Agape Love – The Love Feast

Agape Love – The Love Feast

Agape Love – The Love Feast.

Look at how much encouragement you’ve found in your relationship with the Anointed One! You are filled to overflowing with his comforting agape love. You have experienced a deepening friendship with the Holy Spirit and have felt his tender affection and mercy. So I’m asking you, my friends, that you be joined together in perfect unity—with one heart, one passion, and united in one agape love. Walk together, with one harmonious purpose, and you will fill my heart with unbounded joy.” (Philippians 2:1-2).

Agape love is the supreme of all the loves, and desires the highest good of someone else. Agape is “the highest level of love known to humanity,” (C. S. Lewis), and thus can only come from above with God as its source. Agape love is the ultimate expression of God’s nature, the essence of His character (see Exodus 34). Agape love is not Eros, which is romantic love. It is not Phileo, which is brotherly love. It is not Storge, which is family love. Agape love is the divine love that can only come to us from the heart of God. Agape love is the love shared between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is truly the source of all these other loves, but it is only agape love that is poured into our hearts from the Holy Spirit, to those who believe in Christ. Agape love is an eternal virtue outlasting all the other virtues (1 Corinthians 13:8). Agape love is the primary fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) Agape love, the sacred love of God, is universal, it is a gift, it is highly active, it is sacrificial, and it is unconditional.

Universal: “For God so agape-loved the world that He gave His only and unique Son, so that everyone who faithfully trusts into Him may have eternal life instead of being utterly destroyed.” (John 3:16). This seems too good to be true. But actually, because of God’s love, it is so good it has to be true. Creator God has an eternal love for all people. He didn’t send his Son for the sake of the privileged or elite. He doesn’t love just those who are religious or pious. God truly loves everyone in His creation, past, present and future; the righteous and the unrighteous; the worthy and the unworthy; the broken and the whole; those who have a lot to offer and those who don’t. He sent His Son for those who would love Him, and those who would hate Him; those who might accept Christ and those who might reject Him; those who would worship Jesus and those who would shout “Crucify Him!”  Not one person in the history of the world has had to qualify for God’s love, to somehow earn God’s love, to be considered worthy of His love. “For God so loved the world…” That kind of universal love is agape love, and is intended to spill out into the world through believers in Him.

A Gift: For we know how dearly God agape-loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with agape love; God has poured out His agape love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us; We can now experience the endless agape love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!” (Romans 5:5) The most virtuous person on the planet cannot manufacture agape love as if it’s merely a highly esteemed trait. We don’t have it in us. We aren’t born with the ability to show agape love. It is impossible for us to demonstrate agape love on our own, because it can only derive from God, and not from human nature. Agape love is an undeserved gift. Faith in God comes first, even a microscopic faith. And then agape is poured into our hearts as believers, and it then spreads to the world. This divine love being poured into our hearts is meant to be demonstrated to others through acts of mercy, kindness and compassion. This love, this affectionate yearning that others are blessed, spills over from our hearts only after being poured into our hearts through a faithful submission to the Lord. Through the Holy Spirit, agape love can realistically become second nature to us and in us, displacing the old lesser loves in a Christian’s life. Agape love is the means by which God’s divine love may reach the world. Agape love is an eternal virtue, and it lasts forever (1 Cor. 13:8). Agape love is the primary fruit of the Spirit, the divine love offered to us to spread God’s love to others. Love poured into us, love splashed out to others… God’s gift to us that we would offer that gift to others.

Unconditional: God’s agape has always been offered to the world unconditionally, so that same divine love is offered to others in the same way. Our love for others is fleshed out by desiring the highest good for someone else. Our love doesn’t expect anything in return, it is a love that gives but doesn’t take. Our love does not seek out those who would somehow be worthy of love, or could earn God’s love. Agape love is that love which is offered to hateful enemies, to those who love nothing better than to hurt you and disrespect you. Agape love even desires what’s best for those who hate God. Agape is offered freely, no strings attached, to all made in the image of God. When we love an image-bearer, we are honoring our Creator. Agape love is revealed through forgiveness.

