I was asked by the elder of our house-church to condense down a sermon series on Agape, an 8-hour sermon series on Agape’ given by Gary Petty. And I think I’ve finally succeeded in condensing it down, and some of it’s in my own words, and some of it’s from Gary Petty himself, just condensed down in notes. I just want to give full credit right now to Gary Petty for this sermon series and this material. And if you want to listen to the long version, it is available, if you email him he might send it to you. His church is at: http://san-antonio.ucg.org.
What is Love?
Now most music that the world sings is about love. Our love for someone is way different from our love for a car, for instance. Our love for family is different than our love for a girl-friend or a boyfriend, or a husband or a wife. The Greek word used in the Bible to describe God’s love is agape, and is quite different in meaning from our English word for love. This by far is the most important information for the various Churches of God to have come down the pike in many, many years. We’re approaching the final exam time for the Church, and this is final exam material, if there ever was any. What is described in this material is what God wants us to become, this is exactly what he wants us to become in our lives. It’s the reason for Christianity itself. Let’s ask ourselves a question: ‘What had the awesome gifts God gave the church of God at Corinth led to?’ Answer: ‘One of the most dysfunctional, bickering, backbiting, sexually immoral and divisive churches of God in the whole Roman Empire.’ If God is agape, then you and I have to have God in us, and live in us (cf. John 14) in order for us to be able to express agape. You can keep the Sabbath---and if you don’t have agape, it’s nothing. You can keep the Holy Days---and if you don’t have agape, it’s nothing. You can do good deeds---and if you don’t have agape as your core motive, driving our actions, it’s not enough. You can keep all of the Ten Commandments, and you can have all the right doctrines---and still be NOTHING, ZERO. The next set of verses that we’re going to go into will show us how we should agape other people.
English Definition for the word Love
The English definition for the word “love” is actually a very simple definition. Here’s the definition. Love: it is a strong affection or attraction for someone. I don’t mean necessarily a sexual attraction, it means you like them. You have feelings of affection toward your children. A second definition in the dictionary is that love is a strong liking or interest in something, an object. Like your car, stereo, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, your video game, super laptop, etc. Some wives have been heard to remark that they think their husbands love their car more than them. A third definition for the English word love is: A strong, usually passionate affection for someone of the opposite sex. Now we are commanded by God to love one another, and even to love our enemies. The Bible says the most important commandment in the Scripture is to love God. Secondly, we’re told to love our neighbors. Those two laws are broken down into the Ten Commandments, the first four show us how to love God, and the last six show us how to love our fellow man. And then we’re told, we must also love our enemies. But if we use the English definition for love, love becomes a very narrow and inadequate definition. So how should we interpret 1st John 4, verse 7? 1st John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love [agapao, Strongs # 25, used as a verb]…So, “Beloved let us agapao one another, for love [agape, #26, noun] is of God, and everyone who loves [agape, #26] is born of God, and knows God.” Now notice verse 8, “He who does not love [agape, #25] does not know God.” Why? “For God is love.” Or in the Greek “God is agape.” If we’re using the simplistic English, is God a strong affection to others? The English doesn’t go far enough in defining what the word agape means. Verse 9, “In this the love [agape] of God is manifested toward us, that he sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love [agape], not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” Verse 11, “Beloved, if God so loved [agape’d] us, we ought to love [or agape] one another.” What does John mean by this? What does that mean for you and me? According to John, he says ‘We do not know God unless we have agape.’ Those are pretty strong words there. We’re not real Christians if we are not exercising agape toward each other and our fellow man.
Greek words for Love
The Greek language has three different words for love.
Eros: which means the attraction between a man and a woman. This includes romantic and sexual love. The word is not found in the Bible. We get our English word erotic from Greek word eros.
