I love peanuts, but I especially love peanut butter and chocolate combined. I loved my Boxer, Patton, who recently died just two weeks before his tenth birthday.
Love can be a noun or a verb. Love can range from amorous sexual embrace to unselfish loyal and benevolent feelings and emotions that include concern for a person or humankind. We don’t have all the shades and nuances that other languages and cultures have when it comes to expressing precisely what we mean when we invoke the term. In the Greek, for example, four terms parse the many forms that our intended meaning of love might take:
Eros translates directly from Latin as “Passionate Love” or “Romantic Love.” It is often thought of as the type of love that people “fall” into, often characterized as erratic, passionate, possessive, and highly superficial.
Agape or universal love is the purest form of altruistic love directed at strangers, nature, or God, akin to the unconditional love that God has for everyone. This kind of love manifests itself in selfless acts and acting entirely out charity or concern for the world other than yourself. Agape is not motivated by pleasant feelings or results such as physical, emotional, or logical attractiveness. It is a conscious choice of self-sacrifice for the benefit of another.
Philia is the love between very close friends such as David and Jonathon in the Bible. Philia directly translates to “affectionate regard.” Friendships founded in mutual goodwill have trust, reliability, and companionship. Philadelphia means ‘the city of brotherly love.’
Storge is a type of philia that is specific to families. It is often referred to as familial love, or the love between parents and children. This type of love is often unbalanced and dependent, which is entirely true of a parent’s unconditional love for their newborn child. This is the type of love that is said to make an imprint on our brains so that we know what love is for later in life when we develop. While we are growing up, our networks of oxytocin and vasopressin (neurotransmitters partly responsible for trust, social interactions, fear of others etc.) are developing based on the examples provided to us by our parents, based on the particular Storge that is available to us.
For at least a generation, ‘self-love’ has been written about, advocated, counseled in and encouraged. American culture espouses the belief that until and unless you can truly love yourself, you are incapable of loving others. But confusion arises when our self-obsession begins to take on the hallmarks of selfishness, and pride and narcissism finally rule and reign in the psyches of many Americans today as a result. It is interesting to note that as narcissism, especially ‘malignant’ narcissism, is increasing in society lately, empathy and compassion are proportionately decreasing.
Someone once asked Jesus what was the ‘greatest’ commandment. In the Books of Moses (or Torah or Pentateuch) the ten commandments are extended much further in terms of additional commands involving everything from behavior to food to personal hygiene. The Mishnah (almost 1,000 pages translated from the Hebrew into English) seeks to expound on the oral traditions of the Torah). Before we get to the answer Jesus provided to the question of which commandment was greatest, take note of this Bible verse. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10), indicating they’re all important.
Now the answer to the question. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind,” and then went on to say, “the second is like the first, love your neighbor as yourself. In these two are ALL the law and the prophets.”
I have often wondered about what it means when I read that the chief characteristic of God is love. Two others appear almost as often: light and life. Sometimes we can illuminate our understanding by looking at the opposites of what these three represent as meant by God.
Jesus said that He came that we might have life and that more abundantly. He promised us eternal life in fact. He said we should know the truth (truth/light/knowledge) and that it would set us free from the power of sin and darkness. His death on the Cross paid the celestial just requirement for ungodly behavior. While we were most unlikeable, and dead in our sins and trespasses, God showed his version of love, sending His only begotten Son to suffer and die in order to ransom and redeem us back to Himself, back to our Creator. “God so loved the world that he GAVE…”
This is Agape Love. Unconditional. Patient. Long-suffering. This is the type of love all of us who trust in our Lord long to acquire in our own lives and to express to our family, friends and neighbors. Our neighbors may be soaked in sin, but we love them because just like us they are made in His image and need the love of God and redemption to gain the hope of heaven.
Do you possess such love? Search yourself. Test yourself. Have you ever performed a kindness for someone who will never learn who it was that did this thing for them out of the goodness of their heart, without taking credit? Or do you love the one you’re with as long as he or she is helping you meet your personal goals and objectives, only to move on or trade up when that is no longer the case?
“Deep within us — no matter who we are — there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable, of wanting to be the kind of person that others like to be with. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.” – Fred Rogers
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” – Nat King Cole, “Nature Boy” lyrics
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard … “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24.
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He that loveth not — knoweth not God; for God is love. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”