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Agape Love

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 16, 2024 12:01 am

Agape Love

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 16, 2024 12:01 am

The Greek word "agape" is the supreme concept of love in the Bible, a love that has its foundation in the character of God Himself. Today, R.C. Sproul expresses how Christians are to manifest this love in the world.

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The supreme concept of love that we find in the New Testament is this word agape, which has its ground and foundation in the character of God Himself. And it is this kind of love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. I've mentioned this week that there is confusion when we speak of love.

The world's definition and the Bible's definition are often at odds with each other. And one of the reasons for the confusion that exists is because in English we only have one word for love, but that's not true in the Greek of the New Testament. You're listening to the Friday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we conclude this week's study on the love of God. As it's our final message, it's also the final day to request the complete 11-part series with your donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. The Greek language has several words for love and different kinds of love.

Here's R.C. Sproul to explain some of their New Testament uses and nuances. There are three ways in which we speak about God's love. His love of benevolence, His love of beneficence, and thirdly, His love of complacency. Now we ought not to confuse those three types of love with what every Christian has heard at some time or another from the pulpit of the three words for love that are found in the Greek language. I mean, that's a common theme that you hear that when the Bible speaks of love, we have to be careful to distinguish among the different kinds of love that are articulated in ancient Greek. And today we're going to look at those three words for love and the significance of them. The first one is the noun eros.

The second is a noun that comes from the verb feline or feline, and the third is the noun that most have heard of, agape. So these are the three words for love that one can find in the ancient Greek language. Now the best tool for word studies that we have in biblical Greek is the massive undertaking under the editorship of Gerhard Kittel called Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, where New Testament scholars from around the world were given assignments to do comprehensive research on the use of particular Greek words in any extant literature from antiquity. So if you find a word in the New Testament like the New Testament word for faith, they would explore how that functioned in Homeric Greek, and then among the later Greek poets, among the Greek philosophers, how it functioned in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. Then they study how it is used in the gospels, then in the epistles, then in the early church, and so on, so that by the time you're done with that investigation, you have a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of the word. As I have said many times to my students that even though this tool has been created by higher critics, people who are critical of the Scriptures themselves, nevertheless from an academic perspective, it's the greatest tool of research that exists in the Christian scholarship for coming to an in-depth knowledge of the word meanings that are found in the text of Scripture.

And if you would look up the word agape in Kittel, you will see that that particular entrance was penned by the New Testament scholar Ethelbert Stalford. He is noted for his work in New Testament theology as well as for his work in the Greek. And what he does in his study is first of all spends time examining the meaning of the Greek word eros. And the word eros does not occur in the New Testament, but because it is a prominent word in the Greek language that can be interpreted or defined as love, and since the Greeks distinguished among different types of love, it's important that we have a basic understanding of it. In the English language, we get the English word erotic from this Greek word because eros refers to a sensuous love, a love that is heavily laden with sexual overtones. But not only that, in classical Greek, the word for love, eros, also carried with it the baggage of the demonic. And it was the kind of love that was often celebrated in pagan rituals, particularly in temple prostitution and the orgies of the ancient world, where people would celebrate love by getting drunk and stuffing themselves with gourmet delights of food and getting to the place where they were unbridled in their expression of sexuality and turned it into orgies. And it was kind of like a love that was influenced by evil, by demonic possession even. Well, as the word underwent its development in antiquity, there were attempts really to clean it up. Both Plato and Aristotle, in using the term eros, tried to remove from it any concept of the demonic. It still was used to involve sensuous expressions and sensuous affections, but without the negative connotation of the demonic attached to it. And so Stauffer, in his treatment of it, goes into great length to show the development of eros, but again, only for the benefit that we can understand that this word is not used for love, either in its pre-Platonic function with the concept of the demonic, or even after it has been cleaned up by the Greek philosophers.

It's still absent from the New Testament text. What you do find in the New Testament are the other two kinds of love, philein and agape. Now, in the word that comes from philein, we are familiar with it as part of the name of a city in the New Testament, and a city in America, Philadelphia. And when we speak of the city of Philadelphia, that city has a nickname, and it's called the city that boos Santa Claus.

No, that's not the nickname I had in mind. The city of Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love. And again, the word adelfos in Greek means brother, and phileia here refers to love.

