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End Notes

So, what IS Agape?


I would argue that the original Greek approach to Agape remains appropriate.  It describes Agape as respect, appreciation, and sympathy for the other.  It sees 'value' in the other.  It may greatly value someone that you are willing to sacrifice much for.  This clearly relates to our Love for God.  It may be that one sees a value in another similar to oneself.  This would lead one to be concerned by and for the other AS (or in the same way) you value yourself.  This speaks clearly to one's relationships with others in the Brotherhood.  Finally, it may be that one sees in the other the possibility of, a currently unrealized, growth and change.  This would seem to describe the relationships that the Brethren in the church would have with those outside of Christ.  This would seem to speak to a potentially realizable increase in value.  In all of these relationships, one is aware of the value of the other.  It is from this base that any number of reactions to this perceived value may flow.  This is how this author understands Agape.


Notice that in the understanding of Agape described above, this author has cast all of the approaches to Agape in terms of one's perceived 'value.'  This was previously discussed in the Endurance section.  This 'valuing' should be understood to be in the context of one acting in response to that perceived value.  Specifically, one being willing to sacrifice for the other.  Let's consider how various commentators describe Agape and then how Agape would be manifested within each of the relationships noted above.


Select Commentators on Agape


(Wuest, K. S.  1973b, p. 60-61)

"'AGAPAO' speaks of a love which is awakened by a sense of value in an object which causes one to prize it.  It springs from an apprehension of the preciousness of an object.  It is a love of esteem and approbation.  The quality of this love is determined by the character of the one who loves, and that of the object loved. . . . But each sinner is most precious to God, first, because he bears the image of his Creator even though that image be marred by sin, and second, because through redemption, that sinner can be conformed into the very image of God's dear Son.  This preciousness of each member of the human race to the heart of God is the constituent element of the love that gave His Son to die on the Cross.  The degree of the preciousness is measured by the infinite sacrifice which God made.  The love in John 3:16 therefore is a love whose essence is that of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the one loved, this is love based upon an evaluation of the preciousness of the one loved."


(Wuest, K. S.  1973e, p. 112)."AGAPAN is used in its verb, noun, and adjective forms about three hundred and twenty times in the New Testament.  It is a love called out of a person's heart by 'an awakened sense of value in an object which causes one to prize it.'  It expresses a love of approbation and esteem.  Its impulse comes from the idea of prizing.  It is a love that recognizes the worthiness of the object loved.  Thus, this love consists of the soul's sense of the value and preciousness of its object, and its response to its recognized worth in admiring affection."


(Trench, 1901, p. 39-40)

diligi = agapasthai [love/Agape]  The first expresses a more reasoning attachment, of choice and selection (diligere = deligere), from a seeing in the object upon whom it is bestowed that which is worthy of regard;  or else from a sense that such is due toward the person so regarded, as being a benefactor, or the like" . . . "the notions of respect and reverence are continually implied in the agapan [love/Agape], which, though not excluded by, are still not involved in, the philein" [love/Phileo].


(Thompson, J. P.  1859,  PDF p. 206-212, l. 21)

"1.  As an essential element of this love there must be the full recognition of a common humanity in all men, whatever their country, their colour, their language, their birth, or their condition." . . . "2.  But the doctrine goes farther;  and recognizes in all mankind not only the brotherhood of a common physical descent and of like physical characteristics, but a higher relationship as the common offspring of God." . . "3.  And hence again, this love for man which the gospel enjoins, must flow primarily from love to God." . . . "4.  The Scriptures always trace this love to a renovated heart."


(Henry, M.  1853, p. 817)

"Charity, or a love of good-will to all mankind, must be added to the love of delight which we have for those who are the children of God.  God has made of one blood all nations, and all the children of men are partakers of the same human nature, are all capable of the same mercies, and liable to the same afflictions, and therefore, though upon a spiritual account Christians are distinguished and dignified above those who are without Christ, yet are they to sympathize with others in their calamities, and relieve their necessities, and promote their welfare both in body and soul, as they have opportunity:  thus must all believers in Christ evidence that they are the children of God, who is good to all, but is especially good to Israel."


See also:  Williams, W. R.  (1905, p. 69;  PDF p. 545;  l. 32&42&47).


Agape's Areas of Focus



Understanding the love that one has for God has already been discussed at Godliness.  When one obtains some understanding of God, it is very easy to understand why He would be valued so highly.  He has created and given to our care all the things that we enjoy and appreciate.  He has provided for us.  He has also provided a Way for us to be reconciled to Him when we, inevitably, sin.  That we have an Agape love for God is completely understandable.  It seems obvious that, if we really 'value' God as God, we'll strive to do as He wishes.



As Stauffer, writing for Kittle, reminds us:  we are all sinners.  "ἀγάπη [love] in the Greek sense is respect and sympathy between equals.  Christian ἀγάπη [love] derives from a consciousness of equal unworthiness before God and His mercy."  (V. 1, p. 55, l. 10)  All are welcome in the Lord's house, for all require His forgiveness.  "There is none righteous, not even one."  [Rom. 3:10]  Putting all our human achievements into THAT context, it's easy to see why the Church should be filled with people from all parts of society.  None of us have done anything that would give us a 'higher' status before Him.  ALL are equal before the judgment seat of Christ.  Living out 'Agape' in this situation should motivate us to respect our Brethren and respond with Compassion when they fall into troubles.



Under the Old Covenant, the Israelite would consider another Israelite, but not a gentile, to be a 'neighbor.'  Jesus changed that definition, but kept the term.  It was asked of Him:  'Who is my neighbour?'  [Lk 10:29 ff]  "Whoever stands closest to the man in need κατὰ συγκυρίαν [by chance, Lk 10:31], the same has a neighbourly duty towards him."  (Stauffer, V. 1, p. 46, l. 8).  Note, however, this understanding is not to be applied to everybody.  It only applies in 'absolute concreteness.'  Why did the Samaritan help?  "Ιδων εσπλαγχνισθν [having seen him he was filled with compassion, Lk. 10:33].  The heart makes the final decision.  He fulfills his neighbourly duty whose heart detects the distress of another.  At the decisive moment the two others hold back and thus violate their neighbourly duty."  (Stauffer, V. 1, p. 46, l. 18)  "The Samaritan does in all sobriety what the moment demands, taking care for the immediate future, no more and no less."  (Stauffer, V. 1, p. 46, l. 22)  As one responds with Agape to one's neighbors who are Lost, it would seem reasonable to share God's Pity for them, help them as possible, and encourage them to come to the Lord themselves.  One's efforts may or may not bear fruit, but our Pity for their situation pushes us to help anyway.



In addition to the groups described above, there are also 'special cases' that must be described if one is to understand Agape rightly.



All of the previous instances described one person 'loving' another person.  God's love for us (sinful Man) is a special case.  Due to His sheer power, God is able to do anything He desires.  We cannot.  The real question is, why should He desire to help sinful Man?  In Ps 103:13-14 it says that He is always aware that we are but dust.  Knowing from whence we came,  God knows that we are grossly limited, that we will never be as He would have us be.  Thus, when He looks upon us, He does so with Pity.  "The synoptic Jesus hardly ever uses the love of God either the substantive ἀγάπη [love] or the verb ἀγαπα̑ν [to love] (or indeed φιλία [affection] or φιλε̑ν [friends]).  He proclaims and brings ἄφεσις [deliverance] and speaks of God's ἐλεει̂ν [pity], οἰκτίρμων ει̑ναι [to be merciful])."   (Stauffer, V. 1, p. 47,  l. 41)  Notice that God's Pity demonstrates His love for us and motivates His offer of Deliverance thru His Son.  As one contemplates who we are, when compared with God, having Him Pity us is entirely reasonable and, at the same time, very much appreciated!



