The Christian Love Feast
August 5th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
THE CHRISTIAN LOVE FEAST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-5-73 10:50 a.m.
Ah, this is a marvelous place and a wonderful time to praise the Lord. And that is what we are preaching about today, God help us. And we hope you who listen on radio and on television rejoice with us in it. I am going first to describe to you what it is I want to do. And if God will be good to me and will help me, then I hope I can do. I am going to try to take the Bible, and using a word out of Jude through which we are now preaching, to show the Bible idea, the inspired persuasion that to love God and to serve the Lord is a happy and a triumphant thing; that it is not like a sentence, that it is not something sad and dreary and full of drudgery, but it is life and light and glory.
So many people think that, if you were to invite them to come and follow Christ and to be a member of the church and to serve God, that that is congruent with inviting them to put their heads in a noose and to be hanged on the limb of a tree; that if they gave their hearts to God, if they followed Christ, that they would thereby be shut out and cut off from all of the good times and happy times in life. That is what they think. But that is a deception from the evil one. For God says the abundant life is this life [John 10:10]. If you want to live victoriously and triumphantly and gloriously, then accept in your heart the Lord God, and see if there is not in Him every gladness and every happiness that the soul can contain. Now that is what the sermon is about; now let us see if God will help me deliver it.
In the twelfth verse of the one chapter of Jude, there is a word used: it is the word agapai. It is translated in the King James Version “feasts of charity”—agapai, “feasts of charity” [Jude 1:12]. There is a reason why the 1611 translators of the King James Version translated it like that, “feasts of charity.” They were seeking in the translation to capture the same feeling that the inspired author sought to capture in using the word. And they were trying to take the word that Jude used and place it in the same congruent context and meaning that the original writer had, but now to say it in English; so he translates agapai, “feasts of charity.” The singular of the word is agapē, and that is very familiar to you: agapē, the Greek word for a kind of love. Now it is very noticeable how the inspired writers of this Bible will not use the word eros, e-r-o-s—eros. The word eros, “love,” was as common a word in the language of the ancient world as the word “love” is to us today, yet it is never used in the Bible; never, not one time. The reason for it is this: to the inspired writers of the Bible, eros was a pagan word, it was a heathen word, and it referred to the orgies by which the heathen worshiped Aphrodite and Astarte and Venus in their indescribably orgiastic rituals. So the word never appears in the Bible; eros, never. You go to Piccadilly Circus in London; there in the middle of the circle is a bronze statue of the Greek god of love, Eros. It represented pagan culture and heathen religion. But it never appears in the Bible; it is absolutely shut out.
What the inspired authors did was they chose another word: agapē, agapē, which refers to a reverential, holy, spiritual kind of affection, devotion, love. And when the translators of 1611 write this King James Version, they will try to capture that differentiation in nomenclature, and so they use the word “charity.” To us today, charity is ministering to the poor, helping out the needy. But in 1611, charity was a heartfelt outgoing by which one would serve God, serve his fellow man. It was a big, broad, reverential word—charity. First Corinthians 13, you have a good instance of that:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not agapē—
there translated “charity”—
I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not agapē—
I am nothing.
[1 Corinthians 13:1-2]
It is a seeking to capture a holy, reverential, spiritual, godly kind of love, so the word here translated agapai—translated “feasts of charity” [Jude 1:12]. We would say “feasts of love”—agapē, “love feast.” Now what he’s saying is that when the people of the Lord came together, they came in gladness, in victory and triumph and gratitude and thanksgiving. It was a marvelous thing, a happy thing! They were there assembled in agapai, love feasts, having a glorious time in the Lord [Jude 1:12].
Now I want you to see how that’s a characteristic of the New Testament church, that they met together in love feasts—just happy in one another and in the Lord. The first church in its first assembly at Pentecost:
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
[Acts 2:41, 42]
In the apostles’ doctrine and the koinōnia—in the communion, the fellowship, the happiness together—forty-sixth verse: “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat”—that is an old English word for food—“they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God” [Acts 2:46-47]. That is the church from the beginning! They met together to eat, to praise God in agapai, in love feasts. That’s what the church did. They liked to be together, and they liked to eat together, and they were together all the time, and they were eating all the time together; nothing wrong with that as far as I am concerned.
