In all my travels in the western Christian church over the last 25 years, the Bible passage most used to describe love and defend the New Age sentimentality of the Religion of Niceness is: drum roll, please…can you guess?
Tada…1 Corinthians 13…the “love is kind” one. It’s the patron saint passage that all hide behind when they encounter something (especially in God’s word) or someone (usually a prophet in God’s kingdom) that doesn’t measure up to their preconceived notion of love usually borrowed generously from American Hinduism.
Now, let us be perfectly clear here. I Corinthians 13 is a startling passage. But, for God’s holy name, let’s preach and teach it in the context of the actual Word of God – and what the intended meaning was in the first century church. That’s the first and foremost task of anyone who wants to hear “well done” from the Master in his or her exegesis…interpreting the “then and there.”
James 3.1 declares those who are teachers better be right or receive the “greater condemnation.”
Wow. Now that’s certainly not nice, and actually doesn’t sound like “love” in modern parlance.
There’s 2 pieces here in this issue of ABF. First, from J.P Holding here in Florida, and second, John MacArthur, the renowned Bible teacher from southern California.
My friend and dear brother J.P. Holding has been a tireless worker in the field of apologetics, or defending the kingdom of God, both to skeptics, stonewallers, and believers themselves. He wrote this piece some time ago at my urging…and we are indebted to him for this fine, concise work.
You who are persuaded love in nice will not like either of these! But…if you are one of the rare birds in God’s kingdom worldwide looking for true truth at any cost, these will resonate and also confirm either your suspicions or confirmations by the Holy Spirit. Praise God!
What Is Agape Love? By J.P. Holding; www.tektonics.org
What exactly is agape, or “love” as it is translated? The NT tells us:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
We read such passages and tend to assume at once that “love” means what it does to us in modern times — in this case, a mushy sentimentality that never says a harsh word and never steps on the toes of others. The same word is used in 1 Corinthians 13 (though translated differently):
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The question at issue: how is all of this actually worked out in practice? Does agape mean not confronting others with error or sin? Do we need a deep relationship (a “25 ton bridge” as one friend calls it) to relate to a person and to correct them?
On the surface this is an obvious no-brainer, since of course the writers of the NT were constantly confronting others on various errors, even people they obviously could not have known well (even if we assume, wrongly, that they related on modern, individualist terms!). It takes a “politically correct” stretch to argue otherwise.
But there is a more moderate view: We can confront, but can only do so politely. Well, that too is a no-brainer on the surface, given the many abrasive comments given by Jesus and by Paul to their opponents (i.e., Pharisees, the Galatian “Judaizers”) and even to fellow believers (like Peter and the “Satan” quote) who went awry. Indeed, rhetorical analysis of Paul’s letters indicates that he used some very sharp rhetorical tactics which would have seriously shamed his opponents and even his readers.
The answer is found in one of two places:
1) The NT teaches but does not act out agape;
2) We are not really understanding what agape means.
And as it happens, the social science (the study of the norms of the day) data tells us that #2 is the way to go. In the following we will draw in some points that some readers may recognize from previous essays here on our site but there is also some new material added.
A key difference in understanding the meaning of agape is to recognize that
our culture is centered on the individual, whereas ancient Biblical society (and 70% of societies today) are group-centered. What is good for the group is what is paramount.
Hence when the NT speaks of agape it refers to the “value of group attachment and group bonding” [Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, 196]. Agape is not an exchange on a personal level and “will have little to do with feelings of affection, sentiments of fondness, and warm, glowing affinity.” It is a gift that puts the group first.
With that in mind, what of the passage which tells us to “Love your enemies”? How is this reconciled with places where Jesus calls the Pharisees names, or Peter “Satan”? How is it reconciled with where Paul wishes emasculation on his Galatian opponents (Gal. 5) and shames the Galatians with his rhetoric? How is it reconciled with even confronting others with sin and error, for that matter?
Given the definition of “group attachment” above, it may be best to understand agape as a parallel to another known concept of today – not love, but tough love. For the sake of popular culture awareness I will allude to perhaps the most famous example of such “tough love” known today — the New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark (whose story was told in the movie Lean on Me) who cleaned out his high school and made it a safe place for those who wanted to learn.
