An Analysis of 
Agape Love

Part 4 - Characteristics of Agape Love

1Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,
but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10  but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12  Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is a favorite passage at Christian wedding ceremonies characterizing agape love. But realize that in context it is being written as a criticism against the attitudes found in the Corinthian church, and in particular their self-centered obsession over spiritual gifts and their self-seeking elitistism. For love does not necessarily correspond with outward "spirituality". Verse 11 alludes to the fact that as one matures spiritual virtues as faith, hope and love take precedent, while particular giftedness, abilities, personality, are viewed more as tools, a means to end, a means to express one's faith, hope and love. But for the child tools are toys upon which children set their hearts. They fight over their toys and boast in their toys.

Of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest because after all faith and hope are only relevant concerning things unseen and unexperienced. Thus while faith and hope remain for now before the judgement day, yet love is a virtue which lasts forever.

Kindness, Tolerance and Patience

We can flesh out this section  which characterizes Christian love by considering how it corresponds to Jesus' life and ministry or more generally how God applies these concepts. How has God demonstrated his kindness and patience? The most explicit verse which comes to mind is Romans 2:1-4
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
Now we know that Godís judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape Godís judgment?
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that Godís kindness leads you toward repentance?
This is referring to the fact that God is kind, tolerant and patient towards sinners in the hope that such kindness will lead people to repentance. But as you can see from the context and indeed from much of the Old Testament that he is tolerant up to a point, after which he sends judgement and wrath upon the unrepentant. There are those especially today who misread God's kindness, tolerance and patience as if God is affirming their sinful lifestyle. They think that since they have not experienced any punishment for their sin therefore they never will, or therefore what they did is not really sinful. Or the more cynical may conclude that a just God doesn't exist because punishment isn't immediately extracted for every sinful deed. But as we can see here, the real reason behind God's toleration of people's sinfulness is to give them an opportunity to repent and be forgiven. And speaking of justice, for thousands of years God tolerated the injustice of the presence unpunished sin without the presence of a substantive atoning sacrifice. Therefore it is written of Jesus Christ
"God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunishedó he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25,26
Biblical love is kind, tolerant and patient only in the context of holiness and justice and as such what the world conceives of kindness, tolerance and patience and indeed love itself is often not what is meant by the Biblical concept of Christian love. In the Christian life to love is simply to take on God's attitudes as children of God. We saw for example in the previous study on love it is written, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matt 5:44,45  But let us keep in mind that the reason he does that is to influence sinners to repent by treating them with compassion. For he "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."1 Timothy 2:4 "He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." Acts 17:26,27 As such we need to learn to tolerate people's sinfulness as Romans 2 exhorts above, but with a view towards saving people from the wrath of God.

Prior to his conversion the apostle Paul was kind of like the militant Muslim today in his hostility against Christians. But the Lord tolerated his abuse and brought him to repentance, of which Paul writes, "for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life."1Tim 1:16

It does not Boast, It is not Proud.

As I mention in the study guides on this section in Corinthians, the most essential aspect of Biblical love is HUMILITY. Notice how central "humility" is to the character qualities described in vs 4,5. Without humility there is no love. In fact, there is no salvation either. For one must humble himself to come to know Christ. Consider God's defining example of love and how humility comes into play.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom 5:8

Consider the humility Christ must have had to exercise to submit to this process, in view of his former position. And in serving God, this is our primary example to follow.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to deathó even death on a cross!" Phili 2:5-8
Often we forget that humility goes hand in hand with humiliation. In trying to save people God experiences a good deal of humiliation and so also inevitably do his children. But humility is not the same as a poor self image. Jesus certainly did not portray himself as having a poor self-image. But in his associations in his ministry and in his toleration of being abused he also certainly did not reflect the proud elistist attitude which the world would expect of a King, though we see such an attitude among the ruling elite at that time and the Islamic elite of today among others.

It does not Envy, It is not Self-seeking

Economies tend to be driven by envy.  "All labor and all achievement spring from manís envy of his neighbor." Ecclesiastes 4:4 But love is characterized by contentment, which frees one up to focus on meeting the real needs of others. But such an attitude is rare even in Christian ministry as Paul commends Timothy in Php 2:20,21 saying, "I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.  For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ." Let us remember that "he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15  Envy naturally invokes a hatred towards others of which Paul writes of concerning our pre-conversion experience saying, "We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." Titus 3:3

The Counter Example of Institutional Church Leadership

What is most baffling is that in the Christian community the greatest degree of envy, self-seeking and pride appears to occur among institutional religious leaders. Ordinary lay Christians just try to go about trying to walk as Christ did while oblivious to conflicts and problems experienced among their institutional leaders. Not to make them the enemy, but positions of authority naturally both attract the proud and tend to bring out the worst in people. Such was Jesus' experience among the institutional religious leaders of his day and even among his disciples he had to make a special effort to suppress such characteristics in them, as also did Paul in for example his speech to the Ephesian elders of Acts 20 and in his exhortations to Timothy and Titus concerning the prerequisites of church leadership. Yet throughout church history little attention has been given to these because the church spokesmen are primarily institutional church leaders. Take for example Jesus' exhortation against the usage of titles. Yet today leaders delight in being called "Reverend" or "Pastor" or the like or wear special clothing to make them distinct from "ordinary Christians". In a September cover Time magazine named America's best preacher someone who uses the title "Bishop", who was upset when he heard someone else taught "Our people must love the vision more than the visionary." The "Bishop" responded, "I hungered to win and maintain the love of people in the church."  This craving for attention, the desire to be popular and loved by others, is what drives or influences many institutional leaders. And as just as throughout church history so even today such people have the tendency to reckon their enemies to be lay people who offer any criticism against church leadership. And much more can be pointed out. This gets into another misconception about love.