I am going to take one other instance of that to show you how it is a characteristic of the New Testament church. In the first Corinthian letter chapter 11, the apostle is correcting abuses in the church at Corinth. And one of them was they abused those agapai—those love feasts. And he writes to them: “In eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken” [1 Corinthians 11:21]. Well, what is he talking about? It was this. In the church at Corinth, when they observed their convocations and they came together for agapai—love feasts, they did in the church here at Corinth what a woman today would call a covered-dish luncheon, a covered-dish dinner, a covered-dish supper. The people brought their food. And he says, “What you do there at Corinth is that a man brings in the food from his house there for the agapē, the love feast, and instead of waiting on anyone else and instead of sharing what he has with anyone else, well, he just gobbles it down.” He just eats it before anybody else can share in it [1 Corinthians 11:21]. And some of the poor people who can’t bring anything, they go away hungry. “Why,” he says, “that’s despicable. That’s unforgivable.” Then he says here something else. He says, “And some of them are drunken” [1 Corinthians 11:21]. They bring in things with their meals that would be better left at home. But they drink it down. They don’t share it with anybody. They gulp it. Oh! that’s beside the point. I’m not talking about gluttony and I’m not talking about drunkenness. I’m pointing out to you what the church did. The New Testament church when it met together met happily, gloriously, gladly, thanksgivingly— full of overabounding, overflowing praise. It was a tremendous, meaningful, spiritual thing, and a happy thing. They were agapai, love feasts.
Now is that different from the Lord Himself? No. He was like that. The Savior was like that. He loved living. He even said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly,” aboundingly, overflowingly [John 10:10]. And He was that way. For example, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew, the Lord says John the Baptist was a hermit. He was an ascetic. He was a monk. He lived out in the wilderness all his life. And he “came neither eating nor drinking,” and the critics said, “He has got a devil. But the Son of Man hath come eating and drinking, and they say of Him, He is a glutton and a winebibber” [Matthew 11:18-19].
Now here again, I am not speaking of the criticism they had of John the Baptist or of Jesus. I am just pointing out the personality of our Lord. What kind of a man was He? Incarnate? How did He do? Here is how He did. He liked you. He loved folks! He enjoyed living. He was full of praise and happiness, and He lived that way! When Matthew made a feast, Jesus was there. He invited the Lord, and the Lord accepted his invitation [Luke 5:27-29]. When Simon the Pharisee made a feast he invited Jesus, and Jesus was there [Luke 7:36-50]. And when Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany made a feast they invited the Lord, and He was there [John 12:1-2]. All it took to have Jesus at your house was just to invite Him; say, “We are going to have something good to eat,” and He would be right there. No, I think that is great! That is just wonderful! That is the Lord Jesus! He liked being with you. He liked to eat.
A fellow lost his false teeth. He was fishing, and they were down in the bottom of the creek. They went around trying to find it, and nobody could find it. One of the men discovered that the man who lost his false teeth was a preacher. So he said, “Wait a second. I’ll get them right out.” He got him a string, tied a fried chicken leg on it, put it right down, dropped it down in the water, pulled it up, and those teeth were right around that chicken leg. What do you know? I couldn’t tell you the number of times—you know. A young fellow comes up to me, and he’d say, “I feel the call of God to preach.” “Well,” I say, “do you like fried chicken?” And he says, “No.” He’s not called of God to preach. He’s just not. It’s a good time. It’s a happy time in the Lord! It just is.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is defining, describing what the kingdom of heaven is like. And He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man who made a great supper, and he invited folks to come [Luke 14:16-24]. And they said, “Oh, no, not me. Not me. I’m not going down to that church. I’m not going down there. I’m not going to sit with them. Not me. I’m out here having a good time.” “Ha,” says the Lord, “he does not know what a good time is. I have got a supper prepared, and he is invited—welcome!” And when they didn’t come, He sent His servants out in the highways—the highways and highways and byways, and the lanes and alleys of the city, and said, “Invite them. Compel them to come in, for it’s a good time! It is a great time! It is a happy time in the Lord.” That’s what the kingdom of heaven is—the best time in the world. There’s nothing like it.
Well, let’s go back still further. Is that peculiar? When you come to the kainē diathēkē, when you come to the new covenant—how about the old covenant? Was it that way? Just exactly; there is no faith presented in the revealed Word of God but that is a happy faith. And there’s no religion that God hath given to us but that is a praise religion, a glory religion, a happy religion. That’s what it is. For example, look at the people of the Lord. Look at the household of faith. Look at the children of Israel. Look at their feast days. They had five of them, feast days.
