Eros versus Agape
Thousands of years ago, in the land we now call Greece lived a man named Admetus. Admetus was a young man, who was a relatively good citizen, a good person. But he was accused falsely, as the story goes, and sentenced to death. His friends knew that Admetus was innocent, so they asked each other if anyone would die for Admetus after much deliberation they concluded that as much as they loved their friend they would not die for him. But, the thought of Admetus dying still haunted them, so they said, "let us go to Admetus' parents; undoubtedly they would die for him." When the friends asked Admetus parents they were disappointed to find out that although Admetus parents loved him very much, they were unwilling to die for him. The friends went to Alcestis. Alcestis was Admetus' girlfriend. She knew Admetus; she knew that he was a good man. She knew that he was innocent. She knew that he did not deserve to die. But she also knew, according to the law of the country, that she could not reverse the verdict. So, the friends appealed to her, and she accepted. So, she went to the Judge, and she said, "Look, I can't convince you, because you have already made the judgment, that Admetus is a good man, he does not deserve to die. I would like to offer myself in his place."
When the Greeks heard the story and concluded that the kind of love that Alcestis had was the best kind of love. Now, there are four words for love in Greek: eros, storge, phileos, and agape. The story tests three. The friend's love is phileo -, that one failed. The parents love is storge – which also failed. But, in this story Alcestis love – eros - won. The friends did not test Agape. However, agape was the Greek word chosen for God's kind of love – unconditional, self-denying, self-emptying love.
Simply put, Eros is Love between opposite sexes or sexual love. Alcestis died for a man that loved her. The Greek philosopher Plato gave this word a dual meaning: Vulgar Eros, meaning sexual love; and Heavenly Eros, meaning love towards a god. According to Plato, this was the highest form of love: man seeking after God.
Now, the Word eros does not appear in the New Testament. Other words for love appear, including agape. The word agape especially appears in 1 Corinthians 13. As humans, we tend to reflect ourselves in others. We attribute or own understanding to others. We tend to make God in our image. We believe that He loves as we do. But, the Bible denies that. In our sinful view, God would only die for those that love Him. However, we did not love God when He died for us. Paul says in Romans 5: 6 - 10,
Romans 5: 6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5: 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
Romans 5: 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5: 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5: 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
We were ungodly when God died for us. We were yet sinners when He commended his love for us and died for us. We were enemies when He reconciled us in His Son. So why would God do this? Paul tells Titus that it was because of God's mercy for us (Titus 3:5). Paul told the Ephesians that it was "because of his great love for us" (Ephesians 2:4); not, because we deserve it. Not because we have pursued God and begged Him to do it. No, according to Jesus, God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for us. We did not ask for it. To reiterate, as Paul says in Romans 5 God's Son died for us while we hated Him.
No wonder Paul told the Corinthians, "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). The Cross is the greatest revelation of agape. And Agape is the summation or fulfilling of the Law (Romans 13:10). That would make the Cross the greatest revelation of the Law. This means that those who are truly obedient will die ( and live) for their brethren (or enemies) as Christ died (and lived) for us (1 John 3:16). Agape produces the most miraculous change in human heart. It is no longer about me, but about others even if they hate us or do not know who we are.
What we are talking about is Justification by faith, which brings the gift of heavenly agape-love "shed abroad in the heart" by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). That means deliverance from all kinds of fear because "perfect agape casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Fear ceases to be a motive in following Christ, for "the agape of Christ constrains us" to live not for self, but "for Him who died for us" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). And, our concern for others reveals our concert for Christ (Micah 6:8; Matthew 25: 31 – 46). "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen" (John 4:20)?