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Do you Agape Me?

Posted Nov 24, 2023 by Adrian Ebens in Everlasting Gospel
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[This article is chapter 15 from Pr Adrian Ebens' lastest book - Mirror Principle. It presents vital information as to why most people read the Old Testament in a way that reveals God as one who condemns and destroys. When we condemn ourselves and/or others we eclipse God's agape for us and we become as sounding brass.]

One of the greatest challenges people have when encountering the Mirror Principle is that they struggle to understand why God would speak back to people their own thoughts. Why doesn’t He simply say what He is thinking?

This important question finds sharp focus in situations where men have planned to kill others. How does God deal with them, especially when they are men that know God? An example of this that is discussed at length in the Bible is the story of Saul, the first king of Israel. He had embarrassed himself by making a rash vow, losing the confidence of his own soldiers. He felt that the way to regain his prestige was to destroy some of the surrounding nations and thereby cover himself in glory. Let’s see how God would address this when He is called upon.

Saul’s rash vow was that none of his soldiers should eat until he, Saul, had been avenged of his enemies – meaning no one could eat until Saul was satisfied with the victory gained. His son, Jonathan, had not heard the command and took some honey to sustain himself in battle. After Israel’s victory, the men were so hungry that they raced upon the spoils of war and ate meat containing blood which was against the commandments of God. Saul wanted to immediately continue the war and completely wipe out his enemies, but the priest suggested to Saul they should ask God what to do.

Then Saul said, “Let’s chase the Philistines all night and plunder them until sunrise. Let’s destroy every last one of them.”

His men replied, “We’ll do whatever you think is best.”

But the priest said, “Let’s ask God first.”

So Saul asked God, “Should we go after the Philistines? Will You help us defeat them?” But God made no reply that day.

Then Saul said to the leaders, “Something’s wrong! I want all my army commanders to come here. We must find out what sin was committed today.” 1 Samuel 14:36-38

Like the story of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus asking for help for her daughter, the response given by God is silence. This brings out more clearly the thoughts of Saul. The king is now looking for an atonement for whatever seems to be displeasing God.

Saul was irritated by the fact that his son had taken centre stage in the war against Israel’s enemies. Saul was anxious about his crown after he had foolishly decided to take on the role of the priests and offer a sacrifice to the Lord in the process of seeking God’s guidance. Samuel was really unhappy when he saw what Saul did, and he told Saul that the kingdom would be taken from him. From that day forward, Saul was troubled, moody, and watchful of any person who might appear to be a threat to his throne. The actions of his son could trigger a movement amongst the people to dethrone Saul and install his son. The true wickedness of Saul is manifested in the words he speaks when looking for the reason for why God was not speaking to him.

“I vow by the name of the LORD who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!” But no one would tell him what the trouble was. 1 Samuel 14:39

In these words, we discern an echo of the Cross. Jonathan was completely innocent of any wrong doing. In order for the king to solve his problems, he is willing to offer up his own son as a sacrificial atonement.

In like manner, the Christian world thinks this is how God solves His problems; He offers up His first-born Son as an atonement for the ills of His kingdom. The implications of this are vast, but we won’t delay now to consider them.

The Lord allows the thoughts of Saul to manifest themselves completely by letting the casting of lots discern who was the guilty party for why God wasn’t talking to Saul.

Then Saul said, “Jonathan and I will stand over here, and all of you stand over there.”

And the people responded to Saul, “Whatever you think is best.”

Then Saul prayed, “O LORD, God of Israel, please show us who is guilty and who is innocent.” Then they cast sacred lots, and Jonathan and Saul were chosen as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent.

Then Saul said, “Now cast lots again and choose between me and Jonathan.” And Jonathan was shown to be the guilty one.

“Tell me what you have done,” Saul demanded of Jonathan.

“I tasted a little honey,” Jonathan admitted. “It was only a little bit on the end of my stick. Does that deserve death?”

“Yes, Jonathan,” Saul said, “you must die! May God strike me and even kill me if you do not die for this.” 1 Samuel 14:40-44

Israel’s love for Jonathan urges them to gather together to block the insanity of the king.