Phileo: Phileo means brotherly love. Phileo involves an attraction to another person, it involves sharing of common things, likes, interests, with another person. It many times involves an expression of positive emotion. Family love, love for the “group” you’re in, a shipmate, platoon mates, and even patriotism all define the word phileo. Many times the word phileo denotes the willingness of one to sacrifice for another person or group. But phileo is still exclusive, it’s an exclusive love. Occasionally phileo can reach up and touch agape. For instance when the hand-grenade comes into the foxhole, and a soldier throws himself on it to save his foxhole buddies, this is one of the greatest expressions of phileo. Phileo is unselfish love, but it tends to be exclusive, very exclusive. It can be action based as well as emotional, but phileo is exclusive, self-sacrificing with exclusivity. The man in the foxhole has intense phileo love for his buddies. But I have never read of a case where a man threw himself on a hand-grenade to save the enemy. But Jesus did that for his enemies, when you and I were all enemies of God. But that was not phileo love. Eros, romantic love, and phileo, family love, are all good. There’s nothing wrong with them.
Agape: But John is not using either of these two words in 1st John chapter 4. He’s using the word “agape.” God is bigger than eros, God is bigger than phileo. We can have phileo and still not be children of God by John’s clear statements in 1st John 4. We can still not be Christians according to the apostle John. And these are not my words, they’re John’s words. New Testament writers tailored the Greek word agape to suit there definition for God’s love. Agape in 1st century Greek is a very nebulous word, used in very broad vague ways. It’s exact meaning is still debated. So what does it mean to have agape? The dictionaries in the Greek that translate the word into English are usually very vague on the meaning. One Greek dictionary has over fifty pages defining the word agape. And when they come to the bottom line, they say: “But the New Testament writers gave a specific, sometimes new meaning to the word.” So we must use the New Testament writings to define agape as it is used in the Bible.
1. The first trait of agape is that it’s action based. Agape is almost always expressed in action or in actions. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” That was an action. How? In the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So agape was expressed through that action. The English word for love, being defined as a positive emotional response falls short of that action. Agape goes way beyond that. Agape sometimes has nothing to do with emotions. In fact, sometimes agape is doing the exact opposite of your emotions. We always tend to think of love in terms of emotions. That is not what agape is.
2. Agape is defined as what’s best for the other person, it is an outgoing concern, expressed in actions, toward the other person.
We must see Matthew 5 through the lens of agape. It takes on a whole new meaning when you filter it through the lens of agape, which we’ll be doing throughout this series. Matthew 5, verse 38, “You have heard that is was said ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’” That is a law, and it doesn’t mean revenge either. In the Mosaic court system, if someone knocked out someone else’s eye, the court would carry out the punishment of taking out the perpetrator’s eye. It was not a vengeance system at all. Jesus takes another step though here, in verse 39 he says, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also. If anyone wants to sue you, and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go a mile, go with him two.” And that was describing the Roman mail system in occupied Roman territory, which Judea was. If a Roman soldier was carrying a Roman mail satchel, and came across a Jew, he could compel that Jew to carry the mail satchel one mile. Jesus is saying “Go the extra mile.” “Give to him that asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you turn not away.” These are major actions of agape, going way beyond the letter of the Old Testament 10 Commandments and Mosaic Law. Now some people would say that in Proverbs it says not to be a borrower or lender. So how should we reconcile these two sets of Scriptures? Critics like to say the Bible is contradicting itself. Not really. When you look at the definition of agape, and you put this through the filter of agape, defined as what’s best for the other person, then the two Scriptures can be reconciled. Say the person is a habitual mooch, always begging from people so he or she doesn’t have to find a job, it’s not best for that person for you to lend to him. Paul states elsewhere in the New Testament “If a man will not work, he won’t eat.” Take a car thief, and he steals from you, steals your car, he’s a habitual thief, he’s got a problem. It’s probably best for that person to end up going to jail. So you’ve got to put these verses through the lens of the definition of agape. Verse 43-47, “You have heard it said ‘That 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 and persecute you…” That’s not emotionally what we want to do when someone persecutes us. We want to persecute them back. But agape goes in the direct opposite direction from that. It says “…that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven.” John said if you want to know God, you have to have agape, because he has it. He is agape. Here Jesus is saying through the apostle John that we must have agape if you want to be a child of God. Continuing, “For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors the same?” If you love your best friends, he said, are you any different from the Jews who were traitors and working for the Romans as tax collectors? He’s saying that if all you do is “love your own,” group, family, church, you’ve only gone as far as phileo. You haven’t gone as far as agape. That’s the whole point that Jesus was making here. “And if you greet your brethren only” he says in verse 47, “what do you more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” One of the proofs that we are the disciples of Jesus Christ is, as John defined in 1st John 4, the love relationship that we have with each other in our congregations. But if this is all we have, love with exclusivity, then we are missing something. Why? Those in the mosques and Hindu congregations have the same kind of phileo love for each other. But it’s exclusive love, exclusive to their mosque or congregation. Many of us within our congregations are no better than a Hindu congregation. Verse 48, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” What does that mean? Am I to let people take advantage of me, abuse me? How do I answer this? This is core issue time, folks. Agape defines how we are to do this.