- The last of February, and the first of March they would observe Purim [Esther 9:28-32]. They are happy. They are gathered together thanking God for their deliverance from Haman in the Book of Esther; a feast.
- Look at the second one, the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Exodus 12:15-20, 13:3-10; Leviticus 23:6-8; Numbers 28:17-25; Deuteronomy 16:3-8]. We call that our Easter. It was begun with Passover [Leviticus 23:5], and for seven days, they rejoiced in God for their wonderful life of freedom from bondage.
- Look at the third one. After forty-nine days, seven weeks, the fiftieth day was the Feast of Pentecost [Leviticus 23:15-22; Numbers 28:26-31; Deuteronomy 16:9-12], and that celebrated the ingathering of the spring harvest, the barley, the wheat; a feast day.
- Look at the next one. It is the Feast of Tabernacles in, say, the last of September, the first of October; the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43; Numbers 29:12-38; Deuteronomy 16:13-17]. And they sit down in booths by families, and praise God for His care in the wilderness wanderings.
- The fifth one, the Feast of Dedication [John 10:22], which is in the first half of December, and there they are rejoicing at the blessing of God upon Judas Maccabaeus who won back from Antiochus Epiphanes the freedom of the Jewish people. And they re-cleansed and dedicated their temple again.
All of them are feast days, happy days!
There is one exception for one day in the year. There is Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16:1-34, 23:26-32; Numbers 29:7-11]. There is Yom Kippur; one day. But all of the rest of it, all of it is a feast day. It’s a day of convocation when the people eat together and rejoice in the Lord.
All right, let’s look at it again. Let’s look at the sacrifices. We have so lost what it is that the Bible teaches us that when we use the word “sacrifice” we think of somebody who’s denying himself and giving himself to the Lord completely—which is all right. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we don’t have any idea at all about the sacrificial system, what it was. The sacrificial system was a communal meal. That’s what it was—a communal meal. Once in a while, and it was so once in a while that it is pointed out, separate from all of the rest, and you notice it. Once in a while there would be a whole burnt offering [Leviticus 1:3-17, 6:8-13], a whole burnt sacrifice. The animal was burned up, all of it. But that was the exception. The sacrifices were not that, except occasionally, exceptionally. All of the sacrifices, practically—all of them, practically, were communal meals. That is, they were shared by the priest—the pastor—they were shared by the family, and they were shared by the friends of the family who were invited to the feast. A sacrifice was a feast. It was an agapē. It was a praising God.
Here is a man. Let’s say you, and God’s been good to you. Oh, you just praise His name. You just thank Him all over the place. You made a hundred thousand dollars, or you got well and you thought you was going were going to die, or your wife has forgiven you, or you are doing something, you know, you—you are praising God. So here you are, and you come before the Lord with a bullock. You come before the Lord with a lamb or you come before the Lord with an ox [Leviticus 7:11-15], and you take it up there to the priest and say, “I’m happy in the Lord. I’m just praising God for His goodnesses to me, and we are coming to the sacrifice.” And the priest takes the animal, and he slays it, and he cooks it; and he, and the family of you, and the friends that you brought, you all share it together. That was the sacrifice. It was a happy thing. Once in a while, as an exception, it would be burnt, but that was the exception. All of the sacrifices, practically, were happy occasions. They were agapai. They were love feasts.
You have a good example of that. If a man was able, such as Solomon—when Solomon dedicated the temple, he slew thousands and thousands of sheep, thousands of oxen, thousands of cattle, unlimited herds, and the people gathered there from the ends of the nation, ends of the earth, and there they celebrated [1 Kings 8:62-66]. They were happy in the Lord! That’s what the sacrificial system was. That’s the religion of Jehovah. It is a glory! It is a triumph! It is a gladness! That’s what it is!
I want to show you that from the Scriptures. Take over here this unusual, unusual story in the twenty-[fourth] chapter of the Book of Exodus. The Lord God is up there on the top of Mount Sinai. He is way up there on the top of that rugged mountain. And He invites Moses and his seventy elders to come up there with Him. Now the story: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: and they saw the God of Israel” [Exodus 24:9-10]. You know, the Book says, “No man hath seen God at any time” [Exodus 33:20, 23; John 1:18]. They went up on top of that mountain, “and they saw the God of Israel”; this is a Christophany! [Exodus 24:10]. They saw the preincarnate Christ. “And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand” [Exodus 24:10-11].
