AGAPE

Love

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Have you ever had the experience where you look at a word too often and it suddenly loses its meaning? You read it, try to spell it, sound it out, and then suddenly that word looks really weird, you don’t recognize it, the letters all look misspelled, and you’re not even sure what it means anymore? Because I spend so much time writing and reading it happens to me all the time.

It’s actually a very normal thing that happens. It’s called “Semantic Satiation” and it happens when you ask part of your brain to access a piece of information too many times in a row. Essentially that little bit of your brain gets tired and needs to recover.

This can happen with more than just words though. This is why we usually don’t like listening to songs more than once and why songs with repetitive lyrics lose their meaning after a while as the words become just part of the beat. It happens to warning signs where the words “Danger” or “Caution” are seen so many times that they lose their ability to affect us. It’s also why advertising companies keep changing the names, logos, and boxes. You’ve probably noticed this when you’ve written a note and stuck it on a wall, right? It was supposed to remind of something, but after a short period of time, you don’t even see it anymore. The same thing happens with companies as the wow factor of their product goes down and they have to change up how it looks or what it’s called so you’ll notice it again.

This rabbit hole goes deeper though. There were some studies done on Semantic Satiation that showed how using emotional words a bunch of times can change how you see other people. In one study in 2012, they took a bunch of students, stuck them in a room, and gave them a bunch of faces to get familiar with. They were then divided into two separate groups. One group was asked to repeat a feeling word 30 times (like “happiness”, “anger” or “fear”) putting them way into Semantic Satiation of that word. Then they showed a picture of someone they had just memorized with their facial expression showing that emotion (being happy for example). It took the group that repeated “happiness, happiness, happiness” over and over much longer to identify the person than the group that hadn’t – even when they made the face super extremely happy. It had fatigued that part of the brain so sufficiently that when they saw happiness, not only had the word “happiness” lost its meaning, but their ability to detect happiness it in other people’s faces![1]

Defining Love

One could make a pretty good argument that we’ve done this with a lot of really good words like “Epic” and “Awesome”, which are now all used to describe not only the most majestic parts of creation but also the most mundane things. You can stand on the edge of Niagara Falls, witness its power and listen to its roar and say, “wow, that’s awesome” – or when your waitress asks how your food is, you can say, “wow, it’s awesome.”

I think in a very real and even more serious way, this has happened to the word “Love”. It’s supposed to mean “an intense feeling of deep affection”, but it seems to have lost its punch.

Most people know the Bible has a lot to say about Love, but it doesn’t really help much to read that if our brains simply can’t soak in what that word means because either we see it too much or we have no real definition of it, right? It just bounces off us like water off a duck’s back, never penetrating the shell of our hearts.

1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

How can we understand what that means if we are using the word “love” to describe our feelings for God – but also our spouse, our kids, our car, for new fallen snow, and our favourite dessert? How can I love God but also love tacos?

The New Testament was written mostly in Greek and Greek had 4 different words for “love”. There’s EROS, where we get our word “erotic”. It was represented in the Greek god EROS, who the Romans called “Cupid”. It is the feeling of arousal where people are sexually attracted to each other.

Then there was STORGE, which was the special love shown for relatives like parents and children, and the word PHILIA which is the love between very close friends or even brothers and sisters. There’s a really combination word in Romans 12:10 that says Christians are to “PHILOSTORGOI one another”. Love as a family and love as friends mushed together.

But there is one word for love that towers above all others in the New Testament and that is the word AGAPE or “unconditional or sacrificial love”. It is not a love that is based on familiarity, charm, or attraction. This is a love that has more to do with principles than feelings. That being said, it’s not just the cold, religious duty that we give to God or we give to others because we have to, but more as an affection driven by something deeper than mere feelings. This is love based in commitment, given by self-sacrifice, made by choice, regardless of how much the other person deserves it or the risk of disappointment or rejection.[2] [3]

The Love of God

AGAPE love is the love that is “of and from God”. It is love that is “of” (as in, aligns to His design for it) and “from” (as in, the kind of love God gives us). It is the kind of love God gives to us and the kind we are to give to others. This is what 1 John 4:19-20 means when it says, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar…” That’s the concept of AGAPE laid out. We can only have the deep, AGAPE type of love – sacrificial, committed, fearless, unselfish love – if God not only demonstrates it to us but also helps us to have it.

