by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
1 Samuel 4:12-22:
That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.
Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.
His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.
She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel” — because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”
One day, driving through Idaho, I saw a tavern. In bold letters on the wall was the name “Ichabod.” It was a temptation to go in and congratulate the owner for such an excellent name for a tavern. The meaning of “Ichabod” in Hebrew is “the glory of God is departed.” I think you will agree with me that it is an excellent name for a tavern. Whenever the glory of God or His Shekinah, which we have seen is His agape love, is departed, it means that God’s people have departed from God and from His truth. When this happens nothing is left but trouble.
The sanctuary which God asked Moses to build was where God dwelt in the Most Holy Place above the ark of the covenant. God’s glory shone above the veil so that the people and the priest could see it. When that glory departed, the church became Ichabod. It is the same today. When the truth about God’s agape is perverted and the light of the gospel is out, then the church is plunged into darkness and becomes ichabod. This is exactly what happened to the Christian Church during the dark ages.
There are three reasons why we need to understand the love of God. The first reason is that it is the central theme of the Bible. We cannot understand God unless we know that He is love. The second reason is that the love of God, His glory, is the fundamental issue in the great controversy between Satan and Christ. The third reason is that the very ground of our salvation is the love of God. We can never fully understand the gospel of Jesus Christ unless we first understand about His love.
In this chapter we will deal with the agape of God in the context of the great controversy. We have a set of books called the “Conflict Series” written by Ellen G. White. We call it “The Conflict Series” because it deals with the great conflict between Christ and Satan from beginning to end. Here is the opening statement in the five-volume series:
“God is love. (1 John 4:16.) His nature, His law, is love. It ever has been. It ever will be. Every manifestation of creative power is an expression of infinite love.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 33.
Here is the closing statement:
“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, declare that God is love.” The Great Controversy, p. 678.
Between those two statements is the great controversy.
The first edition of the book Steps to Christ was published by Fleming, Revel and Company, an evangelical printer in Chicago. The first chapter in this first edition is “The Sinner’s Need of Christ,” but in later editions, which came after that, it is not the first chapter. Ellen White was impressed by God that she should not begin to proclaim the gospel with the sinner’s need for Christ but that she should begin with “God’s Love For Man.” That is how the next edition came out.
When the New Testament apostles wrote the gospels they did not begin with Daniel 2. They began with John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Satan hates the love of God. It was Satan who invented this concept of eros, this self love, and injected it into the human race at the fall. The context of Ezekiel 28 is God’s judgments upon Tyre and Sidon. The fall of Satan is the ground of every other falling, whether it is Tyre and Sidon, Babylon or the Christian Church, and it is used here as a type. Ezekiel 28:15:
You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.
The Old Testament has at least twelve words for sin. Each word has its own ramification. The word “iniquity” in Hebrew means “to be bent.” When used spiritually, it simply means that his nature had become bent toward self. Eros is simply a “U” turn agape. What Ezekiel is saying is that, when Lucifer’s nature became bent, instead of his love going outward towards God and his fellow creatures, it turned inward toward self. It became eros.
The passage we will now read in Isaiah 14 is in the context of the fall of Babylon. In the Old Testament, the fall of Tyre and Sidon, the fall of Babylon, the fall of Jerusalem, and the fall of the Christian Church; in the New Testament, in Revelation, has as its foundation the very same thing — a turning away from God to self. Isaiah 14:12-14:
How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
Notice the word “I” and then look at the word “sin.” The biggest problem of sin is the middle letter “I.” An optician can’t solve this “I” problem. It takes the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is Satan who introduced this problem of eros. This self-love is foreign to God’s nature, to God’s law, to God’s character, and to His government.
Before the end of the world comes, we are told in Revelation 18:1 that this earth will be lightened with the glory of God:
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor.
Now this earth was lightened by the glory of God when Christ came some two thousand years ago. Jesus said “I have glorified your name.” And John, in his gospel, said that the disciples beheld His glory. But Satan does not like the glory of God nor does he like to understand the love of God. This love of God is in complete contradiction to human love. This is true in at least three areas. Human love is conditional, depends on beauty, and needs to be aroused. God’s love is unconditional, spontaneous, uncaused. You don’t have to be good before God loves you. God loves His enemies and He loves sinners and that is good news!