Five Short Points About Agape
1. Agape is action-based. And it all started with God. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What was God demonstrating? He was demonstrating agape, through the death of Christ while we were yet sinners. That was an action. While we were despicable, unlovable, hideous in his sight, God loved us. While we were of no value, through the death of Christ he gave us value. While we were unlovable, Christ suffered for us. This is where you always start in our understanding of agape. You and I are not born with agape, it is developed within us through God’s Holy Spirit interacting with our life’s experiences. You and I aren’t born with agape at all. We will see as we go on that agape involves a way of thinking and motives, why you do what you do, and it’s how you think while you do it, having little or nothing to do with affection. Do you believe Jesus Christ felt strong affection for the Roman soldiers that beat the life out of him? I don’t think so.
2. Secondly, agape involves self-sacrifice, but not with exclusivity. It goes way beyond phileo.
3. Third, listen to this one, agape isn’t contingent on how the other person treats you. (We saw that in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount we just reviewed. We just read, “love your enemies.”)
4. Agape is an unselfish outgoing concern for everyone, not just those who think like you, who have common interests with you. “God so loved the world…” His concern was for everyone. You might ask, ‘Well how can God throw people in the Lake of Fire?’ We will come to see that justice and agape are not inconsistent. Once you understand agape, you will actually understand justice.
5. Point five, agape isn’t always necessarily an emotion. Although positive emotions are experienced when you express agape in action. When you go through the process of expressing agape, at times you must go directly against emotions. And then once you do, then the positive emotions come. But only after you do it, after you carry out the actions of agape. Because agape is always expressed in action. The bottom line here: agape involves looking out for the best interests of the unlovable, and it always comes down to our actions. Here’s the problem, when all our actions toward other people are solely based upon our emotions, eros and phileo, then we will tend to only associate, listen to, and treat well people who think like us.
Jesus’ Question to Peter
Now here’s an interesting question. Jesus had a question for Peter after the resurrection. They’re all sitting around eating broiled fish, and Jesus asked in John 21, verse 15, and I’m going to put into the Greek the word for “love” here, as it appears in the verse, “So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you agape me more than these?’ And he said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Verse 16, “He said to him a second time, ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you agape me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, I Lord, you know I phileo you.’” Verse 17, “He says to him a third time, ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you phileo me?’”…Finally Jesus says to Peter, ‘Do you love me like a brother?’ Verse 17, “Peter was grieved because he asked him a third time, and he said, ‘You know all things, Lord, you know I that I phileo you.’” Jesus essentially was saying to Peter, ‘Do you agape me?’ Peter’s response was ‘You’re my foxhole buddy, of course I phileo you, I’d jump on that grenade for you.’ Remember, Peter was willing to go to battle to save Jesus against overwhelming odds, and hacked off Malchus’ ear, so he was willing to jump on the grenade for Jesus. Jesus was essentially asking Peter ‘Would you jump on that grenade though for Caesar, if he were in the foxhole with you?’ Peter’s answer was “I’m not there yet, Jesus.” The great flaw in our Christianity is that we have phileo, but we do not have agape. That’s the core problem we have in the Sabbath keeping Churches of God. How can we possibly desire to give the Gospel to the world, the unlovable, if all we have is phileo?