How does a man see God and live? The man Moses, who writes this story, he remarks upon it. “And upon those seventy elders, the nobles of Israel, God laid not His hand; they saw God,” and lived [Exodus 24:9-11]. Now you look how it closes. Wouldn’t you say, “And when they saw God, they fell down. They bowed their heads. They got on their knees and faces. They worshiped the Lord”? Wouldn’t you have said that? Wouldn’t you have thought that? Here they are in the presence of the great God, the Christophany, the Jesus that is to come, and what does the Book say about them? “And they saw God . . . and did eat and drink.” [Exodus 24:10-11]. That is what it says there, “And they saw God, and did eat and drink.” What a marvelous thing!
“Oh, but pastor, that’s not holy. That’s not heavenly. That’s not worshipful. That’s a devil’s description.” God’s description is that when we are in His presence, bless His name, we’re having a big time. We’re having a good time. We are sitting down at the table of the Lord, and we’re eating and drinking in His sight. That’s why I put, that’s why I picked out, that’s why I chose that passage, the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation for you to read. What are we going to do when we get up there to glory? We’re going to sit down with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-10], and it’s going to last forever. Just think of that. Just think of that. It’s a happy thing. It’s a glorious thing. It’s a marvelous thing. “And they saw God . . . and did eat and drink” [Exodus 24:10-11]; an agapai, a love feast with God Himself.
And you know, that happiness of being with the Lord—the Bible, it just strains language, and reaches after similes, and metaphors, and figures of speech that just astonish you, trying to describe the wonderful joy that a man has in God! For example, this ninety-eighth Psalm:
O sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things: His right hand, and His holy arm, hath gotten Him the victory—
on and on—
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
Sing along with the harp; with the harp, [and] the voice of a psalm.
With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord.
We got a lot more religion at the first service than we do at this one. At the first service, we had a trombone player over there, God bless him, and we had four trumpets over there and maybe a cornet. And we were just—oh; we were praising the Lord this service. This one, I do not know what is the matter. He lost his—he is chicken-hearted. What’s the matter with you at this service? I didn’t invent this. I’m just, I’m a voice crying in the wilderness, that is all. Now, “make a loud noise . . . rejoice . . . sing with trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise” [Psalm 98:6]. Ah, he just runs out of language, and he is trying to tell us what it is to praise God. “Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the Lord” [Psalm 98:8-9]. Oh dear! Amen. You look at—you look at him. This is a man who is just praising God for the deliverance out of Egypt. And he finally just gets to where he cannot say it. He just runs beyond what the human speech can bear.
Now listen to this one hundred fourteenth Psalm:
When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from the people of a strange language;
Judah was His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled: and the Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams, and ye little hills like lambs.
Did you ever see mountains skip? Did you ever see little hills like lambs jump around? He cannot say it. He has just got language that does not bear the glory.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest . . .
What is the matter with you?—
And thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams; and your little hills, like lambs?
What is the matter with you? Well, what is the matter is, we just got glory, and then we have got happiness, and we have joy, and we have just thanksgiving and gratitude, and we cannot say it. It looks like the mountains are jumping around, and the hills are skipping like little lambs [Psalm 114:6]. Isn’t that a sight?
Or take again: there is no beautiful, marvelous invitation in God’s Book beyond—beyond the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. Man, I want you to sing it real soon:
Ho! Ho! Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; without money and without price. Why do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken unto Me, eat what is good, let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Incline your ear, and come unto Me: hear, and your soul shall live . . .
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. . . .
For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands!
He has run out of language and speech. Come to the Lord. Just try Him, and “You will go out with joy! “he mountains and the hills will break forth into singing, and the trees and the fields will clap their hands” [Isaiah 55:12]. He just cannot say it. That’s God. That’s the faith. That’s the religion. It’s just glory, glory, glory. It is just praise, praise, praise. It is just happiness, world without end, and it is ours for the taking.
In a moment we are going to sing our hymn of appeal. And a family you, a couple you, or just you, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, on the lower floor into the aisle, here to the pastor: “Preacher, I have made the decision, and I am coming now.” Do it. Do it! God bless you as you do it, coming to the Lord, coming to the people of the Lord, while we stand and while we sing.