Today’s theme: Advent as Agape – How God defines love in His relationship with us
Agape (αγάπη) is God’s fullest expression of His Love towards us and indeed his love for all of creation. It is also our best response to Him. I consider Agape as the primary expression of love and the root of all existence since without God’s Agape, nothing would exist apart from His sacrificial willingness to sustain it.
- “And you shall love (Agape) the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love (Agape) your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
- “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love (Agape) of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:5
- “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love (Agape) of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Quotes to think about:
A loving God writes who I am: “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” — Mother Teresa
In the end, it is love: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
Love is all you need: “All you need is love, love; love is all you need.” — The Beatles
Relationships: For our purpose, I want to suggest that all relationships are rooted in an expression of love of which there are four primary types (from Greek) and all are expressed in relationships:
- Agape: Godly, sacrificial, empowering love – giving
- Phileo/Philia – Friendship, fondness, brotherly love. It is sharing.
- Storge: Natural or familial love (parent/child, husband/wife, siblings) – caring
- Eros: Physical, intimate, possessive love – wanting/needing
Remember the Fundamental Problem: 4 vs. 1 – Greek has four words while English has one word. That one word tends to be interpreted by whatever is our current primary cultural expression, which has changed dramatically over the centuries. Currently, it appears that Eros is the primary cultural expression of love in the West. Important to remember: Eros is not a biblically acceptable form of love, even though it drives the primary understanding of love today. That is a significant problem in our current cultural milieu/environment, or as I like to say: the water in which we swim.
The problematic Eros – Physical, Intimate, Possessive Love
Definition: Overwhelming craving desire or passion to possess the other or thing desired. Eros sees and must have. It is important to remember that Eros is selfish to the core and only concerned with possessing the object of its desire. It doesn’t give; it takes.
You will often see interpretations, even from Christians, and incorrect in my opinion, that Eros is marital love and some commentators will suggest that any of its bad attributes can be redeemed. I disagree and believe that Eros is at its root selfish and self-serving, and I believe it is the complete corruption of agape, phileo, and storge into sinful possessive lust. For me these attempts are a perfect example of the admonition in Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
One additional distortion to consider when thinking about a Christian perspective about Eros is that it embodies in Greek thought the passion and ability of man to ascend to God, to see God’s worth, his power, his majesty and seek to take possession of it for oneself, to ascend above the Most High. Sound familiar?
Today’s Lesson: The Primary Relational Expression of Love: Agape/Agapao
While the noun (αγάπη) and verb (ἀγαπάω) forms are rarely used in classical (ancient) Greek literature, they are the primary forms used to translate the Hebrew words for love in the Septuagint (LXX) where its usage prefigures its meaning and importance in the New Testament.
It is important to understand that the Bible – both Testaments, are self-referential, by this I mean they define themselves by their usage and context. So, in the case of Agape and its various forms, they go way beyond anything understood in literature outside of the Bible.
Agape goes from meaning to be fond of or contented with, to an expansion in the LXX by translating the five primary Hebrew words for love.
Giving worth and sacrificial forgiveness
Agape begins to take on the meaning of giving worth or value to the worthless and as love that expresses sacrificial forgiveness. I will use Hosea as an example of this meaning of love as Agape.
Giving worth to the worthless
Hosea 1:2-3a “When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea: ‘Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim” By taking a woman who was to a Hebrew a useless harlot as his wife, Hosea mirrored God in taking Israel as his people. In both instances, worth is given to what was previously worthless.
Hosea 3:1 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover [friend] and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.’” So the symbolism goes further. Even after the rejection of that offering of worth, Hosea goes after Gomer (as God goes after Israel) and sacrificially buys her back from her degradation and takes her again, in forgiveness, as his wife.
Gomer is the symbol of lost humanity in need of redemption. When she deserts Hosea, she is the symbol of the sin that takes us away from our first love, of our “loving the raisin cakes of the pagans” or to put it bluntly, the pleasures of sin.
Hosea (God) pursues her (us) again and redeems her (us), sacrificially buying the lost one back and forgiving her (us) her harlotry. This is Agape. At this point, there was nothing desirable about Gomer. Everything that gave her worth came from Hosea.
John 3:16 takes on new meaning when you look at it from this perspective. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
For God was sacrificially willing to give his worth (his Son and all that His Son was willing to do) to the world that in its fallen state had no worth, so that we could believe that this offered redemption was possible, not for anything in us, but for the grace and mercy of God (our Hosea to our Gomer).
The problem: It is easy to turn this gift of God’s sacrificial love into license (corrupt it with Eros), to become like Gomer and go whoring after our wants and desires, to entertain sin.
The correction: Paul gives us the necessary corrective in Philippians 1:9-11. “And this I pray, that your love (Agape) may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. “
The redemption: I want to suggest three scriptures that nicely wrapper the redemptive process.
- Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love (Agape) toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- 1 John 4:10 “In this is love (Agape), not that we loved (Agape) God, but that He loved (Agape) us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
- 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Our sacrificial response: Romans 12: 1-2 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice [or living offering of Agape to God], holy, acceptable to God [agape is always holy and acceptable], which is your reasonable service [our natural response]. 2 And do not be conformed to this world [do a Gomer], but be transformed [work out our salvation in fear and trembling] by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God [seeing our love grow in knowledge and all discernment].”
Assignment for This Week
As we go through the next two weeks, I want you to keep this image at the forefront of your meditation. I will explain its full meaning later, but for now, just remember that all three of these biblically significant aspects of love are intertwined with Agape being the lead expression, but together they create the fullness of the expression of love we seek.
Ephesians 3:17-19 “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”