Paul Defines Agape
Paul gave us one of the greatest definitions of agape in the Bible in 1st Corinthians 13. But we’ve got to first understand a little bit about the Book of Corinthians. Corinthians describes a church, and it’s a letter to a church that was a mess beyond imagination. It was tearing itself apart because of conflicts, people saying “I’m of Paul, I’m of Apollos,” there were schisms and divisions. They also were a church that had tons of sexual problems. People were going to prostitutes. Paul told them to get one guy out of there, because he was sleeping with his mother-in-law. They had a church where they were taking each other to court, and suing each other. They were a church in which people were coming to the Passover service stone drunk. They were a church in which a group of women had basically taken over the church, and every Sabbath service there was a shouting match. Paul spends about eleven chapters just tearing these people apart. And then in chapter 12 he says, ‘But you know what? You have an incredible amount of gifts. You have the gift of prophecy. You have the gift of tongues. You know foreign languages without being taught them. That was a gift from God. You have the gift of healings, tremendous healings. And then he says in verse 31, “But earnestly desire the best gifts.” ‘Do you want the best gifts? You already think you have the best gifts.’ And then he tells them, “Yet I show you a more excellent way.” ‘Better than the gift of healing, better than the gift of prophecy, better than the gift of knowledge, better than having great teachers and preachers.’ 1st Corinthians 13, verse 1, “Though I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not agape, I have become as a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” He’s saying, ‘What if I had the tongues of all men, could speak all the different foreign languages in the world? How about this, what if I could speak in angelic tongues? What if I could do that?’ He says, ‘If I have not agape, it’s just like me walking around blowing a trumpet at 3am in the morning.’ Did you ever hear a kid blowing a trumpet who doesn’t know how to play a trumpet---and everybody’s kind of squinting, one eye closed, wincing? Right. Or a clanking cymbal. And he says in verse 2, “Though I have the gift of prophecy,” you know all about the Book of Daniel, and who the beasts are in Daniel and Revelation 13 and 17. You understand all prophecy, in both the Major and Minor Prophets, you can explain every single section, you know the entire Olivet Prophecy. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries” Paul says, ‘I understand the meaning of the Holy Days, that the Holy Days are a shadow of Jesus Christ, outlining the entire prophetic sequences of Jesus Christ’s first coming ministry and second coming ministry to the world. That’s an incredible mystery. And you know what? If I have the gift of prophecy, and I understand all mysteries, and have all knowledge---you know every single doctrine of the Bible, you know Greek, you know Hebrew---“and though I have all faith, that I could move mountains”---every time you’re anointed, you walk out a healed person---“and if I have not agape,” he says “I am NOTHING.” Do you understand what he’s saying? He doesn’t say ‘You’re ok with God.’ He says ‘You’re ZERO, I am zero at that point.’ It’s like if I were to give our kids drums and cymbals, and they were to go through the house at 4am in the morning going bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, BANG, bang, bang, bang, bang! That’s the way God sees us when we’re not displaying agape to each other, and to the world.
Agape and the Law
Now here’s an interesting point. Agape and the Law. Let me explain something. You can know the Ten Commandments (and keep them), you can keep the Sabbath, you can tithe, and not have agape. Conversely, and this is where people go wrong so many times, it’s not possible to have agape and disobey the Ten Commandments. OK? So I have agape, and you have the commandments, it doesn’t work that way. Because the commandments explain love toward God and love toward man. So if I’m going to have agape, I’ve got to keep the commandments. You can’t just go around breaking the commandments of God and have agape. Breaking them doesn’t allow you to have agape. So you have to understand that right off. Paul’s not saying prophecies and mysteries and knowledge aren’t important. But you can have all of those and still not have agape, that’s what Paul is saying. But those are Kindergarten and grade-school level obedience. Sabbath and Holy Day observance, keeping all the Ten Commandments in the letter is grade-school stuff, as we’ll come to see in this sermon series. You can’t kick out the grade school level of obedience, it’s the foundation agape is built on. But you can’t remain in grade-school all your life either. Do you remember any kids who constantly “stayed back” in school, while the rest of the class advanced onward through the higher grades? You don’t want to be doing that. So you can keep the letter of the Ten Commandments and not have agape. It is not possible to have agape and steal from your brother, it is not possible to be expressing agape and commit adultery. It is not possible to be expressing agape and lie. OK? But it is possible to keep those in the letter of the law and not have agape. It’s like staying behind in Kindergarten. And that’s the point that Paul is making, is I can do a lot of right things and still not have agape. So I’d better know what agape is. This is the part of conversion which we tend to stay away from, and this is the part of conversion we must go to. 1st Corinthians 13, verse 3, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not agape, it profits me nothing.” Atheists have given all they have to the poor, and Muslims have died as martyrs for God (and they demonstrate a lot of courage when they do that). Did that make them have agape? See you can die as a martyr and you can give all you have to the poor, and still not have agape. We’re the people of God, we’re the children of God, we know what we are doing (at grade-school level, that is), we keep the Sabbath, we thump our chests, and Jesus asks us, “OK, do you agape me?” And we ignore the question over and over and over again. You can keep the Sabbath, and if you don’t have agape, it’s nothing. You can keep the Holy Days, and if you don’t have agape, it’s nothing. We can do good deeds, and if we don’t have agape as our core motive, driving our actions, it’s not enough. We can have all the right doctrines, and still be nothing (in God’s eyes), zero.