And so you take the concept of brother, the concept of love, put them together, and you get the city of Philadelphia. Now, usually we think of phileo or philein as being a kind of love that is experienced among friends, where we like each other, have a deep affection for each other, but it falls short of the transcendent kind of love that is spoken of in supernatural terms in the New Testament with respect to agape. We can speak of the love of one's neighbor, or again, just being good friends with people and exercising friendship. But the supreme concept of love that we find in the New Testament is this word agape, which has its ground and foundation in the character of God Himself. And it is this kind of love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Remember when we started this study of the love of God, we looked at John's teaching in the Epistles, where John says, you know, that we ought to love one another because love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God.

Now, obviously, you don't have to be born again. You don't have to have a supernatural transformation of your character in order to experience brotherly love. There is a natural love that we can experience apart from our regeneration.

But to move to the highest level of agape is another question altogether. Now, we're going to take some time later to go through a somewhat in-depth analysis of that kind of love and what agape looks like by examining, or at least briefly examining in two lectures, we hope, 1 Corinthians 13, the favorite love chapter of the New Testament, where there when Paul talks about love, he's talking about a specific kind of love. He's talking about the love of agape. And that is the greatest of all.

And we will look at that separately. But for now, we see that there is this special kind of love in the New Testament that Christians possess by virtue of being reborn by the Holy Spirit and having this love shed abroad in our hearts, by which we now have the capacity to imitate the love of God, which we are called to do, that God loves us with agape, and we are to manifest that agape by the love we have one for another and the love that we manifest in our behavior throughout the world. Now, let me take some time to look at a couple of references in the New Testament that speak about the demands that God imposes upon us having quickened our souls to love.

One of the most radical teachings of Jesus is the command that He gives to His disciples to love their enemies. I remember listening to Jay Adams' lectures many, many years ago about the problem of how marriages are breaking up with increasing facility in our country, and he told about talking to a person who was about to get divorced. And this person said to Jay when he was counseling him that he wanted to divorce his wife because he didn't love her anymore.

And Jay said, well, wait a minute. You're commanded to love her. You know, the Bible says husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.

It's not optional for you. You can't decide that you don't love her anymore. You must love your wife. He says, it's not that I just don't love her. He said, I just don't want to live in the same house with her. And Jay said to him, well, suppose she moved out or you moved out and moved next door. Then she would be your neighbor.

And God says, you have to love your neighbor. And this man said to Dr. Adams, you don't understand. I can't stand this woman.

I don't want to even live in the same neighborhood. Dr. Adams says, oh, I see. What you're telling me is that you have feelings of hostility towards her. And he said, yes, that's true. He said, in other words, you regard her as your enemy. And the guy could see what was coming. He said, I need to remind you what Christ commands His people to love your enemy.

So, there was nowhere else for this poor fellow to go after he was under this kind of cross-examination from Jay Adams. But it is radical. It's a radical thought that Jesus introduced in the Sermon on the Mount when He said to His disciples that they were called to transcend human boundaries of love, even to love their enemies. Let's look at the text.

I've reproduced it in my book, Loved by God, which I've been trying to follow the basic outline of this book in this series of lectures. But here in Matthew 5, 43 to 48, we read this. Jesus said, you have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor, and you shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. Now, notice that when Jesus introduces this, He doesn't say, it is written, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. When Jesus uses the introductory phrase, it is written, He is making an explicit reference to the Old Testament Scriptures. When He uses the phrase, you've heard it said, He is referring, He's using language and idiomatic expression that His contemporaries understood, that He was referring to the Halakha, which was the oral tradition of the rabbis, the rabbis who developed their theology, which often departed from the teachings of the Old Testament. So that you have to understand that when Jesus is correcting the contemporary's view of the Old Testament, He's not challenging the Old Testament.

He's challenging the distorted understanding of the Old Testament by some of the rabbis. And so He said, you've heard it said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies. Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good. This is the love of beneficence here.

And He sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than anybody else?

Do not even the tax collectors do so. Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Now, what Jesus is saying here is that you should be complete, just as your Father is complete.

