Growing Up In Agape
Short Version July 22, 2001
Jackson Snyder
John 2:7ff

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Jack Canfield relates the story of a harried father trying to get his son out of bed.

Daddy uncovers him for the third time, shakes him good, and scolds: "Johnny, you're late for school again. Get up NOW and get going." Johnny cries, "O Daddy, just give me two good reasons why I should even go to school today." Daddy replies: "Johnny, the first reason is that you're forty-four years old. ... And the second reason is that you're the principal."

Jesus wants us to wake up and be independent agents, relying only upon Him! To fulfill our potential in Christ, we must practice to make perfect, and become expert in living for light in a dark world. We must go as far in as we are able in the faith, and be strong. We must grow as far as we can go.


The Darkness is Passing

1 John 2:7-8 {7} Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. {8} Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

If we have for a fact been born anew in the image of Jesus unto salvation, we should be 'a work in progress' toward perfection in love: (As) The darkness of sin is passing in our lives; (And) The light of love is dispelling the darkness; We must continue on toward the light of maturity; We must persevere on God's perfect way to our penultimate point in destiny.

How much dark iniquity has been dispelled in your life by the love-light of Godliness? How far have you come in seeking first the Kingdom of Yahweh and his righteousness since you set out on your journey in faith? How much love-light are you emanating outward into the world? Have you 'come a long way, baby,' or are you just beginning to shine?

Some elders in Jesus' day had an interesting way of measuring spiritual maturity, as described in the Dead Sea Scrolls. They believed that the human spirit was made up of nine parts and, that by objectively observing a person's life, they could measure how many of these nine parts were of the light, and how many were of the darkness.

Three men are so judged in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The first man has not come very far in his spiritual journey. He is eight parts darkness to a single part light. A second has come a long way. He is six parts light to three parts darkness. The last man has almost reached perfection. He is eight parts light and one part darkness. If you were to score you own spiritual maturity on a nine-point scale, where would you stand? Would you stand with the first man, yet mostly unconverted or with the last man -- nearing perfection? Or somewhere in the middle? I guess before we can measure ourselves, we would need to know by what standard the Father uses to judge maturity.


Love is the Gauge of Maturity

1 John 2:9-11 {9} Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. {10} Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. {11} But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

The gauge of our maturity is our love for one another within the family of God. The love John's speaking of bears little resemblance to the world's love. Godly love, agape in the original language, has no equivalent in English. It pretty much means "a form of compassion which does not desire possession, but is eager to help." Dwight Small defines agape as

...not born of a lover's need, nor having its source in the love object. Agape doesn't exist in order to get what it wants but empties itself to give what the other needs. Agape lives in order to die to self for the blessedness of caring for another, spending for another, spending itself for the sake of the beloved.


C. S. Lewis adds an important dimension to our definition of agape:

To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.

So now we get an idea of the road we must take to becoming mature in the Spirit. We must take the Agape Road. Agape is tough love; sometimes it's judgmental, yet it is always charitable. It's not a fond emotional feeling, but a love that works and works hard. Such love is more important than spiritual power, biblical knowledge, or super-servanthood. We can't go beyond childhood without it.

If you don't have agape, pray diligently for it, and God will give it to you, because you must move onward in Christ - from childhood, to youth, to adulthood, as John describes in the next section of the text.


Stages of Maturity

1 John 2:12-14 {12} I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. {13} I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. {14} I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

John sets out three stages of maturity in agape here: little children, youth, and adulthood. He tells us first that "little children" have received the first helping of the light of God. They have received (1) forgiveness of both iniquity and unloving acts through Jesus' name, thus they have learned love to the extent that they too know how to forgive; (2) knowledge of the Father, because they know Jesus Christ, thus they have compassion enough to tell their stories of Jesus' providence in their lives to others in need. We might say that "little children" are, in a spiritual sense, one part light out of nine. And one little candle in a dark room may dispel an awful lot of darkness. Jesus said that you must become like a child to enter the Kingdom of God.

Second, John tells us that "youth" have come into a greater portion of the light of God. They have received (1) knowledge that the enemy of their souls is real, and they've have won a few battles against that enemy, thus have gone forth on the kingdom road to a measure of holiness and righteousness -- and all that they have needed has been provided. (2) They've proven themselves by abiding in the Word of God, thus they are learning to be peacemakers, even while taking up weapons against their enemy the devil. We might say that "youth" are, in a spiritual sense, six parts light out of nine. Much of the darkness has been dispelled, yet there may be lust, covetousness, and pride still unexposed, hiding in the remaining darkness.

John tells us that the most mature are the "Fathers" who walk in the light continually. They've received all that the children and the youth have, and long ago. In the meantime, they've become consistent overcomers of iniquity and inequity. They have 'all knowledge' - which is another way of saying that they know enough not to assume that they know it all. Indeed to become spiritually mature means to become a child again in deep trust of Jesus like the little girl trusted her father to come when she couldn't manage the book alone.