Clark was no soft sentimentalist! He kicked those out of school who disrupted the learning of others. He used physical compulsion to do it as needed. He used a bullhorn to get people’s attention. Is this agape? Yes, it is! It is the Biblical form of agape in which Clark valued what was best for his students as a whole versus what the individual wanted.
Now consider this understanding in light of, for example, Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and others. It will take a complexity of emotion we find foreign, but conceptually, it is certainly possible to love one’s enemies, and yet also attack them; and the same for one’s disciples or allies.
Like Clark’s disruptive students, the Pharisees were a threat to the well-being of others; so likewise Peter when he made his error. They spread deception and falsehood and kept others from entering the Kingdom of God with their deceptions; or else led people down the wrong path and away from spiritual maturity.
In such a scenario, not only is it right and proper, for the sake of agape, to confront and confront boldly; it may be the only responsible thing to do to keep the disease” or error from spreading and afflicting more souls! (In the ancient world, and even today, insults and polemics were a way to shame and discredit an opponent.)
So agape does include verbally attacking and discrediting one’s opponents, or confronting other believers, when they are in the wrong. Jesus speaks to these men not as his enemies, but as enemies of the truth. There is no indication that he speaks to them as personal enemies, for all of his comments reflect their deception of others; the personal relationship between the parties does not even come into the picture.
They were enemies for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ situation with the Pharisees and others attacked was serious, since their actions imperiled the eternal fate or the spiritual maturity of others.
One may reply, “But what then of the example of the Good Samaritan? He was kind to an enemy.” He was kind to a personal enemy; the man was not spreading lies and deceiving others!
Here is food for thought: If Jesus had been attacking a Pharisee, and the man had suddenly clutched at his heart and dropped to the ground, would agape have us give the Pharisee CPR? Yes, it would. We are thereby making the man our “neighbor” and extending the hand of welcome into our fellowship. From there what happens?
The Pharisee may keep on his attacks against the truth after he recovers; if so, he is still an enemy for the sake of the Gospel and one to be publicly addressed in disparaging terms. But if he drops to the ground again we will still work to save him.
Our modern society has lost this ability to distinguish between sin and sinner; it is often assumed that to attack the position is to attack the man!
Such is the bane of “tolerance” and political correctness.
This is from John MacArthur’s commentary on 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
The four qualities mentioned in verse 7 are hyperbole, exaggerations to make a point. Paul has made it clear that love rejects jealousy, bragging, arrogance, unseemliness, selfishness, anger, resentment, and unrighteousness. It does not bear, believe, hope, or endure lies, false teaching, or anything else that is not of God. By all things Paul is speaking of all things acceptable in God’s righteousness and will, of everything within the Lord’s divine tolerance. The four qualities listed here are closely related and are given in ascending order.
Stego (to bear) basically means to cover or to support and therefore to protect. Love bears all things by protecting others from exposure, ridicule, or harm. Genuine love does not gossip or listen to gossip. Even when a sin is certain, love tries to correct it with the least possible hurt and harm to the guilty person. Love never protects sin but is anxious to protect the sinner.
The Corinthians cared little for the feelings or welfare of fellow believers. It was every person for himself. Like the Pharisees, they paid little attention to others, except when those others were failing or sinning. Man’s depravity causes him to rejoice in the depravity of others. It does not expose or exploit, gloat or condemn.
Love does not justify sin or compromise with falsehood. Love warns, corrects, exhorts, rebukes, and disciplines. But love does not expose or broadcast failures and wrongs. It covers and protects.
Love feels the pain of those it loves and helps carry the burden of the hurt. True love is even willing to take the consequences of the sin of those it loves.
Love also believes all things. Love is not suspicious or cynical. When it throws its mantle over a wrong it also believes in the best outcome for the one who has done the wrong—that the wrong will be confessed and forgiven and the loved one restored to righteousness.
If a loved one is accused of something wrong, love will consider him innocent until proven guilty. Try to develop a spirit of mutual trust…
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
You may view our Archives here: AT THE BATTLE FRONT – ARCHIVES; Complete Archives; feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion. May our Father richly bless you with His grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in order to walk worthy of His name.
Please comment on this post right below. Feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion.