impotent to change lives, and polluted by self-righteousness. Without truly tasting the essence of God, i.e. Agape love, we may know all the scriptures, have memorized all the right verses, and even be great at teaching, expounding, extracting truths, and passionately revealing knowledge of Him and His ways, yet we are dead. We may have perfected our flesh as to lead millions to Him and still be on our way to hell.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love, know that I am put here for the defense of the Gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely (Greek =hagnos meaning from a purity of heart) supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” -Philippians 1:15-17
Our flesh is capable of some amazing things, fooling even ourselves! Paul also said that we may be capable of rightly dividing all doctrine, all heavenly truths, speak with tongues of men and angels, yet without love, without Agape – we are a resounding gong, a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13) Without Agape we are nothing, we gain nothing, and we are on our way to hell.
What is Agape? What kind of love is this? Truly Agape is so altogether different from what man knows to be love that it would be better not to use our word ‘love’ for it. To describe God as our English word ‘love’ is an insult bordering on being an abomination. Our English word is used to describe our affinity towards pizza and peanut butter. ‘I love movies and popcorn. I love old cars; I love hamburgers with Vidalia onions; I love God’. We don’t really mean that we like onions and God the same but we have no other way to say it without adding some adjectives.
In the Greek, one’s love for peanut butter would be an ‘eros’ love. As the Greeks described lusty hunger for things their word ‘eros’ was a perfect fit. Wisely the Greek language uses several very different words for very different kinds of love. Deep, brotherly love that was held strong between friends is a ‘philas’ love. ‘I philas my wife for she is my best friend, yet I eros her also since she is so gorgeous’. But a relationship between us without agape is one that would be terribly strained and prone to crumble; hence the divorce rate previously mentioned.
Eros is selfish, meaning: I want now, for myself, that which seems to be the highest, the best and the most beautiful. Eros is to grasp upwards, beyond myself. After defining its beauty, accepting its worthiness, and judging its desirability, I decide – I want it; I must have it; it’s mine.
In one sense, eros is not bad – I may ‘eros’ peanut butter because it’s creamy, sweet, buttery and full of flavor. I judge it to be perfect on toast, spread thick. But, in a real sense, eros is the root of all sin. I want the highest, the best and the most beautiful? The trouble is – you have it! I want the highest, the prettiest and the sweetest right now? The trouble is – you own it, you’re married to her, it’s not mine! Eros is the root of all sin!
Eros is selective. Only wanting the highest, the best and the most beautiful – you don’t make the grade, you don’t pass the test – you’re out! Eros is the basis of all racism. Eros is the basis of all marital discourse: ‘You are not performing as to my expectations – you’re not worth the effort, you’re not accepted, I just don’t love you anymore, we’ve grown apart, I’m going to trade you in for that one over there’.
Eros is the basis of today’s society. In 2 Timothy, Chapter 3, Paul says, “In the last of the last days, men will be lovers (eros) of themselves…” News flash – he wasn’t talking to or about non-Christians! He was addressing poor Timothy regarding a problem he was having with a couple of unruly characters in the church. “Timothy,” (I paraphrase) “you think you got problems now, well I got news for you. In the last days (now), the church will be so engrossed in eros that instead of their lives being containers overflowing in Agape, they will be swallowed in self, demanding the biggest, best and most beautiful and casting aside all else.”
Paul could have had immediate acceptance if He would have used the word ‘eros’ to describe the Christian faith. The leaders of the early church could have had twice the converts using this word (eros). Sadly, churches today have wonderful attendance and can build phenomenal structures with coffee shops, restaurants with gourmet chefs and youth centers with bowling alleys by preaching a god of ‘eros’. They exclaim: ‘Come to Jesus and get ‘eros’. He’ll give you everything you want, supply all your worldly desires and bless you with all the lusts your heart can imagine.’ Jesus may be the biggest, the best and the most beautiful but HE IS NOT EROS.
When God chose to describe Himself, ‘eros’ was not the word of His choosing. God uses a new term, as if reserved for His description (at least in Greek writing) from the beginning of time: AGAPE. God is agape, not eros. God does not desire the biggest, the best and the most beautiful. God does NOT exclude. God is NOT a racist; He’s agape. God, throughout the New Testament never used our word for love, and by this I believe He is stating:
Everything that man thinks of and understands in the natural as ‘love’ is far removed from what God is! When we say ‘God is love’ it has nothing to do with man’s sloppy, slurpy, sweet and syrupy thing they call love! God is agape.
God IS agape, it is not something He has. He IS it. If agape is what God IS, His nature, then it is safe to say that it (agape) is NOT found in man. IF I find agape in someone I know, I can be sure that it did not originate with them. God must have put it there; He placed it in the person’s heart. It is a gift.
John states in 1 John 3: “Behold what manner of (or how great a) LOVE (AGAPE) the Father has lavished upon us.” This text means: How strange, how different a love. He’s saying in an awesome wonder, “It doesn’t really belong here, this agape.” The Greek literally means, “From another world.” This is a different love, it doesn’t belong here, and I can’t describe it in any terms that I know of. God must have placed it here.
As eros reaches up to the highest, limits itself to the ‘accepted’, comforts itself with the most beautiful, the nice, the right, the righteous then – Agape must be altogether different than that, it is completely other-than that.
Agape reaches out and down, eros reaches up. Eros investigates you, it scrutinizes you, and it places you under a microscope and says, “Are you good enough? Do you fit in? Are you the best and most beautiful? Will you help me get higher? If so, then I will let you in.”
Agape reaches out and down to ALL. No one is excluded. Agape not only reaches out to all but it reaches down, even to His enemies. It is the reverse of what the world thinks. Surely, my concept of God as a natural man is that He only wants the highest and the best in His fellowship. I come to see that He is agape who reaches down to the ‘low-life’s’. No wonder the Pharisees were upset! No wonder most Christians get upset when we reveal AGAPE! This man receives sinners and He eats with them? To the religious man, Jesus was against everything their idea of God represents.
God is agape. He loves all people of all races. He loves people of different religions; He loves Saddam Hussein; He loves murderers and idolaters. Eros says, “You’re crazy!” But agape continues to reach out to all and down to the very worst. Jesus said (Matthew 5:43), “You have heard it said (or understood thus far) Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, (or I AM) Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you that you may be (or may reveal the fact that you are) sons of your Father in heaven.” (My paraphrase)
Agape reaches out; agape reaches down. Agape sees beyond appearances; agape sees the person behind the bitterness, behind the selfishness, behind the walls of strife, beyond the veil of intelligence, holiness, self-righteousness and pride. Agape sees the preciousness. Agape doesn’t see ‘sinners’ but sees ‘lost sheep’. Sheep are valuable! Are we sinners, yes; lost, most assuredly; yet agape sees through the sin and anger and rebellion to what can be.
Eros is emotion; it operates on feelings, on opinion. Man loves because of an outward pressure to do so. I love (eros) you because you are nice to me. I love (eros) pizza because it tastes good to me. I eros anything because I judge it to be lovable. That which I eros, compelled me to do so.
Agape does not love because of any outside pressure to do so. You can not earn it through your beauty. You can not desire it through your kindness, your Godliness or self-righteousness. God IS agape; He doesn’t love me because of who I am, He loves me because of who He IS. In my flesh I am truly confused. What kind of love is this?
Agape is fully expressed, completely defined in Jesus. I see it when He called the disciples to follow Him and picked the average ‘Joe’. I see it in His compassion over the death of His friend Lazarus even as He knew full well that He was about to raise him from the dead in a few moments. But I also see it in Jesus as He drove the merchants from the temple with an angry whip, loud words, and ‘violent’ behavior, unbecoming of a ‘godly’ young man. I hear the deepest agape passion in His very pointed, condemning words to the Pharisees in Matthew, Chapter 23. How deep does one’s love need to be to allow those whom you most long to understand the truth hate you so vehemently so as to plan your very death? Agape doesn’t always look ‘loving’!
When I look at Jesus, fully man yet fully God – I see the full expression of agape love in the cross. God chooses, because of who He is, agape, to die for His enemies. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Before the foundation of the world was set, before beginnings of beginnings God says: “I AM one who dies for His enemies.”
John was right – this kind of love is completely other-than me. I am eros, fully and completely. I work for my own pleasures, I fight for my rights; I complain and bicker and demand and whine. I want my way and demand more and more and more. I am eros! If I am to be truly redeemed then I am fully born-again in Agape. From Adam’s sin I am naturally born into eros, self-centered and self-grabbing. If I should give my life to Christ and He reforms my spirit, His agape fills me. John said, “Dear friends, let us love (agape) one another, for love (agape) comes from God. Everyone who loves (agape) has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)
If agape is in me, God put it there; if it is not, have I truly been born again? John continues in verse 8 by stating the same thing in reverse for us to fully grasp it: “Whoever does not love (agape) does not know God, because God is love (agape).” Can he make it any plainer? It is as if John is answering the question of this book – do you want to know the difference between a professing Christian and a real Christian? Look at their life – it is a vessel of agape or it is NOT; there is no in-between. What does it look like? Look at Jesus. Don’t ask, “What would Jesus do?” Ask, “What DID Jesus do?”
