I had heard it all my years: agape love means ”Divine Love”. Also, I’ve heard that it means “unconditional love”. So have you. Preachers who really matter to me have made this affirmation. The late Dr. Adrian Rogers (of blessed memory), pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Memphis, TN used to preach this (find his great sermons here). You would be very hard pressed to find an example of a better man of God than he.
But he (even he) was in error, and I hate that. This man has had a significant impact on me as a person, and I wanted him to “be perfect” — you know what I mean? I wrote a few letters to him and had a few replies regarding that error and was rebuffed, so that kinda hurt. Maybe if an older man/person thinks something for long enough and makes statements long enough, it’s too hard to back up and rethink the matter. All of us, being mortal, are gonna blow it sometimes. But the majority of preaching today about agape is in error — and that’s because even pastors/preachers need to study more. And people need to quit listening to everyone else about what the Word is telling us and find out on their own. Remember the noble Bereans.
Apparently (and experientially) this is dangerous ground. People seem to prefer the “clean” answer, but we can’t streamline everything.
“… Men LOVED darkness rather than light because their deeds were EVIL.”
John 3:19 αὕτη δέ ἐστιν ἡ κρίσις ὅτι τὸ φῶς ἐλήλυθεν εἰς τὸν κόσμον καὶ ἠγάπησαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι μᾶλλον τὸ σκότος ἢ τὸ φῶς ἦν γὰρ πονηρὰ αὐτῶν τὰ ἔργα
That bold word is the Aorist Active Indicative* tense of the word agape, pronounced “ēgapēsan“. This exact word is used only 3 times in Scripture — all by John. In John 12:43, the writer tells us “for they (bad guys) loved men’s praise more than God’s praise” and is using the exact same word.
Ok. It seems obvious that AGAPE can NOT mean “Divine Love”. Holy God cannot love “darkness”. So then, what DOES agape mean?
Agape must mean “devoted love”. No other definition makes sense. These men who loved darkness did NOT love it unconditionally. No, they were getting something out of it: the darkness was covering their evil deeds. However, these men were totally committed to the darkness: so much that it cost them an eternity in Hell – and they said “Amen” to that.
So, what’s the Good News? The Gospel is that the Maker and Savior is 100% DEVOTED to you and to me. He has committed Himself and His only Son to fixing our Fallen humanity. But it is not an unconditional love. Nope. To be blessed by the Lord of Heaven, there is one BIG condition: you gotta put your trust in the One Good Man whose wrongful death is able to cover you. Either you can die for your own sins or He can die for your sins. Either you can be devoted to doing life your way OR you can devote your life to His Way.
One more thing. God does not Love you because you’re a neat person. Nope. He Loves you because of His character, not yours. Even if you are rotten. Even when you ARE rotten. (Doesn’t that take a load off your shoulders?!?!!?) To try to EARN God’s Love is actually an unforgiveable insult to Him. You’ll have to be Perfect: not just in your own opinion, but in God’s opinion. And only One person has been able to pull that off Flawlessly. Compared to Messiah, we are all just different flavors of the same rascal.
Only after putting saving faith in Messiah will the Lord start to conform us into His virtue — yet you will always get to keep your own unique personhood and personality at the same time. If you are an outgoing Saint, you’ll be like an outgoing Jesus. Or the other way. It will be the same you, but without the junk that messes the real you up! The same you, but with the Power available from the Spirit to be the Awesome - unique - you! No person in the history of the world can praise the Lord in the way that only you can! Be glad: the Choir ain’t full up — not yet.
Choose Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of all who put their hope in Him! It’s the right thing to do.
*too technical stuff
The aorist tense expresses simple past action that sums up an era of time into a lump. The indicative “mood” of Greek is usually declarative, making an unqualified or non-contingent statement of fact. Active tense means that the subject (here “men”) are doing the act and not having something done to them.
“… as A.T. Robertson explains, the aorist “just treats the act as a single whole entirely irrespective of the parts or time involved” (Historical Research, 832). So in John 2:20 an aorist verb is used in speaking of how the temple “was built” in forty-six years. The action of the aorist verb is unitary or undefined (as its name denotes: “aorist” means “not determined” or “undefined“).” When speaking of actions in the past tense, the Greeks preferred to use the unmarked, aoristic aspect expressed by the aorist tense. In this way they could speak in general terms about the past. This is why when verbs in other tenses appear, we should take note of how they function in stark relief against this aoristic “background.”
So John 3:19 makes the self-evidently true statement of fact that that ’men in the past actively chose to love darkness throughout an undetermined period of time.’
See, I told you it was TOO technical! But some folks just gotta have it.