It is not Rude; It is not Easily Angered

How can Jesus be the pattern of love if he goes around speaking rudely against the religious leadership of his day calling them hypocrites and making fun of them, and he has a tantrum in the temple courts and turns over the money changer's tables and drives out the sacrificial animals with a whip? But this is not the question we should ask. What we should ask is given Jesus' behavior as the pattern of love, what is the Biblical concept of rudeness and being easily angered? For these could not characterize Jesus. What it means to be rude or easily angered is often misperceived. How might a Christian be mischaracterized if he walks just as Jesus did? He may be characterized as rude, easily angered, proud and arrogant and the like. Indeed Jesus himself was thought of in this way by his enemies, which is something to think about the next time someone accuses you of being rude or arrogant or the like. But once we get beyond what things like rudeness and being easily angered are not, then what are they? They are basically the same as the world understands them to mean, but taken from God's perspective. Rudeness is being discourteous or ill-mannered but with reference to God's point of view as opposed to that of the society. The primary difference is that Christian love rejoices in the truth, as opposed to politely lying to make people feel good. Truth, even if it involves reproof, is a delight to children of God. But not so for the society. Prov 9:7-9 "He who corrects a mocker invites insult  He who reproves a wicked man invites abuse. Donít reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you. Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Instruct a wise man, and he will be still wiser. Teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." Fools become easily angered with those who disagree with them, and especially to those who reprove them. Prov 12:1 "Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, But he who hates reproof is stupid." And there are lot of stupid people in the world. Ecclesiastes 7:9 "Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools." So we have two challenges here. Rudeness deals with our presentation and anger deals with our reaction.

Love of the Truth

Love delights to present truth in an appropriate manner
and patiently listens to others with a view towards understanding.

While humility characterizes the central attitude of love, the focus of love is truth. This again is often a misconception in the society which conceives of the focus of love being on the object of love, that is the person who is being loved. But if that were the case love would be simply subjective, relative to the individual rather than being founded on absolute truth. Thus the world often expresses it's love through lies, lusts and immorality, perhaps affirming where the person is rather than where they need to be. Humility itself is a truthful evaluation of oneself in the view of God. And worship is a truthful evaluation of God. Pride or boasting is an overevaluation. In the gospel of John alone Jesus uses the phrase "I tell you the truth" 25 times in the NIV. In fact in John 14:6 Jesus characterizes himself as being the truth, and in John 17:17 he says that God's word is truth which sets us Christians apart for a sacred use. Yet sadly the Christian community often portrays itself as enemies of truth in its tabloid presentation of facts attacking certain apologetical issues or in misevaluating non-Christian thinking, or even reacting inappropriately on a personal or institutional level to criticism, as Paul writes, "Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?" Galatians 4:16   And "let us not love (simply) with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:18 There are those who think that one can simply say, "I love you" and think that by saying so that they have loved. They haven't. If that's all they got, then what they mean is that they like to be around the person, or perhaps are simply lying altogether to fulfill a self-seeking desire. Obviously true love has action associated with it, just as true faith is application oriented. But equally so is the focus on truth. Love without truth; love without sincere honesty; is not love. The society evaluates love by asking what are you doing for other people. But Christian love asks what are you doing for the truth. Christians should be concerned with what others feel and think, and even more so than oneself, but relative to the truth. It's no good if a physician merely knows the physical state of a person if he doesn't conceive of what it should be, not to mention if he doesn't know how to get the person to a healthy state. The world thinks it's practicing love simply by equating it's sickly condition with being healthy. Rather than healing, it moves God's standard of holiness down to its own. In such a case God's standard is considered the unhealthy condition and Christians trying to move people to such a condition are viewed as doing evil. "We are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?  Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." 2Cor 2:15-17

It keeps no record of wrongs

But love it is truthful, then why does it not keep a record of wrongs if such a record is at least truthful? Indeed in trying to win arguments many seem to have be experts at recalling details which are years old concerning faults committed against them. Yet even God forgets things as it is written, "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." Heb 10:17 But then again God also keeps a record of wrongs committed against him for which he will judge others. However I think this discrepancy has to do with the forgiveness of sins. In other words love keeps no record of wrongs forgiven. Indeed such would have to be the case given also the fact that forgiveness is often characterized as contingent upon repentance. (See also Forgiveness) Thus the focus upon truth is preserved in the fact that such sins were truly forgiven by being forgotten.

It is Persistent

It always protects (what should be protected), always trusts (that which should be trusted), always hopes (the things that should be hoped for), always perseveres (in areas that should be persevered in). Love never fails (in its endeavors). Persevering in the faith, for example, is simply characteristic of Christian love. Therefore "May the Lord direct your hearts into Godís love and Christís perseverance." 2 Thessalonians 3:5

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015