God’s True Love” gives an overview of Biblical realities that have the capacity to renew the reader’s mind. In the chapter which defines agape we noted that it is possible to love (agape) the wrong things. This essay’s purpose is to further amplify this truth: agape is an emotion that is not always holy or righteous. The common definitions of agape do not generally focus on, or take into account, the information we’re presenting here.

We’re not expanding upon this truth for “the truth’s sake”. Our primary purpose is to strengthen your understanding of common agape so you might know the wonderful, holy agape of God. Often, by exposing the negative, people are helped to appreciate the positive. That’s our plan. Let’s begin.

Agape … for Darkness

Did you know that it is possible to love (agape) darkness? Please take your time and read this portion of John’s Gospel. Notice how the word “agape” is used in verse 19.

John 3:16-20   For God so agaped the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (vs 19) “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men agaped the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

I was studying “agape” when I read these words of Jesus: “men agaped the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”

This verse challenged the understanding of agape I had received on this topic. After all, how is it possible to agape “the darkness”? This “darkness” describes that which is intrinsically evil.

Were those who ‘agape’ darkness exercising their “willpower” to do so? How does one “sacrificially love” darkness “for the highest benefit” of darkness? How could one love darkness with “the love (agape) which is unique to God, Himself?”

None of these common understandings of “divine agape” made sense in this context. In addition, there is nothing redemptive in the Messiah’s prophetic analysis of fallen man’s misdirected agape. In fact, this truth is damning.

Agape can be a powerful motivation, but it is not necessarily a good one.

Surely in John 3:19,20 agape is not a good stimulus. In fact, agape for darkness describes the motive for rejecting and hating God’s Light. Either people agape darkness because they desire to commit deeds that are evil, or as a consequence of their deeds being evil they agape the darkness. This love of the darkness motivates them to hate and avoid the Light.

In verses 16 and 19 two lovers and two objects of love are contrasted.

First we find God, who agapes the world. Then the focus shifts to a culpable humanity which “agaped the darkness rather than the Light.” What a difference in focus. What a difference in the natures of the lovers! Yet, the same word, “agape,” is used in both sentences. Agape is the word used to express the affection, devotion and desire of those who are loving.

Agape is an emotion.

Notice, there is another powerful feeling contrasted with the emotion of agape. In verse 19 the text reports that men agape darkness, in verse 20 the text reveals that “everyone who does evil hates the Light.” Evildoers hate the Light.  This contrast between agape and hate is actually a clarifying complement: both agape and hatred are emotions.

Deeds of Darkness

Let’s quickly review this matter of loving-agapeing darkness. Why do they agape darkness?  Jesus said men agape the darkness because darkness hides their evil deeds. They agape the darkness because they agape accomplishing the deeds of darkness.

Paul used the expression “deeds of darkness” twice.

Ephesians 5:11-12  Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

Romans 13:12-13  The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

Note some descriptions of these deeds. They are unfruitful, disgraceful and secretive. These behaviors range from the party lifestyle to the self-seeking political spirit.

Men agape darkness because the darkness is a means to an end: it provides a cloak of secrecy so they may do the sin they desire. Many people love the anonymity darkness provides so their appearance of righteousness is maintained.

Of course, darkness doesn’t really preserve anybody’s identity or motive from God.

Job 34:21-22  “For His eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He sees all his steps. “There is no darkness or deep shadow where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.

Daniel 2:22b … He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.

In the New Testament the term “darkness” may describe a realm which has power over its citizens, or refer to spiritual ignorance, or the destiny of those who do evil. Read Colossians 1:13:

Colossians 1:13-14  For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Greek word translated “domain” is exousia, commonly translated as “authority.” It is written that we were under darkness’s dominion and needed to be delivered. We were rescued and transferred into another kingdom, a better one – hallelujah!  It is the kingdom of the agaped Son of the Father. In this kingdom we have a new identity:

1 Peter 2:9-10  But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

We were called out of darkness. We are in His marvelous light. We don’t love darkness.