Sacrificial: “No one has greater agape love than a person who is willing to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Agape love is the ultimate demonstration of unselfishness, of self-denial for the benefit of others. Agape develops the habit of forgetting yourself on purpose. It is the willingness to remain a daily martyr of goodwill, picking up one’s cross so others are blessed. Agape love sometimes is demonstrated at great personal cost. It could even mean giving up something that is rightfully ours so that someone else can receive something he probably hasn’t earned. The clearest and most profound example of sacrificial agape love was the death of the Innocent One, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. He gave up His life for those who didn’t deserve it, which includes all of humanity.

Active: Agape love is not theoretical, it is not abstract. It is not just a great idea ripe for discussion. Agape love actually does things, it acts out and demonstrates love. Agape doesn’t merely think about loving others with God’s love, agape fleshes out the love and makes it visible. Agape is filled with genuine empathy and not mere sentimentality. Feelings and emotions have nothing to do with agape love. Agape is an act of the will, a deliberate decision to demonstrate God’s love to others whether they deserve it or not, whether you “feel like it” or not. Agape loves what is best for someone else, which could mean accountability and a proper justice. It could mean mercy, too. That’s why agape love depends on the wisdom of God to discern what is best for someone else. Sometimes agape love is inactive, in the sense of not intervening, and stepping back if it is appropriate. Agape love is literally practical that way, and wants to put into play an imitation of Jesus as He knew when and what to say, what to do. We know that the Son of God was completely filled with agape love, and that He went around doing good, touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable, embracing the unclean, accepting those who were rejected, serving those who were unlovely and broken. If one wonders what agape love looks like in action, read the gospels and imitate Jesus. When we need to be reminded of what marks the life a true believer, we fix our eyes on Jesus and witness agape love in the flesh.

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Agape-Love each other. Just as I have agape-loved you, you should agape-love each other.” (John 13:34-35).

The Agape Feast. Soon after Jesus returned to His heavenly home to be with the Father, the Christ-followers began to adopt various aspects of the life they shared with Him, to remember His life and ministry on earth, to strengthen their faith in Him, to grow into Hus life and dwell in Him during His absence. One of those activities that was a centerpiece of their communal life was a weekly meal together. They called this potluck dinner “the Agape,” or the Love Feast. It’s fascinating to consider that the Agape meal was central to their worship together as they sought to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Every week in their house churches, they enjoyed each other’s presence around the table sharing a meal. According to early church documents like the Didache, the Agape meal was their community dinner where everyone brought foods to share, including with those visitors and interested parties who were not Christians. The Love Feast was their regularly scheduled time to bond, a time when they could participate in an activity that was filled with the Spirit of Jesus. The usual order of events was to meet together for the meal in one of the house churches, and towards the end of the meal they would worship through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Agape was significant in the life of the early church for many reasons:

