Agape and Christian Charity

An advanced degree in religion can sometimes come in handy, as was the case when I found myself explaining charity to a group made up predominantly of Christians.

Charity comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word άγάπη  – Love.  (Άγάπη is spelled agape in English, which can also mean wide open.) Agape is the the heart of the Christian teaching. Christ taught that the nature of God is Love. Over and over again, Christ demonstrates that no one and no group is beyond God’s love. Following Christ means living, or at least bearing witness to, that divine love. Agape is lived in the most mundane circumstances as well as the most challenging. Love is practiced by bearing wrongs, turning the other cheek, healing the sick, and caring for the “least of these.” Love is “sharing the good news” of God’s love, through our actions as well as our words.

Charity is an act of divine love. It is the way we express agape – God’s love – despite our personal likes or dislikes. Christ gave us clear guidelines on practicing love, even when we are in the presence those we cannot personally love. My personal limitations, judgements, and dislikes should not be a barrier to carrying out the “works of mercy” or extending hospitality to another. If we are truly faithful, then we know that God’s love is not lessened or limited because we find someone despicable. God’s love is omnipresent. Charity is our response to God’s love. It is our willingness to love and serve everyone we encounter, simply because God loves us all.

Peace, Paul

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4 Responses to “Agape and Christian Charity”

  1. Dr Bob Rich Says:

    Paul, you might let your readers know that it is pronounced agapi rather than the word for wide open. 🙂
    That’s why I prefer the term metta for the same concept.
    Keep up the good work,

    • Peace Paul Says:

      Hi Bob, thanks for pointing that out. I never made the connection between the English spelling of άγάπη (agape) with the term for wide open. Wonderful! I love the idea that agape can be both the translation of a term that has come to mean unconditional love and wide open. There is a great parallel here as openness is often used to describe moments of awakening. Bodhisattvas are open, their compassion does not exclude any being. I have also come across a description of awakened perception as seeing the “nature of all dharmas (compounded things) as pure openness.”
      Peace, Paul

  2. melhpine Says:

    …and as you treat the least of these…

    • Peace Paul Says:

      Hi Mel, that is a good one as well as the instruction to love our enemies. It is very reminiscent of the Bodhisattva training instruction to view those that cause us harm as teachers or precious treasures.

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