He had compassion, yet openly and strongly confronted sin; sometimes He was gentle (with the prostitute, Zacchaeus, Thomas) others direct and loud, even sounding angry and judgmental. Agape disciplines (Hebrews 12:6), calls false believers ‘children of the devil’ (John 8:43), commands that we make ‘right judgments’ based on one’s hearts intent and not on outside appearance (John 7:24), demands that we give our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), preaches a depth of the Law which no one can keep (Matthew 5) so that we are driven to the foot of the cross in desperate need of this love we cannot create by ourselves.
Jesus IS agape, not man’s syrupy, sweet, human definition of love! Agape loves enough to confront, cares enough to drag another out of the fires of sin, and sees the salvation of one’s neighbor a higher cause than the survival of one’s own flesh.
John goes on to state just exactly what agape love looks like in verses 9-10: “This is how God showed His love (agape) among us: He sent His one and only Son into this world that we might live through Him.” Then he states it more clearly: “This is love (agape): not that we loved God (it didn’t come from us), but that He loved (agaped) us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
It is as if God replies: ‘If you want to see agape in action, look at my Son; I died for those who hate me. Go do the same.’ The world says, ‘You’re crazy! Die for your enemies? Love those who persecute you? You’re nuts!’ And in our flesh, the world is right. For goodness sakes, we can’t even get Christians to stop hating even in their own homes! No, the Janice and Allen’s of this world do NOT have a ‘need to learn to love each other’ problem; they have a ‘need to surrender their hearts and souls to God’ problem that only sincere repentance and brokenness will solve! We cannot learn agape, we can only receive it.
We have erroneously been taught that agape love is ‘unconditional’.
The truth is that agape love acts unconditionally.
It unconditionally: -teaches the truth no matter how difficult it may be to the hearer
-lifts up the lowly
-is ‘good news’ to the down trodden
-disciples in truth
-comforts the weary
-is father to the fatherless
-brings acceptance to the alienated
-brings judgment to the self-righteous
-sees through the sin to the lamb within
-accepts the repentant sinner no matter how grave the sin
-works in ways to keep the believer blameless
-receives conviction from the Holy Spirit
-acts like the Heavenly Father we all desperately need
Agape love is perfect, it sees us where we are and refuses to leave us there because it loves us so much. Unconditional in action yet very conditional in our response to it to allow it to work in our life so that we may give glory to the Father in Heaven – and that is its purpose.
I said earlier that agape even loves Saddam Hussein, yet if he or any other (including us professing Christians) fails to respond to agape, we willfully shut out the life-changing power of salvation. Agape is conditionally unconditional. We must walk in a daily openness to the Gospel with a heart of repentance that only He can give (ask for it!). The writer of Hebrews said, “The Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” This word ‘discipline’ means to correct, to disciple, to bring to a knowledge of the truth by correcting err; it presupposes pointing out sin to keep us blameless, spanking us with the consequences of disobedience so we turn to truth, and NOT excusing sin under a man-made, false-love doctrine.
“Why do I have to suffer?” cries my selfish soul.
“Why should you experience even a moment of joy?”
Truth returns the question.
I want more and more and more, my lust is never quenched.
Even when condemned to death, in sin my soul is drenched.
Why did He reach so low to scoop me from the molten clay?
Why did He choose to snatch me from the grip of Satan on that day?
It was nothing that He saw in me; nothing that I was
He chose because of who He is, will be, and who He was.
He loved me in my filth, picked me all deformed
And while I shook my fist at Him, it was my heart He warmed
With love that’s from another world, like never seen before
A love that filters in, and calms my inner war
That changes, rearranges, cleanses deep and opens eyes,
He dragged me to His throne, cut me open, exposed my lies.
Then gently gathered up the pieces, broken, spilled out on the ground,
And like a puzzle, He placed together, every emptiness He found.
He made me new, and every day that I bow down, He makes me new again,
For in dependence on my Savior, is the beginning and the end.
“There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.”