But the people broke in and said to Saul, “Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the LORD lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death. 1 Samuel 14:45

Rather than securing his throne by killing his son, Saul had now put the entire populace against him by his foolish tough-guy act. Through Jonathan, Saul had reclaimed his dominions in relation to the Philistines, but now he was in danger of losing the hearts of the men of Israel. He had to win back their loyalty.

Now when Saul had secured his grasp on Israel’s throne, he fought against his enemies in every direction—against Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. And wherever he turned, he was victorious. He performed great deeds and conquered the Amalekites, saving Israel from all those who had plundered them. 1 Samuel 14:47-48

Saul had a clear motivation for destroying the surrounding nations. He wanted to regain the respect of his nation and secure his throne with them. If such a man was willing to kill his own son to protect his throne, then how hard would it be for him to slaughter the sons and daughters of an enemy nation?

In this context God now speaks an extremely confronting statement:

“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” 1 Samuel 15:2-3

Reading this text outside of the character of Jesus, leaves you with the terrifying thought that God will order the slaughter of small children if required.

As this completely opposes the character of Jesus, it is evident the mirror is operating. This leads the faithful Bible student to seek for further evidence of why God said this. In the Young’s Literal Translation, we find something interesting:

‘Thus said Jehovah of Hosts, I have looked after that which Amalek did to Israel, that which he laid for him in the way in his going up out of Egypt. Now, go, and thou hast smitten Amalek, and devoted all that it hath, and thou hast no pity on it, and hast put to death from man unto woman, from infant unto suckling, from ox unto sheep, from camel unto ass.’ 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (YLT)

God knew the thoughts of Saul and presents them to him, telling him what is in his heart. Saul finds in these words the assurance he is seeking to advance with his original plans. God warns Saul about Saul’s own plans; Saul twists the words of God to make them suit his own agenda. Saul heard the word of God the way he wanted to hear it. He was a hearer of the word but not a doer. (James 1:23).

Do we honestly think that a man who was willing to murder his own innocent son to protect his throne would qualify to be the man whom God would use to fight against His enemies? How does this even make sense?

The challenge in the words spoken to Saul is there is enough ambiguity in the Hebrew to allow the words to be understood differently. The question that must be asked is why did God let Himself be misunderstood? With so many young children’s lives at stake, couldn’t He have made things clearer to Saul?

The Psalmist declares part of the problem when describing what Israel repeatedly did to God.

Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. Psalm 78:41 (NKJV)

Men hold God at a distance causing them to misread what He is saying, attributing to Him their own thoughts. Thus, God is limited in what He can say and do.

A very good example of this is when Jesus, just resurrected, asked Peter whether he loved Him. This was a tough question for Peter after his terrible failure during the trial of Christ before His crucifixion.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “You know I love You.” “Then feed My lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” "Yes Lord,” Peter said, “You know I love You.” “Then take care of My sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time He asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, You know everything. You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Then feed My sheep.” John 21:15-17

Within the Old Covenant framework, it seems that Jesus is pressing Peter because of his terrible failure. Justice demands that Peter be confronted until it hurts; he needs to experience a little humiliation in response to his failure. Considering how terribly Peter failed his master, the actions of Jesus are perceived as very merciful and Christ is faithfully wounding his friend in order to restore him to favour.

With a little more consideration, it must be recognized that no human being has the capacity to love Jesus. As we discovered in chapter four, the human heart is at war with God and His Son. We do not seek for God let alone love Him. We are also reminded by John:

We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (KJV)

Only when we believe that God and His Son love us, can we begin to respond to them with love. Therefore, in the New Covenant, the request of Jesus “do you love me” is impossible because we can’t do anything good. Why then, did Jesus ask this question?

After Peter had denied his Lord, he became deeply distressed about his failure. He thought He loved Jesus, but his actions showed otherwise. Peter himself questioned whether he really loved Jesus as he claimed. Therefore, the question of Jesus to Peter is a reflection of what Peter was already thinking. Jesus was meeting Peter where he was and Peter was being judged by his own judgment.

Peter’s self-doubt actually made him unable to give the answer Jesus was looking for. The English translation masks the deeper issue taking place between Peter and Jesus. We will insert the Greek word into the texts we quoted previously and discover something very interesting.

After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love [agape] Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “You know I love [phileo] You.” “Then feed My lambs,” Jesus told him.

Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you [agape] love Me?’ “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “You know I love [phileo] You.” “Then take care of My sheep,” Jesus said.

