(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Agape - God's love
18th May 2006
The Greeks had various words that could be translated into English as "love". The actual Greek word translated as "love" 10 times in the passage 1 Corinthians 13:1-14:1 is agape.
(for the precision-minded, agape actually occurs only 9 times in the Greek, and an extra one is put in by the English translators to make it easier to read).
1 Corinthians 13:1 - 14:1
W. E. Vine, the writer of the famous "Exposotory Dictionary of New Testament Words" says that agape is "the characteristic word of Christianity".
That is, if there is any word that sums up what Christ and His followers are about - or should be about - it's this one.
That's why Paul can write:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
The Corinthians prided themselves on how much they spoke in tongues. Speaking in tongues is a gift from God, as we see in Chapter 12, verses 7-11. But the use of a spiritual gift is of no value if it's not motivated by love. Why do we pray and sing in tongues? Is it to make us feel important? Is it so others know how spiritual we are, or is it because we love God and our brothers and sisters in Christ and want to bless them? Spiritual gifts are of great importance to the church. But we should want spiritual gifts because we love the church, not because we want the gifts for their own sake.
And not only tongues – the good gift that was being so abused by the Corinthian church - but also prophesy – which Paul describes in Chapter 14 verse 1 as the greatest gift - and any other gift, is valueless if not motivated by love.
And not only the use of those gifts which are clear manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but all acts of service, are valueless if not motivated by love - even martyrdom.
So we see that whatever we do must be motivated by love.
What is agape love actually like?
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (which I heartily recommend) says this about agape:
This definition explains why Jesus died on the cross. He died to save you from your sins and to restore you to relationship with God for all eternity because he sees in you something of infinite value.
This definition remains true in the Bible, but the Bible takes it further. It uses the word agape to refer specifically to God's love.
The New Dictionary of Theology says:
The crucifixion is the greatest example of agape. The crucifixion also makes agape possible for the Christian and motivates the Christian to agape. In fact, only Christians are capable of agape as defined by the Bible (although many non-Christians are self-sacrificing).
1 John 4:7-11
Agape is a gift from God.
And Agape is God’s commandment:
1 John 3:23
This is the starting place for the Christian life – believe in Jesus’s atoning sacrifice, in His salvation and in His love for you, and love everyone – especially God’s people.
What a wonderful description of the love of God for us! And what a challenge when we realise that we're called to love each other with the same agape!
Speaking in tongues, prophesy, words of knowledge, and all the other manifestations of the Holy Spirit listed in Corinthians 12 will come to an end. They are imperfect but when we stand in Glory with out Lord, we will see and understand perfectly - and we won't need these gifts any more. But agape will never die!
Living on Earth we are like children, compared to the people we will be when we live in heaven. And, like children, we don't know all that much conmpared to what we will know when we reach maturity - in heaven.
(Also, like children, we think we're wiser than we are)
The Greek word translated "poor" in the NIV is ainigma, from which we get the English word "enigma". Thus when the NIV says "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror", a better translation might be "for now, we see a reflection of an enigma”. This shows us how much more clearly we will see when we see Jesus face to face.
These are the three gifts from God that are fundamentally necessary for the continuance of the Christian life.
Our faith that we are truly saved – truly His – will not be required when we stand in glory and see Him face to face.
But we will see! We won’t need to be certain of what we do not see – we will see Jesus face to face!
And we will have received what we hope for. Our hope of final salvation will have been fulfilled!
But our love will continue for ever!
Chapter 14 verse 1
Paul says this: