It's Valentine's Day, so of course we have to talk about love.
We all know what love is. It's that warm, gushy feeling we get when we feel affection for another. Oh, sure, that's too vague. The dictionary puts it like this: Love is "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person", "a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend", or "sexual passion or desire". Yeah, that's the love we all know and love. (Yes, that was intended to be humorous.)
The Bible does include some of that. The Greek eros, for instance, refers to that third definition. It is the origin of our word, "erotic". It's not actually found in Scripture, but the idea is. The Song of Solomon includes that kind of love. Many believe that when Paul wrote, "It is better to marry than to burn", he meant "burn with passion" -- eros. It is a common human condition. It is, however, purely animal and is not a good basis for a lasting relationship.
Another version is storge. This concept is also not technically used in Scripture. Unlike eros, however, a form of the word is used. In 2 Timothy 3:3, deep in a list of how people will be in "the last days", Paul warns that they will be astorge -- "heartless" (ESV) or "without natural affection" (KJV). (The "a" there at the beginning of the word is "not".) That's the idea of storge; the natural affection one feels for family and such. (And given the number of parents abusing and abandoning their children or even their parents, I think Paul was exactly right in his astorge -- without natural affection.)
The two more common versions are, as you all likely know, philia and agape. The first is "brotherly love" (as in "Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love"). It is the standard human version of love. It is the "Barney" version. "I love you; you love me." It is the most common marital version. "I'll give 50% and you give 50% and we'll have a 100% marriage." And when he/she fails to give that 50%, she/he feels free to stop hers/his. "You scratch my back; I'll scratch yours." We get that. It's normal. It's the love that Peter professed when Jesus asked, "Peter, do you agapao Me more than these?" He replied, "Lord, you know I phileo You" (John 21:15-16). It's a good love, but it's not the highest.
The biblical highest is, of course, agape. What most don't know, however, is that the word did not mean to the Greeks what it means in Scripture. This isn't a first. The Greeks, for instance, had a term, charis, that meant "favor". It's the word translated "grace" in the New Testament. But while charis in Greek could mean any sort of favor, earned or otherwise, the Bible defined it specifically as unmerited (Romans 11:6). You see, this concept was not a normal human concept. Showing favor to someone who didn't deserve it in some sense? That's not reasonable. Maybe, but it is biblical grace. The same was true for agape. The Greek version would be our "true love" ("twue wove" to the Princess Bride enthusiasts). The Christian usage would be something outside of the normal concept. It is a selfless love. It is the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is an unmerited love. This version of love dwarfs every human definition the dictionary can offer. There is no "50-50" in this version. And it isn't human. Humans can't operate like this. This love seeks the best for the one loved without concern for recompense or return. It is the love commanded of husbands when Paul wrote, "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). It is a love that gives 100% without concern for the 50% return. It is a love possible only from God Himself (1 John 4:16) and only possible to those who know God (1 John 4:19). This love is something else entirely from the other forms.
Natural Man can certainly love in a variety of ways. We are all aware of some degree of eros. We come by storge naturally. We've all known philia. But it seems to me that on a day set aside to celebrate love, the love we ought to be celebrating is the only one that can stand forever -- agape. It is the one that never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). It is the one that is greater even than faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). It is the one that secures marriages against the tides of human failures and the one that ties us directly to God. That is the love to celebrate every day.
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