A little bit more about agape
Agape is not love that is grounded in any external value. What do you mean by that? Well God loved us, demonstrated his love for us by sacrificing his Son, while we were yet sinners. He couldn’t have based it on our value, we didn’t have any. He had to base it on his value. You and I have value because God gave it to us. While we were despicable and unlovable, he loved us. So it couldn’t have been our value, as we were unlovable, and worthless, that caused him to do it. Agape is pure love, and as such does not have its source in the loved object. Agape says I must act a certain way toward this other person, not because of them, but because of me, because I must be agape. It is motivated completely from within it’s own nature (which comes from God), it is not based on an expectation of getting anything in return. Relationships require a response, but agape requires our action first. This is the essence of grace. Grace is, God sacrificed his Son, Christ sacrificed himself, knowing that some of us would not respond, but he did it for them anyways. Christ died for the non-responding people just as much as he died for the responding people. ‘I died for everybody,’ he says, ‘now they choose whether they want to respond, but I died for them whether they respond or not.’ Agape is pure outgoing desire to care for another…pure outgoing concern for what is best for the other person---it is a pure outgoing concern for the welfare of the ones you don’t like---even the people who mistreat you. Where does that go? To understand that, you have to go step-by-step through the rest of 1st Corinthians 13:4-8.
First Character Trait of Agape---Longsuffering---Three Defining Motivations of Suffering Long
Verse 4, “Love suffers long”---or as the King James has it, “agape is longsuffering.”…the only way you learn longsuffering is to suffer for a long time. Our motivation is to do what’s right for the other person, i.e. you’re suffering long for the good of the other person, for what is best for the other person. That is longsuffering. There are three points here:
1. So, first of all, keep your perspective on God and what he has done for you…go back to 1st John 4, verse 9…back to Romans 5:8, how God showed agape to us first. Go back to the abuse that Jesus took for you, and it will change how you view the other person you’re having a problem with. Remember what he did for us. Now back to Matthew chapter 5. Matthew chapter 5 takes on a little bit different viewpoint when filtered through the lens of agape. Verse 40, “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” If someone steals your car and the police arrest that person, and you learn that person is habitual car thief, agape is saying, ‘I forgive that person, but should he be let go?’ Yes, forgive, but agape is what’s best for the other person, and in terms of not only that person, but for society. At that point, sending him to jail maybe the best thing for that person. Other times, say someone steals food because they’re hungry, or it’s a one-time offense, forgiveness would be showing agape. Agape means we suffer long, take it on the chin at times. All the commandments must be put into the context of what agape is. You, as a parent, you make these decisions all the time. Why, because agape demands you do what’s best for the child. Agape is what is best for that other person, and not only in terms of what’s best for that other person, but everybody else. Verse 44, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you.” Use balance: Agape asks, “Is it best for me to confront this situation, because it’s best for the other person? Or is it best for me to let that one go, and take it on the chin, because it’s best for that person?” The question you always ask yourself, ‘What must I do that is best for the other person?’ That’s agape. Sometimes you stand up and defend yourself, and sometimes you don’t. For example, take the woman with an abusive husband whose saying through her actions “I love him, I must suffer with him” while he is sleeping around, boozing it up, getting drunk all the time. Especially if there are children involved, it is not best for him or the children in keeping that mate. Agape demands that we do what is best, and in that case, for all. Pastors have run into this situation all the time, it’s very common.