The second thing we have seen is that human love, eros, is changeable; therefore, it is unreliable because it is vacillating. God’s love is never changeable. He loves you irrespective of your behavior, how good or how bad you are. His love is everlasting and it never fails. That is why when the wicked are destroyed, God does it with tears in His eyes. The only reason He has delayed His coming is because He wants none to perish. He loves even the worst sinner.
In Uganda, Idi Amin caused Christians, especially the national Christians, untold suffering. One of the bishops whom he tried to wipe out is a tremendous preacher by the name of Kivenera, who fled out of Uganda to save his life. He wrote a book called I Love Idi Amin. It was the love of God that upheld this man even though Amin was about to kill him. That is the kind of God we serve. We were deported from Uganda in 1972 and I went back in 1978 after Idi Amin was kicked out. I asked the natives, “What is your greatest desire for this man who has ruined your country and has killed thousands of your people?” When I say “ruined” I mean “ruined.” When we first went there, the rate of exchange was seven shillings for one dollar. Today it is three thousand shillings for one dollar. There is no soap, no flour, no bread, no toilet paper, nothing there, even in the plush hotels. When you buy a bottle of pop they take it and put it in three bottles then fill the bottles with water. Then they sell it for three or four dollars for one bottle. Yet when I asked these natives, “What is your desire for this terrible man” (whom many Africans called the Black Hitler), they said, “Our greatest desire for Idi Amin is for him to be converted that he may go to heaven.” That is God controlling the Christian Church and Satan hates it.
The first thing that Satan attacked in the Christian Church was this concept of agape. He knew that if he could pervert this concept of agape, he could destroy or nullify the power of the gospel. He was met with tremendous success and, unfortunately, he is still successful today. That is why we need to know the history of agape and what happened to this truth. Because the concept of agape was perverted, the power of the Christian Church was short-lived.
We learned that Plato introduced eros as the highest, the most noble, the most spiritual concept of love in the Greek language. It was man detaching himself from the sensual, the material things, and seeking after God. That was the highest form of love in the Greek concept. Yet when the Jews sat down and wrote the New Testament — independently and without any committee action — they wrote it in Greek, although Greek was not their mother language, and not one of them ever used the word eros.
The Greeks felt insulted that these Jews, whose mother tongue was not Greek, refused to use the word that expressed the highest form of love they knew. So, when the apostles died, the royal battle began between agape and eros. One of the first men to begin this battle of replacing agape with eros was a man named Marcion. He was born in 85 A.D. (or C.E.) and died in 160 A.D. (C.E.). He was not extremely successful and the battle went on. A few years later, Origen completely reversed John’s statement in 1 John 4:8:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
He actually claimed that God is eros. But the battle did not end there, for it continued on and on to the fourth century to that famous theologian, the bishop of Hippo in Africa, one of the great pillars of Roman Catholic theology.
But it was Augustine, a brilliant man, who brought the battle to an end. He did not fight against agape; he was too wise to do that. He took the two concepts of love, eros, which is self-love and agape, which is self-giving or self-emptying love, and, by using Greek logic, married the two concepts together, producing a new type of love, a blending of the two. Thus he produced a synthesis, a mixture between agape and eros. The Latin word he used is caritas and it is from caritas that we get our English word charity, which is used in our King James Bible in 1 Corinthians 13 and elsewhere. This was the essence of Roman Catholic theology, a mixture of truth and error.
If Paul were to rise up from the dead today and see how we use caritas or charity in his writings, he would be horrified! Paul did not use the word caritas in 1 Corinthians 13. He used the word agape. I speak of this very kindly because my parents and my sister are still members of the Roman Catholic Church. We cannot blame the members; this is the fruit of Augustine and later on Thomas Aquinas, pillars of Roman Catholic theology. Caritas became the dominant concept of Christian love all through the dark ages. This was the beginning of the falling away which was predicted by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2.
The Christians in Thessalonica were looking forward to the second coming of Christ. They were Adventists. They felt that Christ was coming so soon that many of them stopped farming and harvesting their crops. They said, “We don’t need to do it.” It was just like our pioneers in 1844. When Christ did not come and they had no food in the pantry, they began scrounging from other Christians. Paul wrote a very strong letter to the Thessalonians telling them that they were wrong. We find it in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us — whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter — asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.
