How have you known love in your life? Perhaps a parent? Grandparent? Or if not from them directly, perhaps the result of others who stepped in to fill that place of love in your life? Perhaps a special pet? But just what exactly was Christ speaking about here?
I’m deeply grateful for the work of CS Lewis and what he called ‘The Four Loves’[i] – as result of that we kind of know what it’s not – not entirely, anyway…As a result, when we speak of God’s love we know that it’s not…
- …just storge-love (loyalty & affection) because if it were, then that’s probably the word the writers of the NT would have used to describe it… Storge is the kind of love that is created within families, the warm and natural, instinctive love between parents and children…
- Nor is it fileo-love (friendship), because if it were that that’s the word the NT writers would have used to describe it…‘Friendship’ is the love which is freely chosen between people who drawing on our greatest loyalty and commitments – as brothers and sisters – a beautiful and very rare thing – but still not what we are talking about…
- And neither is it eros (romantic love) – about being ‘in’ love with someone.
In 1973, based loosely on the classical teachings of Plato and Aristotle, John A Lee [ii] helpfully identified at least 3 more types of love:
- Ludus which is a playful or uncommitted love, casual, uncommitted, fun, involving teasing, flirting – but tragic when misunderstood as ‘EROS’
- Pragma, I understand as a kind of practical (or pragmatic) love founded on reason or duty, what makes most sense…
- And Philautiais self-love, which can be both healthy or obsessively unhealthy.
While the love that Christ calls us to may have some elements of any of these, it’s actually so very much more than all of them!
It’s ‘Agape’ – love, …entirely self-sacrificial/ a giving-away love…
NT writers claimed that word and made our own to describe what Jesus was all about! When we read that “God is love” [iii], this is the word they use to describe it! THAT’S what we are talking about today!
Agape love is both unconditional and entirely unselfish! It’s the kenotic or ‘self-emptying’ love which Christ demonstrated as he prepared always to ‘pour Himself out’ – purely for the good of others… He…who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but (in love) emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.…[iv]
It’s associated now with our decision to pour ourselves out for the good of others
THAT’S what loving like Jesus means!!! Recalling St Therese of Lisieux’s ‘Little Way’[v]
We must think of it as a verb, not a noun – and NEVER just as an emotion.
We can see it as the foundation for the best and noblest of what we humans are capable.
It is love as the result of our deliberate, intentional choices and behaviors rather than just feelings and emotions. …the determination to behave in a certain way regardless of how we may be feeling.
That’s why it can exist in the most hostile environments: in the most difficult of marriages or parents/child relationships. It’s existed in the most traumatic political settings, in prisons between prisoners and wardens, even concentration camps. We may recall Betsy Ten Boom[vi]…
It’s wherever one person is given to choose to live into that… Walter Wink writes about this in his book ‘Jesus’ Third Way’[vii] …that there is always another way to act…
…and, we’re told, it stands the test of time. Loyalty/affection, friendship and even romantic love can all come to an end but, we’re told in 1 Cor.13, not this! THIS LOVE NEVER DIES! In fact, with agape love, you can even dislike someone or be frustrated with them, annoyed with them, yet still remain intimately and organically connected as we are given to choose still to treat them with sacrificial love.
What I’m speaking about today is Agape-love at its best. We can see it captured not so much in the carefully air-brushed picture of a perfectly groomed couples holding their baby in some glossy magazine, as in the red-knuckled hands of the one who has chosen totally to sacrifice themselves in washing and caring and serving. It’s us as we are prepared at times to appear in the wrong for the sake of others. It’s the one who has chosen selflessly and intentionally to put their own wants and desires aside to provide for the good of others…
We see it wherever there is selflessness, self-sacrificial love happening, love that genuinely puts others’ needs ahead of their own…
And so let’s come back to our opening question of how have you known love in your life? Someone selflessly just giving: perhaps a friend? A partner? A child? A beloved pet?
Know that wherever it has been at its cleanest & best, so that is where Our God has chosen to use just those very souls to bless you with something of Christ and Christ’s own love for you. And I’m wondering just how involved we are in that process of bringing the agape-love of Christ to others?
Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2019.
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[i] The Four Loves (1960) Harper Collins
[ii] Colours of Love (1973)
[iii] 1 John 4:8
[iv] Philippians 2
[v] Lessons from St Therese, John Paul Thomas, (2017) www.mycatholic.life
[vi] The Hiding Place (1971) Spire
[vii] Jesus’ Third way (1987) Citadel Press, