‘What is love, anyway?’ Howard Jones, ‘What is love?’
‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him… Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’ 1.John 4:7.9,11
‘What is love?’, Howard Jones asks in his popular song from the 1980s. And that’s a good question. Love can mean so many things; in the English language, we can even use it to describe our relationship to stuff (like in, ‘I love my car!’).
In the Greek language, the language the New Testament was written in, there are four different words for what we describe as ‘love’: there is eros – that’s where the word ‘erotic’ comes from. Eros describes romantic love and often involves physical attraction.
Then there is philia. Philia is affectionate regard and friendship, usually between equals. It is the love friends have for each other, or family members. Philia is the bond that connects people who are drawn to each other, be it through blood or friendship.
Then there is storge. Storge is natural affection, as parents show for their children, or children for their parents.
And then there is agape, a word of love that we find again and again in the New Testament – this is the kind of love Jesus talks about and encourages (and commands!) us to practice.
Agape is the kind of love that is difficult. Agape doesn’t just hit you, like eros, or comes easy to you, like filia, or is natural, like storge: agape is the love we show even to those people we don’t like or with whom we have no natural connection, people outside of our circles.
Agape is the kind of love we show for people whose actions we may not understand or even condemn, and I think we all can think of people like that. Agape is that kind of love we have to force ourselves to give to others: to the homeless person who could really use a shower, for example, to the one who has a totally different political opinion. Maybe we could call agape a deep, universal love, a feeling of connectedness with all of God’s creation, a feeling of respect for others, because God made them.
Christmas is the season we celebrate love (and, no, not the love of stuff!). The love to our spouses or significant others (eros). The love to our parents, grandparents and children (storge). The love to other family and friends (philia). But, most importantly, we are celebrating a love that encompasses all creation – the love that becomes flesh and is born in a manger. The love that has the power to change and save the world.
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