That is, to be complete in the absolute sense is to have it all together, or what we call integrity. And Jesus is saying, you are to manifest and to imitate nothing less than the integrity of Almighty God, who loves people even when they hate Him, who does good to those who persecute His own Son. And you are called to transcend the normal human feelings of hatred and vengeance that mark fallen humanity.

Now that you are in the kingdom, you are to live out a kingdom ethically, the essence of which is this doctrine of love. Now, one of the most interesting biblical discussions of this is found in the discussion that Jesus has with Peter at the end of Jesus' life after the resurrection when Jesus appeared before His disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. And He shows Himself to Simon, Peter, Thomas, and Nathanael, and so on.

And in this discussion, we hear these words. When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these? I think it's interesting that He calls him Simon here, not Peter, because from the previous discussion at the Caesarea Philippi confession of Peter's when Jesus named him the Rock, had come the threefold denial of Christ by Peter. And so now He says, Simon, do you love Me, agape, more than these?

Now, there's an ambiguity in the way that's stated in the text. We're not sure what Jesus was meaning. Was Jesus saying to Peter, do you love Me more than you love your friends here, the apostles, the other disciples? Or is He saying, do you love Me more than they love Me? Or does the these refer to His nets and His figures, and He's saying, do you love Me more than you love your life as a fisherman?

It could be any one of those, and we're not sure, but we are sure that Jesus uses the term agape here when He said, do you agape Me? And Peter answers the question, listen to what He says, yes, Lord, You know that I love You. And Peter answers the question, listen to what He says, yes, Lord, You know that I love You. In other words, there's this thinly veiled rebuke here where Peter is saying, why are you asking me if I love you?

You know that I love you. But one of the oddities of this interchange is that when Jesus says, do you agape Me? Peter answers, yes, Lord, I phileang you.

I love you with this kind of love. Now, here's the thing commentators are not sure about. Is there some thinly veiled, nuanced going on here in this interchange where Jesus is saying, well, yeah, I know that you phileo Me, but do you agape Me? The other side of that coin is that John in his other writings from time to time uses the two words for love, philein, and agape interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. So, maybe there is no particular significance to the change of the word for love here in this discussion.

I'm not sure, but it is interesting that we find it here in the text. He said, yes, Lord, You know that I love You. Jesus said to him, feed My lambs.

This is a message for every pastor in the world. If you love Christ, how do you show the love of Christ? It's love Me, love My dog, love Me, love My sheep. If you love Me, Jesus says to Peter, then you feed My lambs. He said to him again a second time, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me? And again, he uses the term agape. And he said to him, yes, Lord, you know that I love you, again, philein. And Jesus said to him, tend My sheep.

Now, is he saying the same thing? Again, just changing the words, lamb, sheep, or some would say that the pastor's responsibility is to take care of the new convert or the baby sheep, and you have to take care of them, but you also have to take care of the adult ones. You have to feed them.

You have to tend them. I don't know. Finally, he says to him the third time, Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me? But this time, Jesus shifts to philein after Peter has just told him twice that he loved Him, and with that same word.

Now, Jesus uses the word back. He said, do you love Me like that? And it said, Peter was grieved, and he said, do you love Me? He grieved because he said to him the third time, do you love Me?

You can't help but draw the inference that the reason for the threefold inquiry, the interrogation. Jesus asked him three times, because three times he had been asked by the world, do you know him? And three times, Simon Peter publicly repudiated Jesus. And so now as he's being restored as a disciple, Jesus asks him, Peter, do you love Me? Yes, Lord, I love you. Peter, do you love Me? Yes, I love you. Peter, do you love Me?

Three times. How could Peter miss the significance of that? And no wonder he was grieved. Jesus said to him again, feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wanted, but when you were old, you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish, signifying prophetically the martyrdom that Peter would experience. And then when he had spoken these things, he said to him, follow me. However Jesus used the verb to love in this context, it is clear that just as Christ challenged Peter to manifest the love of God that is found in agape by ministry, by tender care of God's people, so are we to manifest it by care, tending, feeding, and giving of ourselves to the people of God.

That was R.C. Sproul from his series, Loved by God. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, a daily outreach from Ligonier Ministries, made possible thanks to the generous support of listeners like you. And you can support Renewing Your Mind in a number of ways.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-16 02:47:12 / 2024-02-16 02:55:43 / 9

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