Verdell Davis writes about his spiritual journey, and makes a statement that really expresses what it means to be spiritually mature yet childishly naive at the same time:

Perhaps because I have asked so many questions and sought so many answers, I have at least come to know enough about God that when I doubt his love, I hold to his wisdom. When I can't understand his justice, I cling to his mercies. When I wonder about his faithfulness, I cherish his grace. When I fear his sovereignty, I bow to his holiness. And in that my heart can rest.

We might say that "fathers" are, in a spiritual sense, eight parts light out of nine. Far along, yet not quite perfect in light. If we ever reach this state of maturity in a lifetime, we do well. Even Wesley noted that he didn't reach "perfection in love," nine parts light out of nine, until very late in his eighty-five year life.


Serious Pitfalls to Growth

1 John 2:15-17 {15} Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. {16} For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. {17} The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

We are not to love the world or its trappings. John makes it plain that if we love the things of the world in the same sense that we love God and the brothers and sisters, we are idolaters; God's love isn't in us -- we are no parts light out of nine -- none at all. The truth is, if we've even gone a little way in our quest for spiritual maturity, we find ourselves miserable in this world, crying like Moses did, "I am a stranger in a strange land." That is because we may be in the world for a time, but we are no longer of the world.

So for us all, John lists the pitfalls before us, for the children need a warning, the youth need an explanation, and adults need a reminder: The darkness of this world manifests in us, as the KJV puts it, in "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life."

The Lust of the flesh: is like in the old movie Lifeboat, men and women are drifting aimlessly on the ocean in a lifeboat.

As the days pass under the scorching sun, their fresh water gives out. They all grow deliriously thirsty. One night, while the others are asleep, one man gulps down a stomach full of ocean water. In the morning, he is dead. Of course, ocean water is full of salt. In drinking it, a person dehydrates because the kidneys demand extra water to flush out the salt. The more salt water someone drinks, the thirstier he gets. Although the man had a belly full of water, he died of thirst.

When we lust, we become like this man. We thirst desperately for something that looks like what we want. But lust is never satisfied -- it only demands more and more, until it destroys us along with those we love.

The Lust of the eyes: is a second pitfall -- it is covetousness. Someone has said, Half the world is unhappy because it can't have the things that are making the other half unhappy. In our family, we have an unhappy little saying we use especially when we order deserts in a restaurant: "Its not what I thought it was going to be. The secret of a happy life is not to get what you want but to live with what you've got. Most of us spend our lives concentrating on what we don't have instead of thanking Father for what we do have. Then we wake up, our life is over, and we missed the beauty of the present. Think about it.

To succumb to the "lust of the eyes" brings the same result as two emus that I heard about. They lived in a lush pasture-field, but were separated by a fence. The emus were found dead one scorching day, each with his head caught in the fence. Each had been picking at tall weeds on the other's side.

The Pride of life: Pride is what caused the angels to fall from heaven. Pride is the worship of self. It's my pride that makes me dependent on the world and independent of Father. It's appealing to feel I am the master of my own ship; that I run my own life, I call my own shots; I go it alone. But that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can't go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can't ultimately rely on myself. So, living independent of Father is self-delusion. I am pretending to be a god and not a man. My pride is the idolatrous worship of myself, and that is the national religion of the Dominion of Darkness. Pride comes before a fall; and the last fall is the greatest fall of all.



Look to the Big Picture

Although there is temporary pleasure in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, all such worldly, dark ways will eventually pass away, and the children of the world will pass away as well. But John tells us that those who (1) love the Father, and (2) do his loving will, shall abide forever.

This might shock you, but I'm very far from perfect. My wife knows all my imperfections because she lives with me every day. But she'll also tell you that I'm trying hard to grow into maturity and perfection. A tool we use to help us is to see the big picture - that we're not just two people struggling with love and sin, but we're an important part of a great and godly Kingdom of light. We have a future far beyond anything we could ask or expect. And we try to see our lives now from the perspective of the glorious future. All the effort and suffering and deprivation and pain gained from the Gospel will be worth it when we come fully into the great Kingdom.

The famous psychologist Viktor Frankl tells us how he was able to overcome the severe misery of the concentration camps by visualizing his future freedom. He writes:

Almost in tears from pain, I limped a few kilometers with our long column of men from the camp to our work site. Very cold, bitter winds struck us. I kept thinking of the endless little problems of our miserable life. What would there be to eat tonight? If a piece of sausage came as an extra ration, should I exchange it for a piece of bread? Should I trade my last cigarette for a bowl of soup? How could I get a piece of wire to replace the fragment that served as one of my shoelaces? I became disgusted at the state of affairs that compelled me, daily and hourly, to think of only such trivial things. I forced myself to turn to another subject.

Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was going to give a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already past. The prisoner who had lost faith in the future -- his future -- is doomed. (Man's Search for Meaning: Experiences in the Concentration Camp)

You, friend, are a prisoner of this world. Yet, at the same time, you are a slave to the Lord Jesus. But you have a great future ahead of you if you will just grow up in agape. See the big picture. Be an overcomer. Mature out. Keep your eyes on the Kingdom. And if you do, you'll find yourself living life for the first time, walking on paths of light, learning love and persecution, but anticipating a future destiny beyond comprehension.


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Interview with Frankl at 90

Short Bio of Frankl



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