Once we start to grasp the concept of how much God loves us, it gives us the courage and the impetuous, the motivation to love others. As long as we think God is against us, will leave us, hates us, is angry at us, or is too distant to care about us, we will never be able to truly give AGAPE love others.

But when you realize that God loved you so much that He was willing to trade His one and only Son for you – you start to get it. When it becomes real to you that God knit you together in your mother’s womb and chose you before the beginning of time to be His – you start to get it. When you realize that even your worst sins are not only forgiven but will be used for your good and God’s glory – you start to get it. When you realize that you were dead, condemned, an enemy and yet God saved you anyway – you start to get it. When you realize that even on your worst day, when everything is wrong, that there is nothing in the whole universe that can separate you from the love of God, because His love doesn’t depend on you, it depends on Jesus – you start to get it. When you realize that you were the leper and Jesus touched you, you were the blind and Jesus made you see, you were the outcast, the Pharisee, the prostitute, the hypocrite, the corrupt official, the fool, the afraid, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the one who owed more than could be repaid in many lifetimes – and Jesus came and got you, healed you, cleaned you, paid your debt with His own blood, and walks with you every moment of every day – you start to get how much you are loved.

And then that type of love can’t help but leak out on to others. Just like “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), the love God shows us must spill onto others. Love must be “demonstrated”, shown, made real and practical. That’s Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love for us is most clearly shown at the cross. God’s AGAPE love is love we don’t deserve. Ephesians 2:4-5, right? “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…”

But what does that type of love even look like in our lives? It’s all well and good to talk about big, God-sized love, and it makes us feel warm and fuzzy to read and sing about, but how does it work out practically in our lives? What does it look like? If “love” has truly reached “Semantic Satiation” in our culture, then how can we recover it? Well, we not only need to experience it for ourselves by being saved by Jesus, but we also need some concrete concepts and examples to help us understand. And that’s when we turn to 1 Corinthians 13.

Context

Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 13 and let’s read one of the most famous passages in scripture, often called “The Love Chapter”, and let’s pull out some real, concrete, ways that God’s AGAPE is lived out in our lives.

Remember the context of this church? They were divided into factions (1:12), participating and encouraging all kinds of sin (5:1, 6:12-20), suing each other (6:1), messing up their marriages and families (7:1-16), constantly offending one another and tempting one another to sin (8:12; 10:31; 11), coming to church drunk and eating all the food before everyone got there (11:17-34), even desperately wanting to be able to have the kind of crazy spiritual experiences they used to have when they worshipped demons at the temple (12:2).

Remember the context from last week about Spiritual Gifts? Last week we learned that they had gotten the idea of spiritual gifts completely confused and were not only wishing they could all have sign gifts, but were belittling themselves and anyone who had gifts they deemed less important. And so the Apostle Paul, writing under the authority of Jesus, says, “You guys have this all wrong! We’re a body that needs all these different parts!”

At then, at the end of his illustration of the Body of Christ, where he tries to teach them to accept the gifts as God gives them and work together, he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” What’s more excellent than getting the gift of tongues, or healing, or miracles, or teaching? What’s more excellent than having some intense, ecstatic worship experience? Paul starts with a preface.

Meaningless Actions

Look at verse 1-3:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

What’s he saying here? He’s saying that you can have all the gifts, talents, powers, and faith in the world – but if it’s not motivated by AGAPE love – sacrificial, committed, unselfish love – it is meaningless. Why? Remember what I said last week about the difference between demonic spiritual gifts and the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit? What was the difference?

The ones from the Holy Spirit point to Jesus and the demonic ones point everywhere else. What’s the difference between real, meaningful, good works and ones that are meaningless? Love.

Listen to the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:21-23,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

These passages sound very familiar, don’t they? “Jesus! We spoke in the tongues of men and angels, we gave great, prophetic messages and sermons, we studied so we could understand mysteries, and memorized bible passages and theologies and doctrines and psychologies and medicines and technologies so we would have all kinds of knowledge, and we did mighty works in your name, fed nations, started ministries, cured disease, travelled the globe singing your songs and speaking your name.

