AGAPE: Reconciling Love
The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany / Share the LOVE Sunday
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
For me, the love Jesus proclaimed, taught and showed was difficult to understand.
I wonder you and I clearly and well understand the meaning of the love Jesus taught in the Gospel. Do we really understand what you have to do to love your neighbor as yourself, and what about your enemy? Can you relay love your enemies? Can you feel this commandment in your bones, or in your heart? Can you accept it as yours?
We know that Jesus died on the Cross to show His love toward us. Jesus was the one who believed that love wins out over all evils. Jesus says “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” in John 13:35. We know that love is the most central value of our faith tradition of Christianity.
As today is the Sunday before Valentine’s Day and many churches observe it as Share the LOVE Sunday, I hope to see together what the love Jesus proclaimed through his ministry on earth really is and how the love works in our life.
First, let’s see the meaning of the love in the Gospels.
The love Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels is the “agape” in Greek, as many know, which can be translated “unconditional love” in English. What does unconditional mean in English?
Longman English Dictionary informs us that if you describe something as unconditional, you mean that the person doing or giving it does not require anything to be done by other people in exchange. So “unconditional” means that there is no reward or benefit from doing something for others. This practice- centered and powerful adjective can make the love perfect. But I still think that the explanation about the translation of agape in English is not enough to understand what the love Jesus proclaimed is with this explanation of unconditional.
Let’s see a more specific interpretation about love in Greek through the book called “Four Loves” written by C.S. Lewis, so that we can grasp the meaning of agape representing us in the world as disciples of Jesus.
C.S. Lewis was a professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University, and is a famous author of the fantasy novel, “Chronicles of Narnia.” In that book, Four Loves, Lewis introduces four different loves in Greek by using his passionate interest and talent for the old language.
The first is love between parents and children, called “Storge” in Greek, which can be translated “affection” in English. Affection is fondness through family relations. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves.
The second is love between friends, called “Phileo” in Greek, which can be translated “friendship” in English. Friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common interest or activity. Lewis says this love is mostly selfish, need- centered and partial.
The third is love between lovers, called “Eros” in Greek, which can be translated “romance” in English. Lewis says this is distinct as sexuality, and he calls this Venus that desires the sexual aspect of a relationship.
The fourth is love called “Agape” in Greek, which can be translated “charity,” “unconditional love,” or “gift-love” in English. Lewis explains that agape is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue.
He exemplifies John 3:16 to explain agape. God gave God’s only begotten Son, because God so agapao the world, in other word, because God so loved the world. Therefore, Lewis says that agape is a selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well-being of the other.
Furthermore, he interprets agape to mean intentional love toward others which is only for other’s well-being regardless of their attitude, condition, educational level, race, ethnicity, age, gender, class, nationality, religion, and any other thing that could make a barrier in loving others, because God loves us regardless of any condition. We know that there is no qualification to be loved by God.
Jesus says in Luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them;” and the following verse says “but love your enemies, expecting nothing in return;” and the following verse says “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We can see that there is a big difference between agape and other three loves. Storge, Phileo and Eros which are mostly powered by instinct or personal need, but Agape is powered by our intentional effort to love others. And the Bible says we must do something good intentionally for others to show agape, as God agapao us, even while we were sinners and even while we were God’s enemies.
This is a literal interpretation and rational understanding of agape, the love Jesus proclaimed, taught and present in the Bible.
Let’s see part of today’s second scripture lesson, 1 Corinthian chapter 13. There are nine loves in 1 Corinthian 13, and these loves are all agape. In particular, verses 4 through 7 well describes agape. Let’s read altogether verses 4 through 7.
4. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5. or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6. it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
As we read together, agape demands intentional effort to love others, such as being patient, kind, humble, polite, making the right decision for truth, and to endure. These things describing agape cannot be manifested naturally or instinctually. (because of our sinfulness.)
I have realized while preparing this sermon that parents, children, lovers, and friends need agape to reconcile with each other when they are in conflict. Right? Do you agree with me? Remember the current war with your spouse, children, or co-workers.
You need intentional action for reconciliation with your parents, children, wife and husband, and friends when you have a conflict with them. Therefore, Lewis calls agape an “intentional love”, but I also call agape a “reconciling love.” God loves us to reconcile the relation with us, and Jesus generously gave us his life to be a means of reconciliation for the relation between God and us.
Many heroes in faith have tried to actualize agape in history in order to reconcile broken relations among people. Who do you have as an Agape hero?
III. ESPY award: Nelson Mandela
Here is a very wonderful example of agape. He is one of my Agape heroes. The story is about Nelson Mandela who tried to unite his broken country and reconcile the broken relation between people in South Africa.
After 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and elected president of South Africa. His immediate challenge was the racial tension among the people. While Mandela attempts to tackle the country’s largest problems among people, he attended a game of the Springboks, the country’s national rugby team. But the Springboks evoked discrimination, prejudice and oppression in black people’s minds, because rugby is a white man’s sports and symbolizes colonialism. So many people doubt that rugby could unite a nation torn apart by some 50 years of racial tensions.
Let me show a short documentary to prove how agape works among people. this video helps us to know how agape wins evil in the world, and agape can reconcile the broken relation among people.
Invictus (movie) is a 2009 biographical sports drama film that is based on this true story of Nelson Mandela and the union of his country. Invictus in Latin means “unconquered” in English. Love can never be conquered by any other powers.
And I believe that this story is about agape. Right? To me, this movie is about love Nelson Mandela practiced for his enemy and his people in South Africa. They became “former enemies” in Mandela’s love. This is also about intentional and active love reconciling human relations and human rights, not about Storge, Phileo or Eros.
IV. Closing: Challenge
I hope that we are challenged and inspired from today’s teaching of 1 Corinthian 13, from the story of our heroes in faith, and also from John 13:34 that is a commandment of our Lord, so that we can build up the kin-dom of God among us. (Real kingdom of God)
Let’s remember to love the one whom I have hated for a long time is only possible in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let me close today’s sermon with the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13 and John 13:34.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love, so I command you to love one another as I have loved you.