“I love chocolate.”
“I love this song.”
“I love my kids.”
“I love you.”
Why do we use the same word to profess our feelings about pie, rainy days, best friends, and spouses? Do we really have the same level of passion for a new pair of jeans as we have for our newborn baby? I would be devastated to know that my son holds the same affection for the meatloaf I made for dinner as he does for me. But I said the same words today to a lady in the grocery story as I told her “I love your blouse!”
What does “love” really mean? It seems the definition has changed over the years, even in my lifetime. I posed the question to Merriam-Webster who said that love is:
- a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
- attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship
They also reminded me that love is a tennis score, but I think we’re getting off track.
Love, in Jesus’ day was defined in three ways:
Eros – a sensual love
Phileo – called a “brotherly love”
Agape – a sacrificial love
Eros love is a love that seeks self-satisfaction, it is sensual and is the root from which we derive the world “erotic,” but it is not only sexual in context. When you say “I love chocolate,” you are expressing an eros love. Eros love is self-centered, what I want, what will make me happy, what will bring me satisfaction. It is a fleshly desire that we pursue for our own pleasure.
Phileo love is a deep fondness for one another. In the original Greek, it means “to have affection and regard of a very high order.” Phileo love is the love we experience with family and friends, built on common ground, whether familial or in our shared interests. It is a far purer love than Eros, but is still tinged with self-centeredness. Phileo love can be broken by a person’s actions—a spouse’s infidelity, a friend’s betrayal, or an unkind or thoughtless word.
Agape love is a sacrificial love, a love that seeks the best for the beloved. Agape love is the purest love, it is active and faithful and unbreakable. Agape love puts the other person first, and gives of self for their benefit. In the original Greek agape means “the active love of God for His Son and His people, and the active love His people are to have for God, each other and even enemies.” Agape love is very demanding, it demands your time, it demands your personal rights, it demands your whole self, and that is why it is so hard to find in human relationships. Yet it is precisely this kind of love that Jesus requires of His followers. It is Holy Love.
How can we possibly fulfill this command of love? Only through God.
The heart and soul of true love—of agape love—is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive? If my two-year old son desires to play in the middle of the street (and he did), does love demand that I allow him to do so? NO! Because agape love has a greater demand: that I do what is in my son’s best interest. So even though it made him very angry, I did not allow him to play in the street. It was not the best thing for him. If I am to operate in agape love, I must speak up when I see someone in a perilous situation. Just a few days ago I grabbed hold of a child I didn’t know who was about to walk out into the path of a car. Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?
Today, eros “love” has taken hold of the culture. “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging. And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love. But that is not really love. Real love cares enough to say “NO!” Real love recognizes wrong and rather than applauding or shrugging the shoulders, real love seeks to set what is wrong back right.
God is the source of real love, John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is. He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.
What this culture calls “love” is nothing more than self-destruction. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth about love.
Holy Father, loving Father, the greatest expression of holy love was Your Son bleeding and dying on the cross for our sins. Thank You for loving me enough to give me what is best, even when I want what is worst. Help me be a voice and a conduit of real, holy, agape love in this world. Amen.