The Christian Love Feast
August 5th, 1973 @ 8:15 AM
THE CHRISTIAN LOVE FEAST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-5-73 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Christian Love Feast. It is an attempt on my part, taking a word out of Jude, it is an attempt on my part to present the Christian faith as it is presented in the Bible, as something wonderful, glorious, happy, victorious, triumphant. The reason for the emphasis upon that is that so many outside of the faith look upon an invitation to the Lord and to the church as though we were inviting them to put their head in a noose, that they are going to be strung up or the joy and the gladnesses of life are going to be denied them. And they are faced in such an invitation with a doleful, and melancholy, and sad prospect. They are invited to be a Christian, to be a member of the house of faith, to follow in the way of the Lord, when the Scriptures say it is just the opposite. And the whole faith is presented as though it were a glorious feast in the presence of God Himself.
Now that’s what I am going to preach about this morning if the Lord will help me. Now it is from a word, one word in verse 12 of the general epistle of Jude. And that word is translated here feast of charity, feast of charity [Jude 1:12]. Now when I speak the Greek word, you will recognize it, for almost all of us are introduced to this word agapē, agapē. Here it is in the plural, agapai, translated “feasts of charity,” which is all right, but you don’t get much of an idea of it because as the language is changed, charity to us has come to mean liberality, you’re taking care of the poor; charity.
The reason the word was used in the King James Version 1611, is trying to reflect what happened in the use of the word love when the New Testament was written. Never in the Bible is the word eros used. Never. And that is one of the most unusual developments in nomenclature that you could study. For eros, e-r-o-s, eros was as common a word in the ancient world as your word love is today, eros. Yet it never appears in the Bible. Never. Not one time. What the New Testament authors used instead was agapē or philē, mostly agapē, agapē.
Now the reason for it was that eros was identified with all of the orgies that characterized heathen worship. And I don’t need to delineate that. You already know it. So by inspiration the writers of the New Testament shied away from that word eros. They never used it. And they substituted for it the word agapē.
Now when the translators in 1611 wrote the version of the Bible that we call the King James Version, they tried to follow that feeling, that choice of inspiration back there in the ancient world. So when you have 1 Corinthians 13, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity” [1 Corinthians 13:1]. For to them in 1611, charity referred to that wider, reverential holy love. They didn’t use the word love. They were trying to capture the feeling in that word agapē, agapē. And the way the ancient authors of the New Testament used the word agapē was to refer to a holy, reverential happiness, glory, wondrous, gladness, a victorious life in God. Agapē: happiness, love; the outpouring of life, just glad in the Lord.
Now in the New Testament church the people met together and they ate together constantly. There is no characterization in the New Testament church that is more true of them, a reflection of their life that is more meaningful than this: That they were always together eating. And they called those convocations agapai, love feasts. When the people met together, that’s what they would be doing. They would be eating together, just rejoicing together, happy together.
Now I want to show you that in just a brief moment here in the Bible. If you turn to the second chapter of Acts, you have that first convocation of the church.
They that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
Now verse 42,
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
Now verse 46,
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat—
that’s an old English word for food, they did eat their agapai—
their love feast with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God.
That is the first convocation of the church at Pentecost, and that is its picture. They are gathered together with gladness and happiness, eating in a love feast [Acts 2:47].
Now I want to show you how Paul writes to the church at Corinth in their abuse of it. But the very fact that he is writing of an abuse shows that they were doing it. In 1 Corinthians 11, which is the chapter that we read of the Lord’s Supper, in verse 21, in 1 Corinthians 11:21, “For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.” What he’s speaking of was this. When the people gathered together at Corinth for their agapai, their love feasts, they had what a woman today would call a covered dish luncheon, a covered dish dinner. And each one brought his own meal, his own dinner. But they were to share it. It was a meal in which all of them gathered together to eat together.
