Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Depth of Agape Love

Black-capped chickadee on my deck.

I am being blown away by some 1 Corinthians 13 studies. It's a bit like Psalm 23 for me. Ps. 23 is so familiar, yet within it there is a universe of spiritual meaning and truth. I've found this out by, basically, a 30-year extended meditation on it.

1 Cor. 13 - so very familiar, but quite unstudied by myself. So I'm diving in, and finding out, unsurprisingly, that these are very deep waters! Here's a splash of them.

The biblical Greek word we translate as "love" is: agape. Referencing agape as used by Paul in 1 Cor. 13, NT scholar T. Engberg-Pederson writes:

Agape is an attitude of radical and completely selfless concern for others, which cannot be readily combined with concepts like rights or fairness, both of which imply that the person has certain legitimate claims for himself. Agape, by contrast, requires that in his relation with others a person goes the whole way in their direction.” (Cited in Ben Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 272)
Agape love does not coexist with human, "natural" power-status-hierarchies of honor and shame. Where the hierarchy doesn't exist, personal "rights" don't exist. "Fairness" won't either. When agape love comes, the words "But it's not fair!" evaporate.
We don't, of course, go all the way with evil's direction, since we do not agape-love evil. But we do love others in such a way that they become our primary concern, and not our own "rights." If you want an example of how this looks, think of Christ. This is not some “natural” human love. This is the kind of love that happens when a person is touched by God’s grace, and enabled by God’s Spirit. Because: it goes against “natural” human inclinations to love the unlovely or those who do not love in return. Witherington writes: Agape love is not the sort of love that is dispatched like a heat-seeking missile due to something inherently attractive in the “target.” (Citing Victor Furnish, in op. cit., 272)

THEREFORE… this love is only something God can give us. And God HAS given us this love in Christ.

Paul also believes that Jesus-followers like himself can manifest such love. Paul calls people to imitate himself and Christ. Agape love is not a “conditional,” "If-Then" love that is dependent on circumstances. Witherington says, and I take note: This kind of love is often best seen when the circumstances are not favorable or likely for its expression . I've had a couple of opportunities in the past few weeks to live this out, as best I can, and only by God's grace.

So, for you, there likely is now some circumstance in your life that is not favorable for the expression of agape. I mean, you are being crucified by someone! This is Christ's moment in you, and through you. People have an opportunity to see a rare form of love, demonstrated and extended, in and through you. So rejoice!