The Work of the Church: Agape Love

The Work of the Church: Agape Love

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Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” A second time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this He said to him, “Follow me.” John 21: 15-19

We will spend a second reflection discussing our core value of “love” before moving on to the other four values that are core to our community.  Entire books have been written on love and it seems that there can never be too much said on this subject.  Love encompasses the two greatest commandments—to love God and to love our neighbor.  Love was God’s motivation for creating the world and redeeming it after it fell.  And sin can be defined most simply as “failure to love,” since all sins are either against God or against our neighbor.

We discussed in the previous reflection that love involves sacrifice, joy and vulnerability.  All three of these words, as well as many others, are captured in the Greek word “Agape.”  In the English language, we have one word for “love.”  We use the same word to say “I love my wife” and “I love pizza.”  In Greek there are actually several words for love.  One word is “filia” which is a friendship love.  From “filia” comes the word “philanthropy.”  Another word is “eros,” which is romantic love.  This is where we get the word “erotic.”  When we are strongly attracted to something, like pizza or baseball, the words used are “mu aresi”, this “thing” is pleasing to me.

The word “agape” means “sacrificial love,” the kind of love where we are willing to change the course of our lives, or even give up our very life.  We don’t use “agape” love and ascribe it to pizza or baseball.  I like pizza, but I’m willing to die for pizza.  “Agape” love is the kind of love we should have for our spouses, our children and our parents.  Perhaps even a close friend or two make it into the Agapecategory.  And Agape is the kind of love we are supposed to have for God, because it is the kind of love that He has for us.

Agape love means that we are willing to alter the course of our lives for someone or something.  I’m not going to alter my life more than a couple of minutes or a few dollars for a piece of pizza.  But I will alter my life for God, and for those that I love.

In the Scripture reading from today, we read about an encounter between Jesus and Peter.  This occurred after the Resurrection, and it was Jesus’ first encounter with Peter after Peter denied Jesus three times.  Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love Me?”  And we read in John 21:17, that after the third time Jesus asked Peter “Do you love Me?”  that “Peter was grieved.”  One would assume that Peter’s grief was because the question was redundant.  It was as if perhaps Jesus didn’t believe Peter’s answer to be truthful, that indeed Peter loved Jesus.  This is a misinterpretation, which is only understood if one reads the passage in its original Greek.

When Jesus asked Peter in verse 15, “Do you love Me?” the verb He used was “agapas Me?”   He used the word “Agape.”  Peter answered with the verb, “oti filo Se.”  He used the word “filia.”  Essentially, Jesus was asking Peter, “Do you love Me as if you’d die for me?”  And Peter was answering “I love You like a friend.”  When Jesus asked Peter the second time, “Do you love Me?”  in verse 16, He used the same word “agape,” and Peter gave the same answer, “filia.”  The third time, in verse 17, Jesus asked Peter “Filis Me?”, using the word “Filia,” “Do you love Me like a friend?”  And it was at this point that Peter was grieved because He realized that Jesus was asking Him if Peter loved Him with Agape and Peter was answering that He loved Jesus like a friend.  Indeed, as Jesus would point out in verses 18-19, Peter would die for Jesus.

In church language, it’s not enough to use the word “love.”  While in English, it may be the word at our disposal, we have to understand “love” as “agape,” a sacrificial love where we are willing to die for Christ and even for one another.  A core value of love does not mean loving pizza or culture or even church.  It means having Agape for Christ, and Agape for others, being willing to alter our lives in the service of others.

Do we love Jesus more than “these”?  (“These includes baseball, television, coffee, reading, our jobs, even our families).  How do you answer this question?  And in our communities, do we love Jesus enough to demonstrate that through our ministries, our budgets, our outreach, our charity, and the things we fill the calendar with?  How do our communities answer this question?

When You showed Yourself to Your Disciples O Savior after the Resurrection in return for his love You gave Simon the feeding of the sheep and asked him to take care to tend them.  That is why You said “If you love Me Peter tend My lambs, tend My sheep.”  Then he at once displayed his affection and inquired about the other Disciple.  By their entreaties O Christ, protect Your flock from wolves that would injure it.  (Eleventh Eothinon Doxastikon, from Orthros, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

It is important that we understand and practice Agape love!

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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0