Our culture loves this holiday. Some say it’s a massive conspiracy created by the Hallmarks and Russell Stovers of the world to sell as many heart shaped boxes of chocolate and cheesy greeting cards as possible. That seems plausible. However, could it be that our culture recognizes the importance of love, but has a hard time communicating it?
Did you you know that in the Bible’s original Greek language, the concept of “love” is communicated in not one, but four words? Our culture has one word: LOVE.
- I love my dog.
- I love this pizza.
- I love God.
- I love my wife.
It doesn’t quite get the job done, does it? The original Greek is much richer! In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, the multiple concepts of love are communicated in much greater detail. Get a copy – it’s a great read. In the meantime, let’s look at the the four words and see how we can apply them to our lives today.
1. Storge (στοργή storgē) means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)
Jesus is basically saying – you “storge” your parents, your brothers, and your sisters. Good. Everybody does that. But I’m calling you to a higher love. I’m asking you. No, I’m commanding you to love your enemies in the same way that you love your family. Impossible task, apart from the gospel. The gospel radically changes our hearts and enables us to love the unlovable. If you are having trouble doing that, stop right now and ask God to help you to love those who least deserve it. Ask for grace in this area, and I promise that it will be given to you.
2. Philia (Greek: φιλία) is the love between friends. Friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common interest or activity. Lewis immediately differentiates Friendship Love from the other Loves. He describes Friendship as, “the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary of our Loves” – our species does not need Friendship in order to reproduce. He uses this point to explain that Friendship is exceedingly profound because it is freely chosen.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)
The wisest man who ever lived (Solomon) is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so you can take this one to the bank… friends are good. Not the kind of friends you have on your Facebook account, but real-life, in-your-face, help-you-when-you-fall-down kind of friends. To be a perfect friend, you don’t have to be perfect; you just have to be available. Do you have a real friend in your life? Do you have one or two people who you can call – who are not your family – who will be there at your side in a moment’s notice? I’m afraid that probably very few of us actually have friends like this. How do you get one? You have to reach out and make an effort. Extend yourself. Offer yourself in time, in service, and hospitality. Have someone over for dinner. Get a cup of coffee. Play some golf. Jesus had at least three friends (Peter, James, and John) who were His “inner circle”… his support group… His true homies. The twelve disciples were close acquaintances or followers, and then of course there a few thousand groupies who loved Him when He gave out free bread, but later turned their backs to him when he was publicly executed. We need friends, friends. It’s a tough world out there. Let’s walk together.
3. Eros (ἔρως) is love in the sense of ‘being in love’ or ‘loving’ someone. Although it includes sexual desire, it is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus. He does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent. It is Venus that desires the sexual aspect of a relationship, while Eros longs for the more emotional connection with the other person.
“My beloved is mine, and I am his” (Song of Solomon 2:16 ESV)
This is probably what we mean when we celebrate Valentine’s Day. After all, the holiday was a celebration in memory of the famous Valentine martyrs in the second century AD. It was said that the priest, Valentine was martyred for marrying soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for caring for Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. It sounds like Valentine elders of the early church understood love in all of its various aspects. Perhaps the best application of eros in our lives is that between a man and a woman in marriage. At least in Lewis’ mind, sexual relations are almost an afterthought, and far from the center of what it means to love someone in an intimate way. In marriage, the key to intimacy is mutual respect and intrigue. Both men and women experience eros through the heart and the mind. But how those feelings are triggered can be radically different. Women usually want a man to feel interested in their feelings, their thoughts, and their dreams. This engages the eros emotion. Men, do you ask her questions? Do you let her talk and listen intently? Do you speak to her in a way that makes her feel equal, special, or even treasured? On the flip side, most men are not engaged through talking about our emotions. Some of us are, though! …and the same is true for women. Not all women want to gush about their emotions. The key is studying your spouse. Figure out what engages them, and what lights them up. Most men experience eros when a woman respects the man’s headship in marriage. This doesn’t mean treating him like a king or some kind of demigod to be served hand and foot. It means treating him as a leader among equals. It means letting him make decisions, respecting his opinion, and praising him for doing a good job. A man wants to know that his wife has his back. A woman wants to know that her husband cares about her feelings. When both sides are accommodated, eros love will be in full bloom. No chocolate necessary.
4. Charity (agapē, ἀγάπη) is the love that brings forth caring regardless of the circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Sacrificial love. It is the love that God has for his people.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you (AGAPE) me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I (PHILEO) you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you (AGAPE) me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I (PHILEO) you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you (AGAPE) me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you (AGAPE) me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I (PHILEO) you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19 ESV)
There is an interesting play on words that occurs in John 21 that can only be seen by reading the original Greek language. Each time, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him sacrificially (agape), and each time Peter responds, that he is fond of him like a brother (phileo). Jesus was asking Peter if he was ready for the fate that awaited him – martyrdom. Peter would eventually show his agape love for Jesus by dying a death by crucifixion. Of course, it is even rumored that Peter was crucified upside down because he felt as though he was not “worthy” to suffer crucifixion in the same manner as his Lord. Perhaps Peter remembered how he cowardly responded to Jesus questions with “phileo”, but when his metal was tested, Peter proved to know agape love. You see, agape love is the love that makes all other loves less important. Agape love is eternal love because God is eternal. Agape love is sacrificial because God sent His son to lay down His life for His enemies. Agape love is intimate because the Holy Spirit now dwells inside each believer. Love is more than a study, however… Love is a verb.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 ESV)
“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
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