Rabbi’s Reflections – Saturday, August 15, 2020

Shabbat Shalom,

Why Agape? 

by David Harwood

Some of you may have read my last few submissions to Rabbi Weiner’s email. You may be wondering why I thought to immediately stress aspects of the nature of agape. Good question. I should have introduced myself, first.

So, by way of explanation, here’s some testimony:

I’d lost my mind during the two years before I came to know the Lord. I reveal this with some sorrow and embarrassment (Ephesians 5:12). I’m a poster child for the “not many wise” and “but such were some of you” described in 1 Corinthians 1:26–29 and 6:11.

26For you see your calling, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to human standards, not many are powerful, and not many are born well. 27Yet God chose the foolish things of the world so He might put to shame the wise; and God chose the weak things of the world so He might put to shame the strong; 28and God chose the lowly and despised things of the world, the things that are as nothing, so He might bring to nothing the things that are— 29so that no human might boast before God. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29 TLV) 

That is what some of you were—but you were washed, you were made holy, you were set right in the name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and by the Ruach of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 TLV) 

A tedious story cut short: I was born from above and delivered. 

Due to having been deranged and demonized I determined to distrust my independent evaluation of spiritual truth and sought to submit myself to mainstream instruction. I tried to learn about God from the best evangelical devotional and theological books I could find. My quest was related to an earnest desire to understand the God I’d come to know. 

In the early ‘70’s I was exposed to standard evangelical teaching about the nature of God’s love. I ate it up. My two favorite books about these matters were C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves and A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. 

I internalized what I read.

After beginning “full-time” vocational ministry one of my hobbies was the study of Systematic Theology. I believed what I was taught about the nature of God’s love and the common understandings of the word, agape. However, I experienced some cognitive dissonance in that my spiritual experience and the things I had been taught about God’s love did not line up.

I was taught, “Love is not a feeling it’s an act of your will.” Yet, it seemed that what I was getting in my interaction with God was this: He really loved me. He felt love for me. He did not just act lovingly and call it love. He loved me and therefore acted lovingly. 

I evaluated my experiences according to the instruction I’d received. I reasoned that either they were spurious, or that perhaps I misunderstood what I’d  experienced. I interpreted some profound encounters according to the common understandings of agape. 

In retrospect I believe that there was substantial spiritual impartation resulting from these encounters. However, their meaning was explained away. Therefore, I did not receive the full benefit of these visitations.

At this point, I can unequivocally state that the common understandings of agape are wrong. People have defined agape through the lens of a predetermined theology. Actually, theology should come through the meaning of the words of Scripture, not the other way around. 

These mis-definitions rob God’s people of knowing their Creator’s heart’s motivations. 

I am convinced that the common understandings of agape is also robbing God of His people’s appreciation for who He really is and has diluted the relational lives of His communities throughout the world. 

My perspective is that the Lord wants to change this. He wants to reveal His heart by His Spirit through His word. 

Here’s one example of something I’d like to see adjusted. I hope it will encourage you.

Many of us have been told that if we act in certain ways that we are fulfilling God’s command to love. A primary text for this is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:

4Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not brag, it is not puffed up, 5it does not behave inappropriately, it does not seek its own way, it is not provoked, it keeps no account of wrong, 6it does not rejoice over injustice but rejoices in the truth; 7it bears all things, it believes all things, it hopes all things, it endures all things. 8Love never fails— 

And so we are taught, “Since love is not a feeling (it’s an act of your will)… determine to be patient. Act kindly. If you do that, then you are loving.” 

In stressing verses 4-8a the preceding verse is overlooked:

If I give away all that I own and if I hand over my body so I might boast but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3 TLV)

Paul wrote that we can be sacrificially generous and extraordinarily committed to the work of the Kingdom and yet not love. 

If you want to experience these outward manifestations of love – without the heart of love – go to a high-end retail store. The sales staff are trained to be patient, kind, and treat the consumer with respect. However, that is not love. That is the appearance of love. 

Friends, we can be the most self-controlled, patient, kind, humble, appropriate people and not love. 1 Corinthians 13 is a description of how holy-love acts, not a prescription of what to do. It is a description of agape’s fruit. 

We can imitate the descriptions of love’s results and not have the heart of love. It may look the same, but there really is a difference. When examined, there is an obvious distinction between real fruit and decorative artificial fruit. One is the result of life. The other isn’t.

Our Creator’s love is not manufactured. He really loves us and has demonstrated the intensity of His love. 

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. (Romans 5:8 TLV)

He wants us to believe that He loves us with all of His heart. 

“Yes, I will delight in doing good for them, and with all My heart and all My soul I will in truth plant them in this land.” (Jeremiah 32:41 TLV) 

He calls us to experience His love.

Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and ‘you will find rest for your souls.’ 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 TLV)

God wants us to understand what we experience with Him. 

that the God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, our glorious Father, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in knowing Him. (Ephesians 1:17 TLV) 

That’s why I’m sharing with you about agape. I hope it will be helpful.