A third time He asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] Me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, You know everything. You know that I love [phileo] You.” Jesus said, “Then feed My sheep.” John 21:15-17

What essentially is the difference between agape and phileo? We get the word brotherly love from phileo. Agape means to love while phileo means to be a friend. A friend can display affection and feel a sense of attachment because of a common cause or shared history but agape loves under all circumstances. The Strong’s Concordance contrasts the two words this way:

phileō

From G5384; to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), that is, have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while G25 [agape] is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety: the two thus stand related very much as G2309 and G1014, or as G2372 and G3563 respectively; the former being chiefly of the heart and the latter of the head); specifically to kiss (as a mark of tenderness): - kiss, love.

Phileo springs from the emotions, while agape anchors in the will. We might even say that agape is the source from which phileo can be consistently maintained. Our feelings are variable and sometimes unstable. Agape ensures that our love for others doesn’t change, even if they hurt us or turn against us.

Why did Peter answer the question of Jesus with a different word to what Jesus asked? If Peter did not have the abiding assurance that Jesus had unwavering agape love for him, then Peter could not reflect this back to Jesus. The consistency of our love for Christ is anchored in the assurance of Christ’s steadfast love for us.

Peter’s actions caused him to doubt whether Jesus could love him; he could not answer Jesus with the type of love that Jesus asked him about. Of course, Jesus knew this for He knew the heart of Peter intimately, as He does all of us.

Peter felt a sense of condemnation for what he had done. This condemnation which he placed upon himself did not allow Peter to receive the full agape of Christ, thus leaving Peter unable to return to Christ the agape which was shown to him.

When Jesus asked Peter the third time “Do you phileo me,” He was not simply asking Peter a third time “Do you love me,” He was asking Peter, “Are you limiting my love for you to phileo?” “Do you simply have love for me as a brother? Do you not see in me one who is giving all for you? Do you not see that I don’t condemn you for the mistake you made? If you could see this Peter, then you would know that I agape you and this would allow you to agape me.”

This story is vitally important. Peter’s self-condemnation limited the love of God to brotherly love; a love that could be changed by circumstances. When we limit God’s love like this, then we lose sight of His agape. Notice what happens when we lose agape.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, [agape] I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV)

Just to make this clear, when we condemn ourselves or others, the agape of God is hidden from us. Therefore, if we can’t grasp God’s agape for us, we can’t agape God or others. We then become brass minded.

What is fascinating about brass is that this is the metal that was used in the courtyard of the sanctuary for the altar of sacrifice and the laver of water. The laver was made from the brass mirrors of the women of Israel.

Bezalel made the bronze washbasin and its bronze [brass] stand from bronze mirrors [H4759] donated  by the women who served at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Exodus 38:8

Brass was used by Israel to make mirrors into which they could see themselves. What is interesting about the word mirror in the above verse is that the same word can also mean vision.

H4759 mar’âh

Feminine of H4758; a vision; also (causatively) a mirror: - looking glass, vision

We note the word used for vision in the book of Daniel chapter eight:

And I heard a human voice calling out from the Ulai River, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of his vision.” [H4758]
Daniel 8:16

Is there a message here in this word vision? Could the visions recounted by the prophets be affected by the level of brass (lack of agape) in their thinking? When the prophets Daniel and John looked upon Christ, Daniel saw His hands and feet as brass but saw gold around His waist. John only saw the feet of Christ as brass.

I looked up and saw a man dressed in linen clothing, with a belt of pure gold around his waist. His body looked like a precious gem. His face flashed like lightning, and his eyes flamed like torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and his voice roared like a vast multitude of people. Daniel 10:5-6

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across His chest. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. Revelation 1:13-15

Within the Sanctuary, we see a courtyard containing an altar and laver of brass, but the objects in the Holy Place and Most Holy Place are either gold entirely or Acacia wood covered with gold. The footings of the temple were silver.

The progression from the court to the Most Holy Place is a journey from brass to gold and silver. In this process we are invited to have our brass thinking purified out of us.

