Agape love is a topic I write and talk about often. One of the most formative sermons I’ve ever preached (formative for me, at least) was on agape love. Agape is one of Ember Church’s core values. I blog about it frequently. We’re talking about it at Ember Outdoors this summer.

Agape love is a major theme of the New Testament, especially the writings of John. In John 13, the apostle writes:

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Of course, every instance of the word “love” in that passage is a translation of the Greek word agape. So you might as well write it like this: A new command I give you: Agape one another. As I have agaped you, so you must agape one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you agape one another.

Jesus said this before he went to the cross, but he referred to his demonstration of agape love in the past tense. What was he talking about? He was talking about how he had just washed his disciples’ feet. That was an act of agape love, one that resonated deeply within their own souls, and should be paradigmatic for the way in which they ought to relate to one another.

But washing their feet wasn’t the only act of agape love Jesus would commit that week. It was the very next day that he was brutally tortured and killed on a roman cross, dying as the final sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.

The sweet spot of agape love is between the washbasin and the cross. In the washbasin, Jesus set aside his rights, privilege, and honor as the world’s true king to perform the duties of the lowliest household servant–washing the filthy feet of 12 nomads, one who would, just hours later, betray him. At the cross he laid down his life and forgave the sins of humanity.

Jesus didn’t just talk about agape love, he defined it. He demonstrated it. He lived, and yes, died, it. The agape love of Jesus encompasses the washbasin and the cross, and this is the same agape love which he demands of us.

“A new command”, he said. Like the first two: “Love YHWH your God…”, and “Love your neighbor.” Now a third. “Love one another.” Agape one another. Agape one another with a washbasin, and with a cross. The love of Jesus was no sentimental affection; it was both dirty and bloody. And that’s the kind of love he expects from us: agape love.

Whenever you’re not sure how to love somebody, just remember how Jesus loved us, and that the sweet spot of agape love is between the washbasin and the cross.

Sam left a comment in the previous post about a discussion he was having with friends about 2 Timothy 2:22-24. He asked for my thoughts, particularly as they regarded our conversation a while back about David Platt, reformed theology, and whether or not God hates sinners. That conversation began with this post, in which I criticized David Platt’s exegesis of the psalms. It then continued in the comments and into several other posts, including:

Biblical Hatred
How I Read the Bible
Why I Criticized David Platt on My Blog
Questions for Calvinists
A Response to a Response

That was a long and involved series of posts that had a lot of theological debate. The passage that Sam refers to from 2 Timothy says this:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

So I think the first question is this: Is the discussion about Calvinism v. Arminianism, predestination v. free will, etc. a “foolish and stupid argument”? I’ve heard a lot of folks, exasperated from the same late-night conversation playing itself out over and over again, decry this conversation as one of those stupid arguments that Christians should avoid. I’m certainly sympathetic to that position; this conversation can be exasperating.

But I don’t consider it a foolish and stupid argument because I believe that it pertains to the nature of God. Calvinists and Arminians understand God in fundamentally different ways. If you believe in, for example, double predestination, then you perceive God in a radically different way than someone who believes in free-will. Roger Olson, an Arminian biblical scholar, would even go so far as to say you believe in a different God altogether.

Where it breaks down, though, is when you are more concerned about being right than having godly character. Not only can our drive to be right, or to win an argument, obscure our perception of the truth, it can also reflect deep character flaws that need to be redeemed. When your aim is to win the argument rather than discover the truth, you have become quarrelsome. That might sound like a petty sin, but quarrels lead to broken relationships within the body of Christ. In fact, doctrinal quarrels have led to the fractured and splintered state the Church is in right now. Being quarrelsome is a serious issue that reflects deep character shortcomings.

While some conversations are important to have, and some disagreements are going to result from those conversations, it’s important to not be foolish or stupid, or do anything that would turn those conversations into an argument or a quarrel. We must strive, as the Scripture says, to be kind to everyone. We must be able to teach, which is definitely not the same as shouting or arguing.

So I say, let the conversations continue, but let them continue in the spirit outlined by Paul in this passage.

Last night I had the holy privilege of preparing three people for baptism. I heard amazing testimonies of God’s power from Mary, Ian, and Dustin. I was truly overwhelmed by the goodness and power of God, and I am so excited to baptize these three this Sunday at Ember.

Baptizing is one of the greatest honors I have as a pastor. I get to be the participating witness to their public confession of faith and full identification with Jesus, his death, and resurrection.

I’ll be honest. Planting this church has been hard in many ways. It has not turned out like I had hoped or expected. And yet, as I consider those who have been impacted by our church, such that they would take the step of obedient faith and be baptized here, I am on the verge of tears. These beautiful and courageous souls have given me and Ember a great honor, something I will never forget.

Easter is the celebration of new life, of the power of God to conquer death, and of our own hope of resurrection and life forever with Jesus. Baptism is a symbol of all of that. If you want to be baptized this week at Ember, let me know. I would love to make that happen.

Yesterday I posted about how Jesus brilliantly refuted a trap question from a group called the Pharisees. Today I want to look at how he refutes the Pharisees’ rival group, known as the Sadducees.