  1. When the early believers in Christ decided to call this communal meal “the Agape,” it was the logical thing to do. One of Jesus’ favorite words was agape, it defined His identity and mission and ministry. Everyone knew that if you wanted to follow Jesus, if you truly wanted to live in Christ, then agape would become your lifestyle of choice, your identity as a Christ-follower. I have my doubts that the Apostles got together and brainstormed a list of possible titles for their worship meal together, and then rolled the dice, and settled on Agape because it seemed like there was nothing better to use. The Apostles knew Jesus better than anyone, and so what other word best describes their Savior? Agape was the only option. Jesus urged them all to love each other the way He loved them! Agape, all the way.
  2. The Love Feast continued the high value that Jesus placed on sharing meals. Christ was indeed the King of the Table and Lord of the Feast during His ministry. He enjoyed the interaction around the table, the opportunity to rub shoulders with a wide variety of people, everyone from Matthew’s outcasts to the leaders of the Pharisees. Sharing a meal in that culture was a sign of acceptance and respect and friendship, which of course characterized Jesus quite well. And too, many of Christ’s parables focused on the meal and food and the joyful act of sharing food together, such as the Wedding Feast in 22:1-14; the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-31, and the Great Supper in Luke 14:15-24. Eating a meal together as believers might even seem like they were stepping into one of Jesus’ stories. One would expect that many fond memories would be recalled of simply eating with Jesus, whether around a table or around the campfire. Jesus’ fondness for food and fellowship around the table was well known, and He even developed  a reputation with the religious establishment as “a glutton and a winebibber.” (Luke 7:34). Eating together brought joy to Jesus, and so it’s no surprise that it brought joy to His followers as well.
  3. The Agape meal was a natural lead-in to the high point of the worship service, the Lord’s Supper. The communal meal led perfectly into Communion, which is the ultimate Love Feast. In their life together, the Christians earnestly “broke bread” together in the Eucharist in remembrance of the Savior, and as an act of obedience to what He instructed the disciples to do when He was gone from their midst. What better way to live into the Presence of Christ than to go from sharing bread and wine together to partaking of the Body and the Blood together?
  4. One New Testament scholar observed that the Agape feast was enjoyed in the spirit of Christ’s parable of the Great Supper in Luke 14:13-24. In this story, the generous host asked his servants to invite “the poor and the crippled, the lame and the blind.” And while you’re at it, the host said, don’t forget to go out into the highways and byways and hedges and invite complete strangers and traveling foreigners to come and eat with us. After all, the host wanted to spread the joy and the festivity, and he wanted his house to be full of guests hunkered around a hearty meal. Perhaps the Great Supper story was the prototype for the Agape meal?
  5. The Agape was a prime example of what Jesus valued so highly… Fellowship! The Greek word for that idea is “koinonia,” and it came into play first in Acts 2:42, 46, 47: “All the believers devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to fellowship (Koinonia), to sharing meals including the Lord’s Supper (“breaking of the bread”), and to prayer. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and they shared their meals with great joy and generosity – all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” Koinonia is a term that only applies to spiritual matters, and it means fellowship, joint participation, mutual companionship, shard partnership, togetherness at a deep level. Koinonia happens when people share something in common that bonds them together. And certainly the followers of Jesus had a lot to share together… their new life in Christ; their need to build each other up; a desire to forge spiritual relationships; offer support and encouragement for each other; material blessings like food, clothes, sustenance; the profound spiritual blessings to rejoice in together like their common forgiveness in Christ, their destiny in the New KIngdom with Jesus; the amazing blessing of having the Holy Spirit in their midst; and the “fellowship of suffering” (Philippians) that all Christians shared as they picked up their cross daily and followed Jesus.
  6. The Love Feasts reminded all the early believers that they would have no fellowship at all were it not first for their fellowship with God. The shared companionship of the believers were rooted in their intimate fellowship with God. “We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard, so that we may have fellowship (koinonia) with you. For truly, our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). In other words, the union that the believers experienced together at the Agape meals is impossible without their primary union with Christ. The community they celebrate together is based on their togetherness with Jesus. We are first called to be partners with Christ, companions with Christ, which then allows us to experience koinonia with each other. Communion with God is the source for communion with each other. The relationship with God enables us to enjoy relationships with each other. The agape meal joined with the Lord’s Supper confirms that important truth… “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we then have fellowship with one another.” (1 John1:7).

If the Agape was so crucial in the life of the early church, why did it disappear after a couple of hundred years? Those intimate connections and sweet fellowship enjoyed in the name of Christ were evidently difficult to maintain. In 1Corinthians 11, Paul outlines his complaints as to how some in the Corinthian church were treating their koinonia. He accused them of being divisive and separating into little exclusive groups. Many were disinterested in the Eucharist and didn’t bother participating. Some ate their agape meal hurriedly so they could hoard their food, keeping it to themselves, instead of sharing with the hungry in the congregation. Some of the church actually came drunk to the agape meal, or even got drunk there, and thereby disgracing the Lord during what is intended to be a sacred time together. So the Love Feast became anything but that, with selfishness and drunkenness and divisiveness present, hardly the holy preparation for the Eucharist that was expected. Because of abuses like these in the early church, the Communion service was separated from the Agape meal. By the early 300’s, the Eucharist remained a crucial part of their worship and their life as believers, but the Love Feast was dropped. What once was a mainstay in the worship of the early church became a distant memory. Thankfully, many churches and even whole denominations are attempting to resurrect this wonderful Christian tradition. Wouldn’t it be glorious if this Christ-centered community-builder were somehow revived?