While we use the one word "love" to mean a wide array of emotions, actions and vague notions, the Greek language has four such words that allow for much more specific and nuanced usage. And while any reference to a foreign language might seem tedious or challenging, this is one case where relying on about another language actually makes things simpler.
The Greek of the New Testament speaks of love in a very specific and unique way, especially when you consider the various ways these four words were used in the first century culture. Let's look at these four words.
1. Storge-This is a word that refers to the fondness or affection we might have for something because we have become familiar with the other and it brings value to us. For instance, I "love" baseball. I "love" good Mexican food. I "love" to read a good book or watch a great movie. We are fond of these things because we are comfortable with them or familiar with their characteristics. We have come to rely on them because we know how they work. In the same way we can have a fondness or affection toward other people because we know them or are familiar with who they are. This kind of love is about being comfortable with the other person or group of people. We can even think about "storge" in relationship to a particular group or organization. I "love" being a part of our church. I am fond of it. I have great affection for our church, what we do here and what the church represents. Actually, this word is not used in the Bible, and while it is a natural part of life, this is not the kind of love that the Bible attributes to the love of God.
2. Philos-This word is a little more common to us. It lies behind the word Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love." It refers to friendship love or one might call it companionship. In this experience of love, people find that there are sharing a common journey with others, often a journey that they did not expect. Companions are not made as much as they are discovered. They walk side-by-side on the journey and then realize that they are friends. While there are a few places in the New Testament that use this word, it is not used to refer to God's unique kind of love for his people.
3. Eros-This kind of love is most easily understood in our culture. This is when two people turn toward one another and express focused attention to the other because they are "in love." In Eros, feelings, passion, and physical intimacy are involved. In the true sense of the word, physical intimacy with Eros is about selfish fulfillment and is is not Eros love at all. It becomes about the "thing" the sensory pleasure that results. But with Eros, sexual desire is about wanting the "beloved" about desiring intimacy with the other who is the focus of our attention. Of course in our culture the erotic love has been perverted to the act of physical intimacy whether for personal pleasure for for intimacy with the beloved.
4. Agape-This word is a rather unique word from the perspective of the Bible. Before the New Testament was written, this was a word that was used in varied was and did not have a concrete meaning. It has been proposed by some scholars that the New Testament writers therefore chose this word so that they could give it concrete meaning and fill it out with the kind of love that God is. As a result, we must depend upon the Bible to clarify its meaning. Ultimately it represents the attitude and action of God towards humanity and then the call for Christ followers to have a like mind toward others. The unique thing about agape is that it is love that is even expressed toward one's enemies, which the Bible says we are towards God. Paul Eddy summarizes agape love as other-oriented, self-sacrificial, choice-based.
While Agape love is distinct from the other three, it also can intersect the other kinds of love and empower them to reflect the unique kind of love that God is.
The central passage for this week is found in one of the most famous chapter in the Bible, one that lists the various characteristics of Agape. And if God is Agape, the these characteristics of love must also be characteristics of God. To work out the implications of this, I took The Message translation and inserted the word "God" for "Love." As I meditated on these phrases, I found my imagination about God shifting as I began to see his heart toward me in new ways. Here is how it reads:
God never gives up.
God cares more for others than for himself.
God doesn't want what he doesn't have.
God doesn't strut,
God doesn't have a swelled head,
God doesn't force himself on others,
God isn't always "me first,"
God doesn't fly off the handle,
God doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
God doesn't revel when others grovel,
God takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
God puts up with anything,
God believes in others,
God always looks for the best,
God never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Take a few minutes and read this again slowly. Stop where you mind sense the Lord speaking to you. Write down your thoughts.
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