2. The second point for longsuffering: Keep your perspective on what God is doing in your life as an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. There are many times where we should take abuse, or we should take misunderstanding for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Just because we have the right to do something, say, in defense of ourselves, doesn’t mean it is a good thing to do, for the Kingdom of God’s sake.
3. The third point for longsuffering: Keep in perspective that you’re just as human as the next person. The rude driver, the slow cashier at the checkout counter, the neighbor who isn’t very nice at times, the person who comes to church grumpy…remember, that was you yesterday. Learn to cut people some slack, you’ll appreciate it when others do the same for you. There’s a 4th point I want to make…
4. Another element of longsuffering is that God is developing patience within us by the things he’s putting us through or allowing us to go through, such as a long-existing ailment, a bad family situation we cannot do anything about. This is a whole process of God kiln-firing our godly faith into godly patience. Mr. Wire gave a whole sermon on that subject, based on James 1:1-4 and 2nd Peter 1:5-11.
II. “Agape is Kind”
We’ve got two more points in this particular sermon about agape. It’s expressed in 1st Corinthians 13, verse 4, “Agape is kind, agape does not always envy.”
1. So in kindness, kindness is usually always expressed in actions. But actions to who? That brings us to our second point about kindness.
2. Kindness does not ask ‘Who is my neighbor?’ A lawyer who was questioning Jesus wanted to know this, and asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor” while they were in a discussion covering the 2nd Great Commandment, which is: “love thy neighbor as thyself.” So the lawyer is asking ‘Who should I be kind to?’ Luke chapter 10, verses 29-36, “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus said to him, ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down the road, and when he saw him, he passed on the other side. [priests are full of kindly words, aren’t they now] Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” And then in verse 33, “But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed came where he was, and he saw him and had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day when he departed, he took out two dinari, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I come again I will repay you.’” Just who were the Samaritans? They were pagans that the Assyrians had transplanted into the northern territory which had been occupied by the ten tribes of Israel, in place of the Israelites they had deported into Assyria. These Samaritans were severely looked down upon by the Jewish society because these particular pagans worshipped their own gods, mixed with the worship of the true God of Israel. This form of worship was strictly condemned by God. These Samaritans kept the Sabbath, they kept some of the Holy Days, but they also worshipped their pagan idols at the same time (remember Simon Magus, who was from this area, and was a sorcerer). Jesus is now asking the lawyer, “So which of these do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And the man said, ‘Well he who showed mercy to him.’ Jesus said, ‘Go and do likewise.’” This is a major point about kindness. Kindness does not ask “Who is my neighbor?” So, kindness is expressed in actions, as we’ve seen here, and kindness does not ask ‘Who is my neighbor’. Your neighbor is whoever happens to come into your sphere of influence.
Keeping the Sabbath was first-grade stuff, we’re talking about graduate level work here, folks. Do you throw out the first-grade knowledge to do graduate work? Of course not, one is built upon the other. That is stupid logic, totally illogical. Next point:
3. Kindness starts at home, in the church. Have you ever heard the saying “charity begins at home”? It was oft stated in the early days of America, until recently. Agape must start in the church. The primary discussion of Romans 12 is about relationships inside the church in terms of agape. Romans 12 is sort of a shot-gun assortment of agape principles Paul was just shooting out in this chapter. Let’s read through some of these verses. Romans 12:9, “Let agape be without hypocrisy, abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.” Hypocrisy is play-acting. The first time you do something that’s right, it can feel strange. The first time you keep the Sabbath can feel strange for months. It’s a new experience, not working for 24-hours, going to church on Saturday. That doesn’t make it play-acting. You’re learning a new behavior. Play-acting is when you do a behavior for one purpose only, to impress other people. “Abhor the evil, cling to what is good.” The basic premise of this one is, hate the evil, but don’t stop there, grab onto what is good. If we hate evil all the time, and that’s all we do, we’re the most negative people on the face of the earth. Hate evil and learn to do good. Verse 10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another, with brotherly love,”---that’s phileo---“in honor giving preference to one another.” Spend time together, share life together, care about each other, with your actions motivated by what is best for the others. Verse 11, “Not lacking in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing stedfastly in prayer.” Verse 13, “distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” Some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met were some of the poorest people I’ve ever met. The nitty-gritty of agape is coming up next. Verse 14, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse.” When people mistreat and persecute you, don’t persecute back. Patiently work through the problems. That takes us back to longsuffering here. See how they’re all interconnected?