18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children.21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

The Sadducees were a different group from the Pharisees. The two groups often engaged in sharp debate, and the resurrection was one of those flashpoints of conflict between the two. The Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection; that’s why they were sad, you see. (Whaa-whaaaa)

They came to Jesus because they had heard that he believed in the resurrection, and they wanted to pose a question to him that they had probably posed to many Pharisees. It was a dishonest question, meant to make resurrection look like a ridiculous, and even unbiblical, idea. I imagine that no Pharisee had been able to give them a satisfactory reply, so they thought they could trap Jesus with this one.

One woman. Seven brothers. Each man obeyed the biblical law by marrying his older brother’s widow and trying to produce an heir for him. This was how a family was able to continue it’s line. Should the oldest brother die without an heir, the next brother in line was responsible for marrying his brother’s widow and producing a male child for his dead brother. It was a sort of surrogacy.

So the woman and the seven brothers die without producing an heir. When the resurrection happens, and here the Sadducees are probably snickering to themselves, whose wife will she be? She couldn’t possibly be married to all of them; that would be adultery! How can there be adultery in the resurrection? How can obedience to the biblical law in this life lead to disobedience to the biblical law in the resurrection? That’s exactly the situation we have in this scenario. Obviously, the Sadducees conclude, the resurrection cannot exist.

But Jesus refuted them, and quite easily actually. But he did it by dropping the bomb that destroys the hopes and dreams of every young, evangelical Christian. “When the dead rise,” he said, “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” There will be no marriage in heaven. Or, to put it more accurately, romantic, sexual love, and the unique bond between two people that goes along with it, will not exist in the resurrection.

Now let me say this. If you find that thought so depressing, so repugnant, so distasteful, so disappointing that you don’t even want to participate in the resurrection anymore, then you have made marriage and romantic love into an idol. In fact, I believe one of the most powerful idols that afflicts young people, and especially young people today, especially Christian young people, is the idol of romantic love.

We put a lot of hope into romantic love. We think of it as normal. We think it’s our right to be loved, and to experience this romantic love, for all of our lives. But there’s a greater love, a better love than this, and too many of us are missing out on it because we’ve made romantic love an idol in our hearts.

The greater love is the agape love that we will experience with Jesus for eternity. At the end of the Bible there’s a wedding; the groom is Jesus, and the bride is the Church. But they’re not getting married under the compulsion of romantic love, but rather in the promise of agape love.

Agape love is the love of the cross. It’s the love that lays down its life, that forgives sins, and refuses to demand its rights. This is the love that Jesus made a reality for us when he died for our sins on the cross.

There won’t be marriage in the resurrection, because in the resurrection, agape love will replace romantic love. Romantic love is a shadow, a wonderful, exciting shadow, but still a shadow of the deep self-sacrificing love of God that we will all experience together, with God, for all eternity. We are invited to fully participate in divine love of the Trinity.

People hated Jesus. They tried to trap him. They wanted to kill him. This passage represents one of their best efforts at trapping him.

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

So now the religious leaders are pretty upset. They’re trying to trap Jesus with this question. If he said that it’s not right for the Jews to pay taxes to Caesar, then he would be arrested by the Romans, and potentially tried for insurrection. If he said that it is right to pay taxes to Caesar, then the people would reject him because they despised the pagan Romans, and deeply resented their presence in Israel. What’s he supposed to do? What can he say? There’s no way out of this conundrum.

Well, you can’t trap Jesus. He knew exactly what was going on, and he wasn’t going to be caught in their trap. So he had someone bring him one of the Roman coins, a denarius. “Whose image is this?” he asked.

“It’s Caesar’s,” they responded.

“Well then, give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

But he left something out. Where is God’s image inscribed? On us. On every human being on the face of the earth. Genesis 1 says that we are made in God’s image. We bear God’s inscription.

So everything that has Caesar’s image on it belongs to Caesar, but everything that has God’s image on it belongs to God. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Go ahead and give your money to Caesar. God doesn’t really care about that anyway. But give yourself to God. That’s what he wants. He’s not concerned about your taxes. He’s not concerned about the pagans collecting your money. He’s concerned about your generosity toward him. How much of yourself are you giving to God?

Are you being generous with yourself—your thoughts, your actions, your heart, your will, your talents, your gifts, your being, your future—are you being generous in giving yourself to God? You are made in the image of God. You belong to God. All of you.

There have been some dominant themes that, I believe, God has been trying to pound into our heads and hearts throughout the course of Ember’s existence. One of those themes is that God can change us at the level of our deep heart desires. He changes us through the power of the Gospel, through his grace and mercy seeping into the cracks of our hearts, our minds, our wills.

But in order to be changed we must give ourselves over to his grace. We must throw ourselves down at the foot of the cross, placing all of our trust, all of our hope, all of our dreams, all of our desires upon the broad and broken shoulders of Jesus. We must abandon our way of doing things, our agendas for this life, and throw ourselves fully onto the grace of God found only in his son, Jesus Christ.