Would a freshly freed slave would love a dehumanizing, satanic system that subjugated, tormented and tore his family apart? We are set free and our agape is set upon the God who has ransomed us, purchased us and set us free.

In reviewing these verses from John 3 we see that agape is an emotion, but it is not always a holy emotion. Agape’s nature depends upon who is doing the loving and the object of the love. You are the object of God’s love. He agaped you and gave His life for you. (Galatians 2:20b) This is holy love which proceeds from God who is holy, holy, holy.

Under the broad category of “darkness” comes the following word of warning from the Apostle John who told us that lost humanity agapes darkness. John’s writing exhorts us to not “agape the world or the things in the world.”

Agape FOR the World and the Things IN the World

Here is an example of our capacity to misuse agape. It is described in a fiery prophetic, pastoral letter called 1 John. In the following section this truth is reinforced: it is possible to agape that which is at enmity with God.

1 John 2:15-17  Do not agape the world nor the things in the world. If anyone agapes the world, the agape of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

“Do not agape the world…”  

The word world (cosmos) here means “the system in competition with God.”  Every culture has this in common: they are based on the faltering spiritual foundations of distrust of God our Savior and their own self-centered lives. These societies help perpetuate slavery to destructive cycles of sin.

There is nothing wrong with being a friend to the world. Jesus, Himself, was called a friend of sinners. However, this text states that if we even wish to be friends of the world, we are actually making ourselves God’s enemies:

James 4:4  You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

1 John 2:15a  Do not agape the world nor the things in the world.

It is possible to agape that which is momentary and malevolent – the sins and the systems which crucified the Messiah, Jesus the Son of God.

Do not agape … the things in the world.

We are enjoined to not agape the things in the world. If I were having a conversation with John, here’s what I would ask, “Sir, what are these things in the world?” The answer is given in the following verse. The phrase, “in the world,” is used in both verse 15 and 16. First, (vs. 15) we are warned not to agape the world or the things in the world and then in verse 16 John explains what “the things in the world” are.

The Things:

Verse 15 says not to agape the cosmos or the things in the cosmos. From that prohibition two things are obvious. One, it is possible to really agape the things of the world. Two, believers are tempted to agape what has ensnared humanity.

1 John 2:16-17  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17 speaks of the transitory nature of the world and its lusts. This is affirmed by 2 Peter 1:4b which describes “… the corruption that is in the world by lust.” “Corruption” is in the world. This is not the type of corruption that refers to moral evil, such as a politician taking a bribe, or a preacher favoring a rich donor. This word refers to the world’s decaying nature. This cosmos is temporal. The world system is passing away. It is decaying, growing rotten, wearing out. We are not to be attached to that which is passing away. We will share the fate of that which we agape.

In addition, the Apostle Peter prophetically points out that this corruption has a moral cause: lust.

Peter is in harmony with John who describes what is in the world as the “lust of the flesh … the lust of the eyes … the boastful pride of life”. In the next verse he refers to these as the lusts that belong to the present cosmos. The apostle instructed that it is possible to agape these things; agape is described as being synonymous with “lusts.”

The Devilish Nature of these Lusts

Later in 1 John, the apostle takes up the spiritual nature of that which animates the fallen world system. This system is arrayed against the Messiah.

1 John 4:2-4  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.  You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

The “spirit of the antichrist … is already in the world.” Even though it is active in the world, we are assured of victory over both false prophets and deceiving spirits because “greater is He who is in (us) than he who is in the world.” In another passage the world is described as existing in this evil one; it is under his power.

1 John 5:19  We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

There is a god of this world that is in utter opposition to the Creator. As aspects of his dominion, under his sway, these lusts dominate those who “agape the darkness”. People agape things which are manifestations of age-long enmity against the Creator. They agape the things which are animated by the spirit of the antichrist.

2 Corinthians 4:3-4  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

He blinds. He deceives and binds.

2 Timothy 2:25b,26 perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

When a person agapes the world in a way that puts him in bondage to powers that oppose God, he agapes the things “that are in the world” which are hostile to the knowledge of God.

