Re: A Christmas Message

From: Janice Matchett <>
Date: Tue Dec 27 2005 - 12:43:53 EST

At 12:15 PM 12/27/2005, George Murphy wrote:

>So let's not pray for him because he's got some bad theology. I
>thought we were supposed to pray for our enemies, but I guess we
>shouldn't for Christians who are in error.
>Shalom George

## Funny. That's not what I heard Dick say. If I were going to
guess, I would think he would say it's a little more complicated than
that and., like me, would mostly, or completely agree with what is
written here:

Love your enemies

What is "Agape" and How Did It Work? James Patrick Holding

What exactly is agape, or "love" as it is translated? The NT tells us:

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

We read such passages and tend to assume at once that "love" means
what it does to us in modern times -- in this case, a mushy
sentimentality that never says a harsh word and never steps on the
toes of others. The same word is used in 1 Cor. 13 (though translated
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity
vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself
unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no
evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth
all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

The question at issue: how is all of this actually worked out in
practice? Does agape mean not confronting others with error or sin?
Do we need a deep relationship (a "25 ton bridge" as one friend calls
it) to relate to a person and to correct them? On the surface this is
an obvious no-brainer, since of course the writers of the NT were
constantly confronting others on various errors, even people they
obviously could not have known well (even if we assume, wrongly, that
they related on modern, individualist terms!).

It takes a "politically correct" stretch to argue otherwise.

But there is a more moderate view: We can confront, but can only do
so politely. Well, that too is a no-brainer on the surface, given the
many abrasive comments given by Jesus and by Paul to their opponents
(i.e., Pharisees, the Galatian "Judaizers") and even to fellow
believers (like Peter and the "Satan" quote) who went awry.

Indeed, rhetorical analysis of Paul's letters indicates that he used
some very sharp rhetorical tactics which would have seriously shamed
his opponents and even his readers.

The answer is found in one of two places:

1) The NT teaches but does not act out agape;

2) We are not really understanding what agape means.

And as it happens, the social science data tells us that #2 is the
way to go. In the following we will draw in some points that some
readers may recognize from previous essays here on; but
there is also some new material added.

A key difference in understanding the meaning of agape is to
recognize that our culture is centered on the individual, whereas
ancient Biblical society (and 70% of societies today) are
group-centered. What is good for the group is what is paramount.

Hence when the NT speaks of agape it refers to the "value of group
attachment and group bonding" [Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, 196].

Agape is not an exchange on a personal level and "will have little to
do with feelings of affection, sentiments of fondness, and warm,
glowing affinity." It is a gift that puts the group first.

With that in mind, what of the passage which tells us to "Love your
enemies"? How is this reconciled with places where Jesus calls the
Pharisees names, or Peter "Satan"?

How is it reconciled with where Paul wishes emasculation on his
Galatian opponents (Gal. 5) and shames the Galatians with his
rhetoric? How is it reconciled with even confronting others with sin
and error, for that matter?

Given the definition of "group attachment" above, it may be best to
understand agape as a parallel to another known concept of today --
not love, but tough love.

For the sake of popular culture awareness I will allude to perhaps
the most famous example of such "tough love" known today -- the New
Jersey high school principal Joe Clark (whose story was told in the
movie Lean on Me) who cleaned out his high school and made it a safe
place for those who wanted to learn.

Clark was no soft sentimentalist! He kicked those out of school who
disrupted the learning of others. He used physical compulsion to do
it as needed. He used a bullhorn to get people's attention.

Is this agape? Yes, it is! It is the Biblical form of agape in which
Clark valued what was best for his students as a whole versus what
the individual wanted.

Now consider this understanding in light of, for example, Jesus'
confrontation with the Pharisees and others. It will take a
complexity of emotion we find foreign, but conceptually, it is
certainly possible to love one's enemies, and yet also attack them;
and the same for one's disciples or allies.

Like Clark's disruptive students, the Pharisees were a threat to the
well-being of others; so likewise Peter when he made his error.

They spread deception and falsehood and kept others from entering the
Kingdom of God with their deceptions; or else led people down the
wrong path and away from spiritual maturity.

In such a scenario, not only is it right and proper, for the sake of
agape, to confront and confront boldly; it may be the only
responsible thing to do to keep the "disease" or error from spreading
and afflicting more souls! (In the ancient world, and even today,
insults and polemics were a way to shame and discredit an opponent;
see <>here.)

So agape does include verbally attacking and discrediting one's
opponents, or confronting other believers, when they are in the wrong.

Jesus speaks to these men not as his enemies, but as enemies of the truth.

There is no indication that he speaks to them as personal enemies,
for all of his comments reflect their deception of others; the
personal relationship between the parties does not even come into the
picture. They were enemies for the sake of the Kingdom of God. By
comparison, one would hardly suppose that Matthew 5:44 would restrict
one from joining an army and fighting in a war against a Hitler or a
Stalin. This becomes a case of having agape for the greater number,
and generally innocent, at the expense of the lesser who are guilty.
Jesus' situation with the Pharisees and others attacked was very much
in this category, since their actions imperiled the eternal fate or
the spiritual maturity of others.

One may reply, "But what then of the example of the Good Samaritan?
He was kind to an enemy." He was kind to a personal enemy; the man
was not spreading lies and deceiving others!

Here is food for thought: If Jesus had been attacking a Pharisee, and
the man had suddenly clutched at his heart and dropped to the ground,
would agape have us give the Pharisee CPR? Yes, it would.

We are thereby making the man our "neighbor" and extending the hand
of welcome into our fellowship. From there what happens? The Pharisee
may keep on his attacks against the truth after he recovers; if so,
he is still an enemy for the sake of the Gospel and one to be
publicly addressed in disparaging terms. But if he drops to the
ground again we will still work to save him. Our modern society has
lost this ability to distinguish between sin and sinner; it is often
assumed that to attack the position is to attack the man! Such is the
bane of "tolerance" and political correctness."

~ Janice

>----- Original Message -----
>From: <>Dick Fischer
>To: <>ASA
>Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 12:01 PM
>Subject: RE: A Christmas Message
>Tjalle T Vandergraaf wrote:
>...And a "bleak midwinter" it is for the four members of the
>Christian Peacemaker Team that are being held hostage in Iraq and
>for their families. ..." ~ Chuck Vandergraaf
>I guess they found evidence of civil rights abuses, huh. One of the
>hostages is Tom Fox who lives in Virginia and thus has gotten
>special attention in the Washington Post and local TV
>coverage. Another irony is that Fox, a Christian, believed there
>was good in all men. I wonder where he got that notion? Jer. 17:9
>says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately
>wicked: who can know it?"
>Had he heeded the words of the prophet, and pondered Proverbs 3:5:
>"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own
>understanding," he might have enjoyed Christmas in Virginia.
>~Dick Fischer~ Genesis Proclaimed Association
>Finding Harmony in Bible, Science, and History
>### Yeah. The poor souls.
>They've been under discussion here for several weeks, now. Here is
>a small sample of it:
>Who Are the Christian Peacemaker Teams?
> ^ | 11/30/2005 | DiscoverTheNetworks
>Posted on 11/30/2005 12:10:57 PM EST by Para-Ord.45
Received on Tue Dec 27 12:45:21 2005

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