Regardless of economics, race or status, people value love and recognize that love will shape what is good and true. It should not be surprising to anybody that love permeates and lies at the heart of our Biblical message.
Since our English word love is used so broadly, it is helpful to distinguish between different types of love in order to gain a more precise understanding of the New Testament’s message. This can be easily accomplished because the New Testament was written in Greek and there are various Greek words for love.
Eros is probably what most people are experiencing when they announce with a smile, “I’m in love.” This type of love covers everything from queasy stomachs and warm fuzzy feelings to strong sensual passion.
There are a couple of very interesting characteristics about eros. First, in order to exist, eros is dependent upon the situation and circumstances. As long as a couple enjoys a romantic situation, eros thrives. But, as soon as hurtful words or actions appear, eros evaporates.
Second, eros is held captive to each person’s perception. Passion becomes squashed for whoever interprets the current situation to be undesirable. Eros thus grows, wains, and grows based upon our perceptions.
Although eros at times might make us feel like we are on cloud nine, it can not provide a reliable basis for building a deep and meaningful relationship since it is so fickle and dependent upon perception and circumstances. Although eros is exhilarating, this is not the biblical word used for love.
This is the love of friendship, best friends, and the fellowship of being with those people you enjoy. Although philia is wonderful, it too is not reliable since it is also held captive by the sifting sands of situation as well as by ours’ and other’s perceptions and expectations. Unfortunately, we probably all know of a friendship which was severed because of time, distance, harsh words, or how someone interpreted another’s actions. When the New Testament commends love, philia is the not the word which is used.
The Beauty of Agape*
Unlike the previous types of love, agape is not held hostage by its environment and someone’s perception. Agape can soar above these limitations because it is based upon a decision. Since agape involves proactively seeking someone’s well-being based upon a decision, it is capable of acting in a hostile environment without warm fuzzy feelings. Jesus’ teaching that we should agape our enemies reveals the boundless nature of the love which the Christian should pursue toward others (Luke 6:35).
The New Testament is full of examples and teachings illustrating agape’s nature:
• Knowing that sinful man would kill his son, but also knowing that without Jesus we were doomed, God loved (agape) us by sending Christ (John 3:16).
• If a person possesses material resources and the love (agape) of God, his heart will take care of those in need (1 John 3:17).
• Just as Christ through love (agape) died for the church, so too the Christian husband is to act out of love (agape) for his wife (Ephesians 5:25-29).
If it were not enough that the proactive nature of agape has the power to rise above its environment, it can also empower passion and friendship! When a spouse chooses to speak and act toward the mate with agape, this creates the loving environment where eros and philia can thrive!
Jesus taught his disciples that the world would know they were his people if they would show agape toward one another (John 13:35).
*For simplicity’s sake, both agape (noun) and agapeo (verb) are being referred to by agape.