Son of man, the house of Israel is to me become dross: all they are brass, and tin, and iron, and lead, in the midst of the furnace; they are even the dross of silver. Ezekiel 22:18 (KJV)

The prophets were subject to this brass thinking also, but God spoke through their brass (lack of agape) understanding to give us truth. The words the prophets spoke through brass diagnose our sinful condition, while the words they speak through gold give us the remedy. The ability to discern the difference between brass and gold in their writings is revealed in the character of Jesus.

In the very word vision is contained the principle of the mirror! The integrity of the prophets is not diminished in the slightest because the Word of God is given to reveal both our sinfulness and God’s glory.

Notice the response of Isaiah to seeing the glory of God.

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of His robe filled the Temple. Attending Him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke. Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” Isaiah 6:1-5

Isaiah condemned himself in the light of God’s glory. But when we see God’s glory and feel our utter depravity, we should trust that God’s grace will abound over and above our sinfulness; we can trust the words of Jesus “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
(John 8:11).

The symbolism here is astounding. When we condemn ourselves or others and put this judgment in place of God’s agape for us, we unwittingly make God in our image and we begin to imagine that He is like us. One act of condemnation towards ourselves or others obliterates agape and then we imagine God to possess a character which condemns and destroys like we do.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love [agape] one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:8

When we have the assurance of God’s agape, then it will be revealed in the keeping of the law of God. Breaking the law of God reveals we don’t believe God has agape for us but that we are deserving of punishment and possibly death.

But if you refuse to listen to the LORD your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you: Your towns and your fields will be cursed. Your fruit baskets and breadboards will be cursed. Your children and your crops will be cursed. The offspring of your herds and flocks will be cursed. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be cursed. The LORD Himself will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in everything you do, until at last you are completely destroyed for doing evil and abandoning Me. The LORD will afflict you with diseases until none of you are left in the land you are about to enter and occupy. The LORD will strike you with wasting diseases, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, and with blight and mildew. These disasters will pursue you until you die. The skies above will be as unyielding as bronze, and the earth beneath will be as hard as iron. Deuteronomy 28:15-23

God tells us in Deuteronomy that when we break His commandments, the heavens will become bronze or brass over our heads. This means that our perception of God is that He is a reflection of ourselves. It is we in our carnal nature who do not forgive ourselves or others, and we think God is just like us.

These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; but I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes. Psalm 50:21 (NKJV)

God tells us that we think He is like us. The thing that causes this is we do not believe that God can agape us because we judge ourselves deserving of punishment.

In the very same chapter where Jesus asks Peter if he has agape for him, John, the author of the book of John reveals himself as the disciple which Jesus loved.

Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved [agaped]—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray You?” John 21:20

John reveals the answer to Peter’s dilemma. John believed that Jesus loved him. John had also forsaken Jesus (Matt 26:56), but he embraced the forgiving love of Jesus and didn’t believe Jesus condemned him. Therefore, John could reflect agape-love back to Jesus. As John says in his epistle, “we love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).

Here we find the greatest reason why men and women can’t see the truth of God’s character. The condemnation by which they judge themselves or others, prevents them from accepting the agape of God, just like Peter. His own judgment of his situation limited the love of Jesus for him and hid from Peter the true love Jesus had for him.

This story helps us to understand why men like Saul misunderstood the words of God. Saul’s condemnation of his son as a result of his own self-condemnation for his previous failures caused him not to hear the Word of God correctly. As Jesus was speaking to Peter his own thoughts to bring this issue to the surface, so God did the same to Saul, bringing his murderous thoughts to the surface. As Saul heard them without knowing of God’s agape, he could only discern in those words a confirmation of his own traits of character. As James tells us, those who hear the word of God but don’t follow it read in the words of God a mirror of themselves.

Although Saul never came to know God’s true character, thankfully before Peter died, he moved from simply phileo to agape. As he writes in his epistle:

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness [phileo], and to brotherly kindness love [agape]. 2 Peter 1:5-7 (NKJV)

Peter overcame his self-condemnation by accepting the complete agape of God through Christ. This allowed him to add to his phileo, agape.

Will we do the same? Without it, we shall be as sounding brass; God will appear to be like us and we will read the Bible thinking God is like us. The key to believing the truth of God’s character is to accept that all your sins are freely forgiven and that God does not condemn you but He has complete agape for you. Are you the disciple that Jesus loves or are you questioning whether God can love you because you are condemning yourself for your sins? What you choose alters radically how you read the Bible and how you view God.