And what does Jesus say? “You had not love, neither for me nor my people. You were only thinking of yourself. So when you taught and spoke and sang all I heard was an irritating, clanging symbol. I don’t even know who you are. My ears were closed to you. And your faith and mighty works, were not motivated by AGAPE because you don’t even know me. There was no sacrifice, no commitment, it was selfish love meant to point back to you – and so it all meant nothing. We weren’t working together, Me as your Lord and Saviour, you full of my Spirit. You were doing it all on your own. All your supposed good works, because they were not motivated by my love, were all works of lawlessness, doing more harm than good.”

No good deed, no great religious work, no level of knowledge can save us, nor can it please God alone. Why? Because even though it looks like love for others, it is actually just love for ourselves. What does this look like?

Verse 1 speaks of words. Consider your words. Where do your compliments come from? From a desire to make others feel loved or because you want compliments back? Why do you try to solve relationship issues like arguments? Because you love the person or because you hate conflict? Why do you insert yourself into people’s lives and try to befriend them? Because you love them and want to bear life’s burdens with them – or because you are afraid to be alone or need someone to stir drama up with? Consider why you do what you do. Is it out of love for others or love for yourself?

Verse 2 speaks of knowledge. Why do you study? So you can serve others or so you can sound smart? Why do you seek excellence? Because you want to maximize the joy of others or because you are a controlling perfectionist? Why do you like hearing people’s problems and giving advice? Because you have a soft heart and want to walk with them or because you have a saviour complex and want to be Jesus to them?

Verse 3 speaks of actions. Why do you do what you do? Love is not merely measured by your actions, but by your motives. Why did you buy that gift for that person? Because you love them and thought it would make them feel love – or our of obligation, to shut them up, to distract them, or to make yourself look good. Motives matter. This says you can give away everything you have, be the most generous person alive, live in a cardboard box, and then die as a result – and it could mean nothing to God, gain you no heavenly reward, because it was not motivated by love.

What a different view of spirituality, religion, wisdom, and sacrifice God has compared to us, right? We could judge someone the most amazing believer ever – the voice of an angel, the preaching power of Spurgeon, the wisdom of Solomon, the spirituality of Augustine, the knowledge of Da Vinci, and the sacrificial life of Mother Theresa – and yet, before the face of God in heaven it would all count for exactly zero because it was not motivated by love.

Love Is

So what does true, AGAPE love look like? We see it in verse 4. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Hopefully the picture begins to form. Have you ever known someone who was amazingly skilled, knowledgeable, or giving – but their heart was a mess? What a smart guy, but what an unkind man, he has no patience for anyone. That woman volunteers all over town and serves in every ministry – but what a bragger. That guy sure knows a lot about the Bible, and is such a man of prayer – but he is so rude, always insisting on his own way – you should see how he treats the waiters and waitresses at restaurants.

“Of course I love my husband and my family and my church”… then why are you always so irritated and resentful of them? Why do you have a ready list of everything they have ever done wrong since you met them? “I love my wife and family and church”… then why do you constantly like about where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and why you were late?

Do you see how our motives can completely negate our loving actions? How our actions can completely negate our words? The love of God, AGAPE love, looks like this. Remember I said that love is “of” God and “from” God. The way we understand how to love others is to understand how God loves us. So what does true love look like?

Love is patient, longsuffering. The Bible says repeatedly that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Ps 86:5). He’s not sitting around waiting to zap you, constantly stomping around, disappointed with you because you’ve “done it again” – He’s patient. Are you? Some of you ask, “How long do I have to put up with this?” The Biblical answer is, “A good, long while.” “But they keep doing it! How many times do I have to forgive them and be patient? They’ve done this like seven times!” And Jesus says, “I do not say to you seven times, but 490 times.” (Matthew 18:22) So many times that you end up losing count. Are you patient? Keep in mind that one of the fruits of the Spirit that you can ask for is “Patience” (Gal 5:22-23).

Love is kind. Kindness is the initiative to respond to people’s needs. You see someone in need and you are compelled by a drive inside, because of the kindness God has shown you when you were in need, to go and fill it generously. “Need a quarter? Here’s a dollar”. “You look sad, here’s something to cheer you up.” “Can’t afford a babysitter? I’ll come for free – and tidy the kitchen when you’re gone.” “You need a ride? Here, borrow my car.”