The rebellion (“falling away” in some texts) did not begin with the Sunday-Sabbath or the state of the dead issues. It began with the agape-eros issue. The falling away took place when the truth about God’s love and human love was blended together and the gospel was perverted. So the perversion of the gospel began in the days of Paul, not in the days of Augustine.
We read in the letter to Galatians about a group of Christians who were led astray. As we analyze the problem of the Galatians, we realize it was the problem of caritas, although the word had not been invented at the time of Paul. Galatians 1:6-7:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
That is why we need to understand the book of Galatians. That is why, when the message of Righteousness by Faith came to this church in 1888, the book of Galatians was the central book in that message. The problem of caritas still exists today.
The concept of caritas became the dominant understanding of God’s love or Christian love until we come to Martin Luther. Luther saw the problem of caritas and he began to break up the synthesis by separating agape from eros. The reason he could do this is because he gave up the belief of the Christian Church that man has an immortal soul. We can never fully understand the full meaning of agape unless we give up the idea that man has an immortal soul.There are today three excellent books on agape and eros. None of them were written by Adventists. The first was written by a Swedish theologian, Anders Nygren; the book is entitled Agape and Eros. Testaments of Love by Leon Morris also is an excellent book, and the latest one is by a British scholar, Michael Harper, an Anglican, on The Love Affair. But even though they are wonderful books and present wonderful material, not one of them have seen the full meaning of agape because all of them cling to the immortal soul doctrine. If we cling to the idea of an immortal soul, we have to devalue the wages of sin. When we devalue the wages of sin, we have to devalue the cross of Christ.
What actually took place on the cross of Christ was more than physical torture. It was the cross that revealed to the disciples the real concept of agape. Martin Luther was the only reformer who relinquished the doctrine of the immortal soul. Unfortunately, his fellow reformers and his successors, like Melanchthon, held onto the immortal soul theory and, therefore, the agape concept was not fully restored at that time. We need to deal with the issue because, as long as we do not restore the correct concept of God’s love, we can never restore the correct concept of the gospel, and, if we don’t do that, the power of the gospel is still not in our hands.
One of the last letters that Paul wrote before he died for Christ as a martyr was 2 Timothy. In chapter 3, verses 1-5, we read:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, [That is eros. Eros will be dominating humanity in the last days.] lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, [That is eros in action.] without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness [just like the Pharisees] but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Today over fifty percent of the world’s population is living under Marxist domination. If you don’t know what that is, you do not know what it is like to live as a Christian in a Marxist country. The sad fact is that the majority of these communist countries were all at one time Christian countries. The first Gentile to be baptized in the Christian Church was an Ethiopian. By the third century A.D., the state religion of Ethiopia was Christianity. Yet, in 1975, when we were missionaries there, with my own ears I heard the government announcing on the radio: “We have no more room for God in scientific, socialist Ethiopia.” One of the oldest Christian countries, not only in Africa but in the world, turned its back to God because the church has failed to demonstrate the agape of God. That is exactly what happened in the Middle East when Islam took over. That’s exactly what happened in the eastern European block and in Russia. When the church has lost its saltiness, it has no more flavor. It is tasteless, useless to God, unfit for man and is only fit to be trodden under foot by man. That is exactly what has happened, and if we do not restore agape in the church, Christianity will be trampled under foot by secular humanism. It has come already, but God is patient.
When a church goes through a crisis, usually eros takes over and you can tell whether a church is run by eros or by agape by its stewardship. Money is the ingredient that runs this world. Without money you can do nothing. In fact, when we came to this country, some of our poor African brethren said to me, “You are lucky, going to America.” I said, “Why?” They said, “You are going to a country that is flowing with milk and money.” And they added, “Please don’t forget us.” We have tried to help them. In Acts chapter four we see what happens to a church when it is controlled by the agape of God. This is the church of the Apostolic period that was turning the world upside down, because agape was controlling it. The love of God was constraining these people. We these are not talking about just the disciples but about the whole Christian Church.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
There was no fighting, jealousy, or backbiting among them because self was crucified. They were of one heart and one soul, and eros was crucified. I was in the cradle roll room once when a sister was trying to teach the little children how to share two dolls. I was very pleased with the reaction of the children. They were sharing, although there were one or two who did not, but don’t blame the parents when children don’t want to share. It is in our nature. We want to grab because eros is always seeking self. We want more money; we want to climb the social ladder. The politician tells me, “You choose me, I will work for you.” That’s a lie. I was promised that there would be no increase in taxes by our present president. I am paying twice as much this year as I paid last year in income tax. This is because eros is controlling the world. When eros controls the world or the church, it is terrible.