But what happened at Corinth was those gluttonous, selfish members, those carnal Christians, they brought what they had to the church at Corinth and then just gobbled it down, didn’t even wait for anyone else to share with them. And so some of them that were poor and couldn’t bring anything were hungry. And not only that, what they brought to the love feast was something else. And they didn’t share that either. They gobbled it down and got drunk [1 Corinthians 11:21].
Now can you imagine that in the house of the Lord? That shows the extremities to which some of these New Testament churches went. But that is beside the point. What I am saying is that the abuse of it shows what the church did. The church gathered together, and they ate together [Acts 2:47].
Now I have a persuasion about the habit of the church and the Lord’s Supper. I think the church took the Lord’s Supper after every meal, every one of them. I think the church met together in their agapai, in their love feasts, and they closed each one of them with the Lord’s Supper. That’s the way it was here in the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. Every time they met they had the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].
All right, another thing that I think. I think those first Christians closed every meal in the house with the Lord’s Supper. I think when they got through eating they took bread and each one of them shared it. And they took the fruit of the vine and each one of them drank it. And they closed the meal with the Lord’s Supper. It was a daily life, a momentary life, of gratitude and praise and gladness to God. That is the characteristic above all others of those first New Testament Christian churches.
Well, is that unusual? Is that a development that came out of them? No. For that is a reflection of the spirit and the attitude of our Savior. He characterized the kingdom of heaven like that, as though it were an abounding life and a glorious feast. Do you remember the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke? He said the kingdom of heaven is likened to a man who made a great supper. And he bid people to come and they didn’t come, so he sent out his servants and said go out to the highways and the hedges and the lanes and the alleys and invite them, yea, compel them to come in, for my supper is ready [Luke 14:16-23].
What is the background of our Lord’s description of the kingdom of heaven? That it is a convocation of sadness and weightedness? No. It is a big dinner. It’s a grand, glorious occasion. Come and share it. That’s the kingdom of heaven. And that’s why I had you read it this morning, though it wasn’t apparent because these things are hidden in a way in the text. That’s why I had you read this morning the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation. For the marriage of the Lamb is come and there is a supper prepared [Revelation 19:7-10]. There is a marvelous day, and we are breaking bread together. We are eating together. It’s a happy time. And blessed is he that is called, invited, privileged to come to the marriage supper of the Lamb. That’s the church in all eternity. It is figured as being an assembly of people, happy in the Lord, who are eating together.
Well, was the Lord Himself that way? He certainly was. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew the Lord describes Himself. He says John the Baptist came like an aesthetic, like a hermit. He was out there in the wilderness by himself, and they said he had a devil. “But the Son of Man has come, eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a glutton and a winebibber” [Matthew 11:19].
Now He was speaking of the criticism of the people who rejected Him. But what He was talking about shows His own spirit and His own life. The Lord was gregarious. He was, if it isn’t too bad of a word, He was convivial. He was just happy with the people. When they invited Him to a wedding, He went. He was there at Cana [John 2:1-2], and when Simon the Pharisee invited Him for dinner, He went [Luke 7:36; Mark 14:3]. And when Matthew, the publican, made a big feast, Jesus accepted the invitation [Matthew 9:10; Luke 5:27-29]. And when Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany had a glorious hour together at the table, the Lord was there [John 12:1-2]. And even when [Jesus] raised from the dead, the two on the way to Emmaus invited Him for supper. He accepted the invitation and was known to them in the blessing [Luke 24:13, 30, 35].
The Lord was like that. And the Lord said the kingdom of heaven is like that. It’s a good time. It’s a happiness. It’s a glorious thing. Come and enjoy it. Eat to the full. That is the way the Christian faith is presented. All right, is that peculiar now? Is that a new development that came with the kainē diathēkē, this New Covenant? No, the whole religion from its beginning to its consummation, the whole thing in the entire Bible is that. It is always that.
So let’s stop and look at it. In the Jewish religion, in the Jewish faith, how many feasts are there and how many fasts are there? All right, let’s look at the feasts. In the last of February and the first of March is Purim [Esther 9:20-32]. That celebrated the glorious deliverance of the Jewish people from the evil hand of Haman in the days of Esther. And it’s a feast. It’s a rejoicing.