The world in 1 John is not the planet, the people on it or the creation, but the human sphere in which we live. It is, then, the sum total of human culture and institutions, the collective living human community. This community is controlled by Satan (1 Jn 5:19; compare 1 Jn 4:4). It is therefore at root hostile to God and those who are committed to him (1 Jn 3:13).

The powerful allure of the present age can provoke agape and produce apostasy. Look at this verse:

2 Timothy 4:10a for Demas, having agaped this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica;

Here we find that Demas succumbed to the most elementary lust of the flesh: self-preservation. The Messiah spoke of a perverse love of life which disqualifies people from the blessing of God. Life on one’s own terms, for one’s own purposes, choosing one’s own way is a self-defeating proposition.

John 12:25   “He who loves (phileo) his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

However, loving life and desiring things to go well for us is not a bad motivation. Look at Peter’s quote of Psalm 34:

1 Peter 3:10-12  For, “THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE (agape) AND SEE GOOD DAYS, MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT. “HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. “FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

In addition, according to Paul it is not wrong to take pleasure in things.

1 Timothy 4:4-5  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 6:17-18  Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

So, to what did John refer? What are these things? The New Bible Commentary (IVP) speaks of 1 John 2:16 like this:

The cravings of sinful man (lit. ‘the lust of the flesh’) points to the gratification of our fleshly desires. The lust of his eyes is the strong desire for what is seen, for the outward form of things; it is the lust after the superficial. The boasting of what he has and does (lit. ‘the boastfulness of life’) is the empty haughtiness of the worldly-minded. (With these three things compare the three things that led Eve to disobey God; Gn. 3:6.) None of these has its origin in God (not from the Father). They are all from the world, that world that is but a passing show on its way to ruin. Everything points to totality: evil is found throughout the world.

We are not to agape the things that are in the world. The Beloved Apostle exhorts: “Do not agape the lust of the flesh.  Do not agape the lust of the eyes. Do not agape the boastful pride of life. These three things are in the world and are hostile to your God.”

Reviewing John’s admonition we see that, in this instance, the word agape is not being used to describe anything virtuous or redemptive. There is nothing lovely about the misuse of the human capacity to love. There is nothing altruistic to be found in this perversion of humanity, the image of God. Rather, in these verses, agape is nothing less than adulterously misplaced affection, misdirected devotion and joyful participation in that which is treasonously at war with the Living God. It is possible to agape the world and the things in the world.

There is “the agape of the Father” (1 John 2:15b) which is good in every way. His holy agape is utterly redemptive and the fountain of the favor in which the believer delights. God lovingly delivers us from the bondage which wrongly directed and attached agape produces. The Father’s agape is rightly directed, glorious, and is aimed right at you – now.

Through the blood of the Messiah the Holy Spirit has residence in, and access to, our hearts. His presence within us is the writing of Torah upon our hearts. He is the holy means by which the strength of our agape is enhanced and directed towards the Lord our God and other people.

Romans 5:5b  the agape of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

This great love proceeding from God is able to deliver us from the destructive power of less worthy loves towards the things in the world. Amongst the lesser loves from which we must be liberated is materialism.

Agape and Mammon

The snare of materialism has been with us since the primal temptation described in the garden. Eve was told, “You can construct your own paradise, eat this.” Since humanity “fell” for that line we have found ourselves struggling to “get up” and fulfill that false promise by our own power.

The Messiah prescribed a cure for this perverseness:

Luke 12:30b-31  “… your Father knows that you need these things. “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

Rather than relying upon the reality of the release of the Kingdom’s resources, men sweat and slave to the degree we actually have to be commanded to rest. Commandment Four: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)

The lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the boastful pride of life are more easily expressed if those who are “lusting” have the financial means to fulfill their worldly agape. Ample funds provide ample opportunities for these lusts to be satisfied.

We are urged to be content, but instead we covet. God calls all to give, but many are consumed by greed or anxiety. To satisfy human insecurity and fulfill human lusts people turn to money. Jesus spoke to this perverseness:

Luke 12:15 Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”

Paul distinguishes between those who are rich and those who are consumed with the desire to become rich. Look at these two passages in 1 Timothy 6:

1 Timothy 6:9-10 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6:17-18 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,

One group of people is already well-to-do, the other is consumed with covetousness. One group is instructed and exhorted. The other is warned and their motives are denounced.

There is nothing morally wrong with becoming prosperous as a result of God’s choice or as the outcome of seeking first God’s kingdom. What Paul addresses in these verses is the type of desire that causes one to switch allegiances from the King to the coin of another realm.

Jesus strenuously warned against this type of agape. Look at this section from the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-24 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and agape the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

In verse 22 we find that the Messiah alerted us to a type of enlightenment that is demonic. This “light” is in fact “darkness.” It is the wisdom described in James 3:15c as “earthly, natural, demonic.” This counterfeit insight beckons us to try to serve two masters. The Lord said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and agape the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

Talk about agapeing the wrong thing! The transient is unworthy of the devotion which belongs to God. In Greek the word translated “devotion” means “to cling, or hold firmly to something.” Why would anybody want to hold onto something that is going to ultimately fail?

Most would rightly say that the word agape is properly used to describe our love for God and others. But who would imagine that agape can be legitimately employed to describe our devotion to that which is God’s rival? Yes, it is possible to agape mammon.

According to Paul’s admonition in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, we can start out being filled with faith and become corrupted. Ultimately, the love of money in the life of spiritual and gifted people can produce a spiritual corruption that is worse than merely agapeing mammon.

This vileness is typified in Balaam. Balaam was the archetypical false prophet. There is an entire street named after him that branches off the narrow path. It is called “Balaam’s Way.” This path is described in 2 Peter 2:15: “the way of Balaam … who agaped the wages of unrighteousness…” Note the following: this false prophet exercised his spiritual gift for hire. Balaam agaped mammon.

This is worse than wasting one’s life for what is unworthy; this is taking the holy things of heaven and prostituting them for profit. Why would someone want to do that? Because they agape “the wages.” That pay enables them to participate in the things in the world which are under darkness’ domain and promote the spirit of the antichrist’s agenda.

Agape is that which we commonly experience and know as love. What makes agape profane or pure is the object of the love and the nature of the lover. God loves us. His agape for us is a holy emotion that is every bit as intensely devoted as that of a man who is head over heels in love with money. His agape is towards us, for us. He has given Himself to procure us, to purchase us.

Agape can be used to describe the desire for that which damages the soul and deeply grieves God’s heart. This covetousness may lead to the type of apostasy typified in Balaam. It is God’s love for us that sets us free from feverishly seeking to satisfy our anxious cares. Faith in the Father’s agape for us is the wholesome balm that soothes our fears.

What have we seen in this essay about the deep emotion of agape? Let’s review. The following are the verses upon which we concentrated:

John 3:19  “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved (agaped) the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

1 John 2:15  Do not love (agape) the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves (agapes) the world, the love (agape) of the Father is not in him.

2 Timothy 4:10a for Demas, having agaped this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica;

Matthew 6:24  “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love (agape) the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

2 Peter 2:15  forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved (agaped) the wages of unrighteousness;

We reviewed these verses to emphasize the truth about the negative use of “agape” to help establish the truth about the positive use of the same word. Nobody would question that in these verses “agape” describes the emotion we call “love.” This “agape” however is wrongly directed, idolatrous, demonic and destructive.

In contrast to this, God has called us to believe in and experience His agape!

God’s agape is a holy, pure, powerful, wonderful, excellent emotion! His agape motivated Him to redeem us. When we are touched by His love, we are enabled and inspired to love others. Agape is an emotion based upon the value of the beloved. Let us press on to abide in this agape and agape one another.

If you’d like, follow up on this article by going here: “Bad Agape: An Exercise“.

By David Harwood, 2011

1 John 4:16  We have come to know and have believed the agape which God has for us. God is agape, and the one who abides in agape abides in God, and God abides in him.

1 Corinthians 13:13  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.