We read in Acts 4:33:
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all...
The grace of God was controlling the church and see what they did:
...that there were no needy persons among them.
There was no promotional program for church budget and for friendship building to finish that building and put a nice floor and all that. There was nothing of that. We see why in verses 34-35:
For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
This is the church in action! We are having great difficulty giving ten percent and offerings. They gave all and held nothing back. This is humanly impossible but they were controlled by the agape of God. In the next study, we see a couple who were controlled by eros, Ananias and Sapphira. Number one, they did not sell all their possessions — only one parcel of their land. Number two, they were not willing to give all that they received from that piece of land. They lied. They said, “This is too much to give to the church.” Eros was controlling them. They did not die because they gave only a portion of their property because God said to them through Peter, “When that land was yours, nobody forced you to sell it.” There is no compulsion in agape. There is compulsion in communism, but never in agape. “Nobody forced you to give away this land. Nobody forced you to bring the money. All this was yours. The problem is you lied to God. You were trying to act agape. You cannot act agape. It has to come from God. You have no right to be members of the church.” And they were both struck dead. God wants to reveal agape to the world.
The other person I want to give as an example is Mary. The disciples were controlled by eros before the cross. They were fighting among themselves about who should be greatest. They were not fighting for others but for self.
“At Simon’s feast Mary was earnestly listening to every word from the lips of Jesus. In His mercy, Jesus had pardoned her sins. He had called forth her beloved brother from the grave, and Mary’s heart was filled with gratitude. She had heard Jesus speak of His approaching death, and in her deep love and sorrow she had longed to show Him honor. At great personal sacrifice she had purchased an alabaster box of ‘ointment of spikenard, very costly,’ with which to anoint His body. But now many were declaring that He was about to be crowned king. Her grief was turned to joy, and she was eager to be first in honoring her Lord. Breaking her box of ointment, she poured its contents upon the head and feet of Jesus; then, as she knelt weeping, moistening them with her tears, she wiped His feet with her long flowing hair.... Mary knew not the full significance of her deed of love. She could not answer her accusers. She could not explain why she had chosen that occasion for anointing Jesus. The Holy Spirit had planned for her, and she had obeyed His promptings. Inspiration stoops to give no reason. An unseen presence, it speaks to mind and soul, and moves the heart to action. It is its own justification.” Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White, p. 558-560.
The Bible tells us how much that ointment cost. The disciples were annoyed at her extravagance. John 12:1-6:
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
They said, “We could have sold that bottle of ointment for three hundred denaris” (or “three hundred pence,” as the King James Version reads). How much is three hundred pence today? The wage scale in those days was a penny a day, according to the story of the people that worked in the garden for the farmer, and the average working hours in a day was ten hours. Three hundred pence would be three hundred days. To see the equivalent today: if you worked ten hours at the minimum wage of three dollars an hour; it would be thirty dollars a day. Multiply thirty by three hundred and you find the cost of the ointment: $9,000. You can see why the disciples felt this was extravagant.
But agape is always extravagant. When God gave His only begotten Son to us, God was being extravagant. He was giving us something that He could never replace because God could never produce God. One of the qualities of divinity is to be self-existent. When God gave us His Son He gave us everything! When Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with tears and with that ointment, she was giving everything she had. Not because she was bargaining with God meaning, “If I give you this, will you get me to heaven?” Heaven was already hers. She was a forgiven woman and her heart was filled with appreciation and agape controlled her.
When the love of God controls this church, we will never be the same again. We will turn our neighborhoods upside down. Our greatest need is to have agape restored in the church. The way we do it is not by promotional programs or by incentives — that is eros. We produce it by beholding the love of God — Jesus Christ and Him crucified. In the next chapter we will see how caritas has perverted the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to restore the gospel because the world is desperately waiting to see the glory of God manifested in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that we will wrestle with this issue so that we shall know the truth. The truth will transform us and it will then use us to bring this wonderful truth to the world.