Vital Importance of Empathy
Verse 15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This is empathy. Without empathy, there is no way you can have agape. Empathy is the ability to rejoice with somebody who rejoices, and feel bad with somebody who is feeling bad. We have to learn empathy if we want to understand agape. Why? You can’t have agape without empathy, because with empathy you understand the other person. How do you do what is right for the other person without understanding them?
Verse 16, “Be of the same mind toward one another, do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinions.” If we have a piece of information that we know is right (whether it is or not, we think it is), we tend to tell it to everyone. And that’s not always good, not always necessary. There’s a time when we’re right, and it doesn’t matter. That’s a core concept of agape (learning to keep your opinions to yourself, and instead seeking out the opinions of others). And this next one is an even bigger core concept. Verse 17, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. And if it is possible, as much depends on you, LIVE PEACEABLY WITH ALL MEN.” Always try to do the peaceable thing. Verses 19-21, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is going into the area of anger, hatred and vengeance, which we’ll spend a lot of time later on in another point on agape. That last underlined sentence is a major point demonstrated by Jesus in Mark 3, how he was angry, but did something good to overcome an evil situation which was making him extremely angry. Romans 12 is virtually filled with principles defining agape, and how we ought to apply them in church first, and then to others in the outside world. But when someone hurts us, we want that person to be either punished, or brought to repentance, often on our own terms, and not on God’s terms (and God tends to be far more merciful than we are---that’s why he says “vengeance is mine”). There’s a fine line between justice and vengeance. We have to learn to give up the emotional need for vengeance. Mercy is a command in the Old Testament. When we’re driven by vengeance, we tend to think it is driven by justice when it is not. Why? We’re driven by anger. Policemen have to think about that all the time, because they can commit a crime themselves by being driven by vengeance when they see a horrible, despicable act committed, and when in fact they don’t have all the facts, and they may be jumping to conclusions.
Real Act of Kindness by Jesus
Everybody knew back then that you weren’t supposed to touch a leper. Jesus healed a leper once, in Luke 5, where he reached out and touched him first. He didn’t always do that in healing lepers. But he did that with this one. Nobody touches lepers. Here was a man whom nobody touched, or had touched in years. Touching him was a supreme act of kindness, kindness expressed in action. Jesus touched him while he was still hideous, then he healed him. Can you just imagine what that meant to that man?
III. “Agape Does Not Envy”
Envy and coveting are not the same thing. The definition of envy in English: “A feeling of discontent and ill will because of another’s advantages or possessions.”---ill will toward a person because he has something you think you deserve. Envy drives us to be able to justify whatever actions we have to take against the other person. Envy isn’t coveting, it is despising the person who has whatever you want. It is a very scary thing. James chapter 3, verses 13-15, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show, by good conduct, that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual and demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exists, confusion and every evil thing are there.” A major symptom of envy is internal confusion. External confusion, we don’t have any control over. But internal confusion, that’s something different. If we have internal confusion, we must stop and ask ourselves, ‘Is this because I’m suffering from self-seeking?---that I want something so much that I’m causing confusion? That is the power of envy, feeling like someone else got something we should have gotten. Proverbs 14:30 says, “Envy is rottenness to the bones.” It will actually cause physical ailments.
Three Ways to Fight Envy
1. First, learn to look at the blessings you get every day from God. And no matter how bad things look, you’re getting blessings every day. Be happy with what God has given you, and learn to be happy with what God has given you.
2. Second, learn to enjoy our temporary physical things for exactly what they are---temporary physical things you have. We blast through life so fast sometimes, that we don’t take time “to stop and smell the roses.” We don’t take time to stop and enjoy what God has already given us.
3. The third point, learn to share in the joy of another’s blessings. Instead of being envious, be glad when other’s receive blessings, and then you share in their joy, vicariously. And you don’t envy. Learn to find happiness because someone else received a blessing.
In the next sermon we’ll look at the next four traits of agape, “agape is not puffed up, is not proud, does not behave rudely, and seeks not its own.”