All right. Number two: about the last of March and the first part of April there is the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Leviticus 23:6-8] that begins with the Passover [Leviticus 23:5], which celebrated their marvelous exodus out of bondage in Egypt.
Third: forty-nine days later, beyond Passover, is the feast of Pentecost which was the rejoicing of the harvest of God [Leviticus 23:15-22]. The springtime is finished. The summertime is begun and the harvest of the barley, the wheat is now ready. And they are happy in the Lord.
Number four: the Feast of Tabernacles [Leviticus 23:33-43]. That’s in the fall, latter part of September, first part of October. And they are sitting out in little booths, and they are rejoicing in the care of God through the days of the wilderness wanderings.
And five: about Christmastime, first part, first half of December there is the Feast of Dedication [John 10:22]. When Judas Maccabaeus overcame the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes and they won back their independence and their city and their temple and rededicated it.
All of those are feast days. They are convocations of gladness and victory. Now there is one fast day, just one. One day alone. And that is the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16; 23:26-32], Yom Kippur we call it now. But all of the rest of them, all of them, are convocations of glory and of gladness and of gratitude to God. It’s that kind of religion.
All right, let’s look at it again. Let’s look at these sacrifices. We are so of the persuasion that when a sacrifice is made, it is a whole burnt offering [Leviticus 1:3-17, 6:8-13]. Did you know that is almost such a small part of the sacrificial system that if you were to leave it out, it would hardly be known? For the sacrifice was a communal meal. That’s what it was. And practically all of the sacrifices were not whole burnt offerings. The whole burnt offering was such an unusual sacrifice that it is pointed out and its very noticeable because it is in contrast to all of the other sacrifices.
All of the other sacrifices were communal meals. The animal was slain and the flesh was cut, and it was eaten by the priests and by the family and by their friends. It was a happy time of worship. The word sacrifice has come to us to mean the giving of life unto death and we have lost therein the idea of the system back there in the Old Testament. It’s just the opposite of that. Practically all of the sacrifices were gladnesses and the people came together. And they rejoiced in God.
Let me give you an illustration of you. If you had lived back there and belonged to the household of faith, the family of the Lord, and God was good to you, you know what you would do? You’d gather your friends and you’d gather your family and you’d go up to the house of the Lord, and there you would bring a bullock or a lamb and a meal offering and other things to eat with it, and in the presence of the Lord you would have a glorious time eating a dinner.
That’s what the sacrifice was. And the priests would share it with you. The pastor would share it with you. And the family would share it with you. And then all of the friends that you invited, they would share it with you. It was a happy thing, a glorious thing. That’s the way the worship was.
Why, upon a great occasion, such as when Solomon dedicated the temple, he would sacrifice thousands of sheep and thousands of oxen and thousands of bullocks and thousands of herds and cattle [1 Kings 8:62-66]. And he’d feed the whole nation and they’d rejoice together. It was that kind of a religion. It was just wonderful. They were happy. That’s the way God meant it.
Now I want to show that, if I can, in some of these things that you find in the Bible that are just remarkable to me when I read them. Now you look at this. In the [twenty-fourth] chapter of Exodus says, “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel” [Exodus 24:9]: Now look at this. “And they saw the God of Israel” [Exodus 24:10]. Now what does that mean? The Bible says no man hath seen God at any time [Exodus 33:20, John 1:18]. And they saw the God of Israel [Exodus 24:10]. This is a Christophany. They looked upon the Lord Jesus preincarnate.
And they saw the God of Israel: 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.
How can a man see God and live? And that’s why the inspired author writes that note. And upon those seventy elders God laid not His hand [Exodus 24:11]. They looked upon the Christophany, the preincarnate Christ and they lived [Exodus 24:10].
All right. Now how does the thing end? “Also, they saw God and did eat, and drink” [Exodus 24:11]. Well, what in the earth? After a marvelous presentation like that how does it close? “They saw God, and did eat and drink” [Exodus 24:11].
