It has been a while since I taught an adult Sunday school class, and I’m slowing shaking off the rust in a particularly hairy book to walk through. The First Letter of John, written at the height of the Ephesian Gnostic Controversy is a book that tempts me, again and again, to get overly academic in its study. I’m getting OK feedback from the participants, but as I’m teaching it, I can feel my brain dragging in the depths of seminary mire.
So, I’m excited about this week because, finally, we will deal with the phrase that has been on the white board from the very begininning.
God is love.
This phrase appears twice in Sunday’s Epistle lection; both times arguing essentially the same point, first apophatically, and then cataphatically.
- Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
- God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
God is love.
The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve heard 100 sermons that argue, “it is all about love.” In fact, I was pretty rude to a classmate in homiletics when she preached just such a sermon (sorry Amanda). My point then, as awfully articulated and self-serving as it was, and my call to preachers and teacher this Sunday, is that The Episcopal Church doesn’t have a good working definition of love. Partly, this is a function of language. In the New Testament, our one word “love” is used to describe four very different Greek concepts:
- Storge – affection between family members
- Philia – virtuous love between friends
- Eros – passionate love between intimate partners
- Agape – unconditional, self-giving, sacrificial love as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13
<rant> Somewhere, lost in translation, guilt, fear, and self-esteem issues, love became something of an “I’m OK, you’re OK” philosophical construct based in “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” We gave up accountability and turned sacrificial love into becoming a door mat for the other. Because of this erosion of love, when we read 1 John 4:7-21, when we hear “God is love,” we fail to grasp the depth of love, agape, that John is describing. </rant>
God is love: unconditional, self-giving, sacrificial love, and if we are to live in the Kingdom, then we ought understand what that means and how to live it.
2 thoughts on “Theos agape estin”
Amen, brother. I have always loved that “John” chose to write it in such a way that not even the verb gets between God and love. The Yoda translation helps the most “God love is.” Now how to preach it with power . . .