The Pure Love of God’s Spirit

February 24, 2017 by

Valentine’s Day was just last week, and I wanted to use my blog post this month to surface some crucial words by Eberhard Arnold about love.

“See how they love one another,” the Romans said of the first Christians, according to Tertullian. As Arnold explains, this love was not erotic but an agape love. And this is the kind of love that young Christian men and women should nurture today, in their youth groups and in the wider fellowship, until God leads them clearly to the one partner with whom they will share their life.

Arnold had studied philosophy (as evidenced by his reference to Plato) and had also immersed himself in the writings of the early church fathers. He spoke these words at the Rhön Bruderhof in Germany on September 26, 1935, as a farewell message to a young man traveling to the Alm Bruderhof in Liechtenstein. “We ask our brother to carry this pure spirit of agape to the Alm Bruderhof and to bear in mind that for a young man his age absolutely no love or hope of love is in place except that of pure agape.”

It is often forgotten that the word “erotic” originates in the name of the Greek god Eros. Eros is the love which is sympathy between people. Socrates often spoke about Eros, and so did Plato. . . Plato envisioned a state of the future in which Eros was chosen to be the basis of community.

I was deeply impressed many years ago when I visited a group of young factory workers in Berlin who were reading a translation of Plato’s “Symposium”, the book about the Eros banquet. Plato’s “Symposium” could be called “The Dinner of Eros” – a communal meal based on mutual sympathy. Don’t think that Plato had a crude and ugly concept of Eros; he did not always mean the sexuality of the body. But he always thought of an emotional relationship between anima and anima (soul and soul). Thus the community which Plato envisioned was an emotional community, such as the community that usually exists between mother and child and between father and mother in the family. It is normal for people to eat together on this basis.

a mealtime at an intentional Christian community

As I visited with this group of workers I thought, “Surely one could also read the New Testament with them if they are able to read Plato together.” So I sat down with them and discussed Plato’s “Symposium” with them, without acting as if I understood it better than they. And in fact they could say many things to me about this book that I had not heard from professors at the university.

Then I read with them the words about love said by Jesus and the apostles, and Paul’s song of love (1 Corinthians 13). We came to discuss the difference between Agape and Eros. Agape is the divine love of the feast which Christ established for his church. It is the love of the banquet in God’s kingdom. In early Christian times the future kingdom of God was represented as a dinner. Several times Jesus said, speaking in a parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a feast, it is like the communal meal, a communal meal which is ruled by the love of God!” And in the Revelation of John, the prophetic book of the New Testament, we hear the same thing, that the future kingdom of God is to be compared with the communal meal. When the wedding of God and humankind is spoken of, between Christ and his church and between God and his people, then immediately it is said, “Blessed are those who are summoned to the marriage supper of the Lamb!”

There is no doubt that the early Christians in Jerusalem held a daily meal together. There is no doubt that Paul worked toward the baptized Christians in his mission stations gathering daily, or at least every Sunday, for a communal meal. The letters to the Corinthians give proof of this.

The Apostle Paul was granted the ability to portray the essence of this love of God, the pure love of God’s spirit. He did this in the same letter to the Corinthians in which he speaks of the supper and love-meal of the Church. There he says that this love and this community of love is something quite different from human sympathy or erotic relationships. For this love of God and of his spirit does not seek its own interest, and wants no right of possession. It does not fight for any rights at all. And yet it does not rejoice in injustice, but always rejoices only in the truth, for it is the overflowing love of God. It is a power which embraces all who want to come into fellowship with God.

Therefor this love will never come to an end, even if everything else ends. Eros must die. Eros is still very much alive, but some day it will die. Agape will live! The love of God’s spirit is the revelation of his heart. It is the love that emanates from God. It is the love that loves what is holiest in every human being. It is the love that loves what is holiest in God. Therefore it is the love that leads to community, to unity. Therefore it is the love of the love-feast and of the communal meal. At the beginning of Christianity the same word was used for the love of God on the one hand and for the love-feast or communal meal on the other hand. This word is “Agape.”


About the author

Emmy Maendel

Emmy Maendel

Emmy Maendel, an author with a particular interest in Bruderhof history, writes a regular blog post featuring timely...

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