“A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 NASB
Love – It won’t be surprising to discover that the Greek word here is agapao. We would be shocked if it were anything else. Agape is the kind of love we associate with Yeshua. But we might not realize just how contrary agape is until we know a little about the history of the Greek ideas of love.
Most Greek literature and Greek philosophy uses the word eros to describe love. For the Greeks, eros captured an essential characteristic of love – the overwhelming compelling force of this very human experience. Eros is not about eroticism. It is about intoxication. The Greeks recognized that love (eros) was an almost uncontrollable power that swept up a person. Our contemporary expressions like “love sick” are really derived from this Greek idea. To be “head over heels” in love is just another way of saying that love’s power turns our world upside-down. In Greek thought, once eros has overpowered me, I simply don’t have rational control. My choices are obliterated and I am compelled to pursue this experience of ecstasy. I am drunk with the experience, addicted to its pleasure.
It only takes a moment to realize how much of our modern culture still pursues and promotes this Greek idea of love. Movies, books and television portray love like intoxication. Men and women put aside rational choices in order to follow the pull of love. “Love is blind” is another way of saying that eros takes charge of us. And many people spend their lives desiring and pursuing “love potion number 9.” They want to be drunk. When they wake up and no longer feel the intoxication, they decide that they need a new partner in order to maintain the experience.
Greek eros finds its way into religion. Eros in Greek religion is the natural impulse to lift myself out of my pedestrian life and become drunk on God. There are contemporary parallels here as well. Christian eros is that form of religion that demands, compels and urges us to experience God, to be drunk on His presence, to put aside the requirements of righteousness in favor of religious euphoria. This is the Christian desire to be transported out of ourselves and into a mystical union with God. Leave the world behind and sing love songs to the Most High. Eros is universal, undifferentiated embrace with the spiritual.
None of this is agape. Agape is a love that makes distinctions. Agape is a free and voluntary choice, not a psychic tsunami. Eros is Man’s impulse to be lifted up to God. Agape is God’s decision to reach down to Man. While eros seeks relationships in order to fulfill its own desires for ecstasy, agape exhibits itself in the uncompromising care of others for their sake. But the principle difference between eros and agape is this: agape eschews religious eroticism. Agape is love motivated by choice, eros is love motivated by desire.
When Yeshua gave this “new” commandment, He directed his followers toward deliberate choices to care for each other. He did not ask them to find euphoria in their decisions. He did not require them to experience thrilling victory or spiritual delight. He told them to demonstrate disinterested concern; disinterested because it did not depend on reciprocity, concern because it reflected the deliberate will and action of the Father.
Our culture is moving further and further along the Greek road. Everywhere we find people seeking experiences. In fact, the seeker-friendly church can only exist in a Greek world since its purpose is to present an attractive experience of God. Seeker-friendly churches provide a taste of intoxication. But only a taste. You have to join in order to pursue drunkenness.
Yeshua, on the other hand, doesn’t offer intoxication. He offers commitment to a way of life that requires deliberate, considered actions – actions that are always under the control of Torah and are redemptive.
Perhaps we need to reconsider which path we are walking. Are we looking for the next intoxicating experience with God (or with anyone else) or are we walking a path of deliberate choices that bless others?
Topical Index: love, eros, agape, John 13:34