We are commanded to 'love your enemies.'  (Matt. 5:43-48, & Luke 6:27-38)  When I think of Agape, I tend to think of it as involving one's emotions.  I know that thinking of Agape as an 'emotion' is radical (in this day and time), but for millennia this Greek word has been translated as 'love.'  There is a long-standing tradition among Biblical scholars that compares and contrasts this word (Agape) with the other Greek words for 'love' (Eros, Phileo, and Storego).  So, while I may be proposing an exegetical understanding different from the contemporary consensus, my understanding has a LOOOONG track record within the Church.  I think it should, at least, be considered.


So, if Agape is to be understood as an emotional reaction of Love, how would that work with one's enemies?  Many would likely say that it couldn't be done.  Here is how I see it.  Most people would expect that, if a soldier were recruited into the army of one of the tribes of Israel, that soldier would fight against non-Israelis.  That could certainly happen.  Yet, surprisingly, the army of one tribe would, on a rare occasion, fight the army of another tribe of Israel.  I suspect that, to many of us, this would be strange.  An example of civil war.  I suspect that God may have looked on this situation similarly.  He seems to be focused on the nation of Israel as a whole.  Yet, at times, it seems that the soldier's allegiance was focused on his tribe, and not the nation.  Thus, sometimes, one tribe of Israel fought a war against another tribe of Israel.


In this context, the religious expectation to 'love', or feel Compassion, for a wounded soldier of the other tribe was called into play.  You can see the situation.  The battle is over and the remaining soldiers are sorting the dead from the merely wounded.  If they find a wounded soldier from their army it would be reasonable for them to react with Compassion and help that wounded soldier.  In the same way, Judaism taught that the wounded enemy soldier was also worthy of Compassion and care.  They were to love their enemies.  Later, following Christ's teachings, when an army of Believers was fighting a non-Believing army, that same policy was (sometimes) applied.


The general idea is to view the enemy as a member of the 'family'.  If the army of Benjamin were to fight another tribe of Israel, the soldiers of Benjamin would, obviously, care for the wounded of Benjamin.  Yet, Judaism taught that they should also care for the soldiers from the other tribe, as they were both children of Israel.  If they were fighting a local, Semitic tribe (think Arabs), then they should show Compassion because they were both children of Abraham.  If they were fighting a wholly gentile army, then they should show Compassion because they were all, ultimately, children of God.  Thus, this Compassion for one's enemy is expected to generalize, even as one's opponent becomes increasingly distant from one's personal lineage.  It is this author's suggestion that this policy may have been more important in theory, and may actually have been put into practice less frequently.


Notice:  this analysis is focused exclusively upon military opponents.  Clearly, the passions and consequences of action are extreme in such situations.  Yet, the same analysis can be applied to any 'relationship' in which the other can be characterized as 'the enemy'.  The 'enemy' does not have to be formally declared and acknowledged.  One may treat another as an 'enemy' on the thinnest of excuses.  However, even here, the injunction applies.  It may even be harder to deal with this religious expectation in this latter situation.  Here, one fights the battle internally.  One argues both sides of the disagreement within himself.  In such a situation there is no 'third party' to call a truce and advocate for Compassion for the enemy.  It all has to be done by the aggrieved person, within his own head.  This would require a great deal of self-understanding and  openness to potentially humiliating insights.  Not easy!


As one of the major concepts of Christianity, there have been various approaches to understanding Agape.  These include what this author describes as:  Agape being 'Interchangeable' with Phileo  [LINK]  and the 'Willed Choice' approach to understanding Agape  [LINK].  Both of these approaches will be discussed elsewhere.  [LINK]




So, what IS Agape?  Agape is respect, appreciation, and sympathy for another.  It sees 'value' in the other.  As the doctrine that: 'We are all children of God,' is accepted at depth, we come to value others broadly.  This understanding that the Other is valuable acts as a motivation for constructive work.  That perceived value of the other is put into practice.  One acts on it.  As the value of another is recognized in people of diverse backgrounds, the actions based on that perceived value broaden in scope.  The Agape love of the Christian comes to be seen as 'unlimited' by caste or class.  It takes on those characteristics of warmth and broad acceptance that the Church has become famous for.


This page revised and Copyrighted: Theon Doxazo

03 January, 2024