“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jesus is John 13:35, NIV)

Being as it’s February and the love month and Valentines and all that, I thought it might be a good time to blog about love. Well, actually loves. Because love can mean a whole lot of things in our culture. For instance, I love coffee. I also love my wife. And I love hiking. I also love Boston. (The band, not the city. Don’t judge me.) Additionally, I love my son, my parents, my siblings, my friends, etc. But those are all very different kinds of love.

So here’s a little refresher on the four types of love for those of us who might have forgotten. They are:

Storge: This is the kind of love we have for (most) of our family members. It’s the way a parent feels about their child, a child to a grandparent and vice-versa, even sibling to sibling. It’s likely where we get the phrase “blood is thicker than water.” Almost any parent will tell you that loving a child is a powerful, and painful. We feel a certain kind of way about our family.

Phileo: This one means to have fondness and/or affection for someone. In short, this means you like someone. You have positive feelings about them. You enjoy their company. You look forward to being with them. You want to share experiences with them. You experience happiness and contentment when you’re with them and you want to do things for them. It’s typically a reciprocal kind of relationship. 

Eros: Oh, this one’s powerful! This is desire. This is sexual attraction. This one creates a kind of euphoria that makes us do crazy things. This is boyfriend/girlfriend kind of stuff. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte (from Night at the Museum 2) this is when you like, like someone. It’s a powerful, powerful feeling. 

By the way, when a couple comes to me for pre-marriage counseling, they typically say something like, “We’re so in love with each other.” To which I typically reply, “Not really. You’re in a state of intense like. You’re experiencing a powerful cocktail of massive amounts of phileo and eros that cause you to lose your mind.” Ever tried to talk two people who are “in love” out of getting married? It’s almost impossible. They can’t think straight. Cuz’ when you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, red flags just look like flags. But I digress.

Agape’: Now this is true love. While the other three are primarily feelings, this one, in the immortalized words of my favorite band of all time, Boston, is, “More Than A Feeling.” This is an intentional act of the will. The good news is our will is stronger than our head or our heart. Agape’ is a choice. A choice we make to love someone, regardless of our feelings.

Can you guess which kind of love Jesus spoke of almost exclusively? Yep. Agape’. An act of our will. This is why Jesus could say things like, “Love your enemies.” Uh, come again? Love my enemies? Well Jesus isn’t talking about feeling a certain way about someone. He’s not commanding us to like our enemies, or feel a certain kind of fondness for them. He’s telling us to love them…as an act of our will. (I’ll talk more about this in a future blog.) 

Bottom line, Jesus calls us to love God and others…as an act of our will. A deliberate choice every day.

Here’s how this kind of agape’ love affects all of my relationships. 

  • Sometimes I feel positive feelings about my son. Other times, not so much. But I always love him.
  • Most of the time, I enjoy my friends and family. Not always. But I always love them.
  • Most of the time, I feel positive things about church folks. Sometimes not. But I always love them.
  • I never feel good about my enemies. But I choose to love them. Always.

And my wife? Well sometimes I like her and sometimes she likes me. Sometimes I feel strong desire for her, other times not. But I always, always love her and choose to demonstrate that love in tangible ways. Whether she’s loveable or not. Agape’ love is not dependent on reciprocation. It has no expectation of the other party. It simply loves. This is why Scriptures teaches, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8-9, NKJV) In other words, we were God’s enemies. But He  didn’t wait for us to get our act together. He demonstrated His love for us before we were even born.

Way too many marriages are really just transactional relationships. You know, if you do your part, I’ll do my part. If you’ll take care of me, I’ll take care of you. If you’ll scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. But Jesus describes this as a pagan relationship. At one point, he says, “What good is it if you love those who love you? Don’t even the pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

God wants us to love like He loves. As an unconditional act of our will.

Here’s another beautiful thing about agape’ love. John the Beloved writes, “We love him because he first loved us.” In other words, God took the initiative, loved us first, and demonstrated that love to us whether we respond or not. And while this kind of love never demands reciprocation, it does invite it. It creates an environment where the beloved has the freedom to respond, even desires to reciprocate. 

So let this word, agape’, change your life and your relationships. Don’t wait for someone to express love to you, love them now with no expectations. Don’t wait to like someone, choose to love them.

And for you married couples out there, choose to love your spouse every day and express that love in tangible ways.