Well, why that? It’s a very simple thing. It’s what I am preaching about this morning. That was their way of showing and God’s way of showing that to meet God and to be in the presence of the Lord is a matter of infinite superlative happiness and gladness. I would have thought, and they saw God and did fall down and pray; or, they saw God and did bow and worship; or, they saw God and did genuflect, or any act of worship. Well, it doesn’t say that. “They saw God, and did eat and drink” [Exodus 24:11]. It’s a glorious thing. It’s a happy thing; loving the Lord, walking in the way of our blessed Savior.
I want you to look just for a moment at how they will absolutely just go out of themselves and use figures of speech that are just beyond anything in the earth. Trying to capture something of the feeling of praise that they have in their souls. The ninety-eighth Psalm says:
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 . . .
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.
[Psalm 98:1, 3-4]
Man, instead of one trombone let’s have ten over there. Instead of three trumpets, let’s have forty over here. Make a loud noise. Some of the people come to me and they say we object to that. That’s too loud. That’s unholy. That’s unsanctified. That’s pure unadulterated false piousity, that’s what that is when they say that.
Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and praise the Lord.
Sing unto the Lord with the harp;
Sing with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
With trumpets and the sound of cornet
make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea roar—
Now he’s just getting outside of himself. He just can’t describe it all—
Let the sea roar . . .
Let the floods clap their hands—
How in the world can a flood clap its hands—
Let the floods clap their hands:
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord.
Now I want to show you how that is not unusual. This fellow, he’s just praising God and he just goes out of himself. All right, he’s going to sing about the exodus. Now look at him.
When Israel went out of Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
And Israel His dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The mountains skipped like rams,
and the little hills like lambs
That is, it is just unbelievable. How could mountains skip like rams? The mountains skipped and the little hills skipped like lambs. Man, what the matter is he just can’t say it. It doesn’t bear language. It’s too heavy for words to describe.
What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest?
thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams;
and ye little hills, like lambs?
What’s the matter with you? Well, what’s the matter with him? He got religion. He’s just so happy in the Lord he just can’t contain it. It’s a glorious thing. It’s a marvelous thing.
Now I want to show you the invitation of Isaiah and how he will do it. There is no more beautiful, precious, meaningful invitation than the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah. Now watch it. Look at it. “Ho,” and once in a while you all will sing that, “Ho Every One That Thirsteth,” ah that is a great, great anthem,
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 you spend your money for that which is not bread?
and your labor for that which satisfieth not?
hearken unto Me, and eat ye that which is good,
and 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 ye 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.
Why look how he will say it:
Then 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.
Just look at that. When you come to God there is nothing like it, and he can’t even say it in language. When you come, the mountains and the hills shall break forth with singing, and the trees of the forest will clap their hands. It’s such a wonderful thing. It’s such a glorious thing. It’s such a God-given thing. That is the faith.
You know what? That is the introduction to my sermon and I’ve just now gotten down to it and the time is gone. Well, let’s put a comma there. Let’s put a comma there. Now to repeat what I have been trying to do.
The evil one deceives us when he whispers, “Don’t you give your heart to the Lord; don’t you open your life to Christ. He will shut you out of all of the good things. He will fill your life with dreary drudgery.”
It’s the opposite. You’ll find in God greatness and gladness and glory. It is life now and everlasting. And Isaiah would say, “Come, come, come” [Isaiah 55:1]. And we say that. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” [Psalm 34:8]. “Prove Me, saith God” [Malachi 3:10]. There is no blessing that I will withhold from that somebody you, who will trust Me, give himself to Me.” It’s victory. It’s triumph. It is yours. God made you for it.
We are going to sing our hymn of appeal now, and while we sing it, a family, a couple or just you, down one of these stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles from the lower floor. “Pastor, here I am and here I come [Romans 10:8-13]. I am glad to do it. I have been ready ever since you started preaching. Had you closed forty-five minutes ago I would have been right down that aisle. I am ready, and here I come.” Make it now. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, walk down that stairway, walk down that aisle. “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.