Love does not envy, or is not jealous. Envy is when you get angry that someone has something you want. When seeing someone that has something causes you to feel sorry for yourself. “That person is richer than me, smarter than me, prettier than me, better at a skill than me, and that makes me angry at them and assume the worst about them. I can’t be their friend because they have something I don’t. They have a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, child, home, car, whatever, and when I see them or think about them I immediately feel bad about myself. That’s envy and jealousy. It was, perhaps, Satan’s greatest sin. Love says, “I am happy that person has something awesome like that. Sure, I’d like that too, but I’m really glad they are blessed in that way. I wouldn’t trade with them because then they would be without. I’d rather go without if it meant their happiness.”

Love does not boast; it is not arrogant. This is the mirror of envy. This is making others feel badly because of the things we have. We are given a gift by God and are meant to use it to bless people – but instead we use it to make ourselves feel superior to others. That’s sin. Love says, “I have this awesome thing and I’m going to share it with you. I have this talent and I’m going to bless you with it. I have this ability and I’m going to use it for you, without cost, because I love you.”

Love is not rude, or unseemly. In other words, love doesn’t make people cringe by being crude, impolite, or offensive. Usually this means sexual talk and profanity, but it can also mean simply not waiting your turn, serving yourself first, or telling jokes that try to humiliate or embarrass others. Love lifts people up, encourages, and is sensitive to others. It wants God to be honoured and everyone to enjoy what’s going on.

Love does not insist on its own way. Being self-seeking, or insisting on your own way, is literally the opposite of love. Love looks out for others, gives way to them, insists others go first, listens to what others have to say and lets them try it their way.

Love is not irritable or resentful. Another translation says, “Love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs.” Love isn’t touchy, irritable, hot headed, always on the edge of exploding. It doesn’t have a list ready every time someone talks. Love doesn’t jump down people’s throats over a misspoken word or cause others to hide in fear of them. It doesn’t sit there with their thumb on the nuclear button that they know will blow the other person up and make them stop talking. Love is patient, right? It gives people latitude, lets them speak, lets them make mistakes, lets them try again, lets people explain themselves, and contributes calm to the room – not fear. Which do you contribute?

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love loves morality. When sin and evil happens it’s not happy about it, but sad. God doesn’t delight in wickedness (Ps 5:4). In fact, He hates sin. Injustice and evil causes Him to feel sadness and wrath. God didn’t sweep the sin under the rug, but dealt with it justly and righteously. That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross, to take the wrath of God for us.[4]

After explaining what love does not do, he turns to the positive and gives us what it does – and they all point to Jesus. To “bear all things” means to “cover” or “hide”. Think of someone being a human shield or throwing themselves on a grenade. Love protects. You see someone being embarrassed or gossiped about or about to face harm and the love inside you makes you jump out and help them. That’s what Jesus did for as He took the punishment for our sins and continues to intercede for us as our advocate.

To “believes all things” doesn’t mean to be gullible or naive, but to be willing to think the best of people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Jesus does this to us as He walks with us, continues to listen to our prayers, keeps helping us, keeps encouraging us, and treats us as friends. One of His titles, after all, is Jesus, Friend of Sinners. A friend knows our weaknesses and cuts us lots of slack.

To “hope all things” means we look forward, not backward. You can’t keep a record of wrongs if you are looking forward, right? It means knowing that God is working on people, that tomorrow is another day, and trusts that God is working things out for our good and His glory. Jesus is our ultimate hope, allowing us to know that as bad as it can get, God has it under control and it will all eventually make sense in Him.

To “endure all things” means to persevere. It was not the Jews or the Romans who put Jesus on the cross. He could have stopped anytime. It was Jesus that put Himself there. He, because of His AGAPE love for us, endured the cross (Heb 12:2) so that we could be saved. Love doesn’t take off when things get tough, it sticks through. Love doesn’t give up. Hardship and pain doesn’t stop love, it purifies it. They strive to save their marriages, families, friendships, as much as they can – for the sake of love.

Conclusion

And that kind of love goes beyond feelings doesn’t it? It’s not temporary, it’s permanent because it is rooted something that doesn’t change: in God Himself. That’s the kind of love Christians have been given and that we have access to when we submit ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. It really is the “more excellent way”.

[1] http://mentalfloss.com/article/71855/why-does-word-sometimes-lose-all-meaning

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/eros-love.html

[3] White, R. E. O. (1988). Love. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1357). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/love-not-delight-evil-rejoices-truth.html