Most people would acknowledge that the word ‘love’ is probably the greatest New Testament word and the word which more than any other sums up the heart of the Christian Gospel both in terms of God’s initiative towards us and our responsibility towards others. However, the single English word does not, by itself, convey the full range of what the New Testament means. C S Lewis spoke of “Four Loves.” Following on from last month’s Valentine’s article I want to look at these a little more fully…
1. Affection (Greek: Storge)
This is a great New Testament word. It is the word which refers to family love, the kind of love a parent has for a child, and a child for a parent. Plato said, “A child loves (stergein) and is loved by those who brought him into the world.” C S Lewis felt that storge love or affection accounts for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness we find in our natural lives. Storge describes the relationship of warm comfortableness and satisfaction experienced in the togetherness of those who are fond of each other.
2. Friendship (Greek Philia)
This is the warmest Greek word for love. It describes the love people have for their closest, nearest and truest friends. It refers to the luminous, open and gentle world of relationships freely chosen. Philia is that kind of love born out of companionship between those who share a particular interest together. Philia binds those who not only share outward things together, but inward things. They care about the same truths. They share similar values. While lovers may stand face to face, true friends stand side by side looking outwards together. Nor is this kind of friendship jealous and exclusive. It will not resent the addition of others to its circle. In the company of those towards whom we feel philia, we are relaxed, at ease and ourselves. We can, as it were, ‘let our hair down.’
3. Romantic Love (Greek: Eros)
Eros describes the love of a man for a maid. Eros describes that kind of romantic love which we feel when we are ‘in love’. But people don’t always feel ‘in love’. This is why those who depend on love simply as a feeling can become quickly disillusioned or disappointed when they find that feeling beginning to wane. Their tendency is to blame the beloved and then search for a new conquest. However, what we have to realise is that it takes humility, charity and God’s grace to continue what Eros has begun. Eros needs help. He needs the assistance of a higher love. In a nut-shell, Eros needs God, and especially God’s Agape Love.
4. Gift-Love (Greek: Agape)
God’s love to us is gift-love. Lacking nothing, God gives everything. Regardless of how attractive or unattractive we are, God loves us. His love is ‘in-spite-of-love’. God’s love is especially evident and commended to us “in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The greatest statement of Agape love comes in I Corinthians 13. In that passage we discover a very crucial and vital truth. Agape love is not so much a feeling as an action. It is not something simply of the heart; it is something of the will. This kind of love is not full of romantic passion, or of profound affection, but of deep resolution. This love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. This kind of love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. This kind of love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. In a nut-shell, the Agape love of I Corinthians 13 means unconquerable benevolence and invincible goodwill to all. To show Agape towards another person is to resolve that no matter what that person does to us we will never allow bitterness against them to invade our hearts, but we will rather seek to regard them with unconquerable benevolence and goodwill which seeks only their highest good.
Great as the Four Loves all are, the greatest of these is Agape. For this is how Jesus loves.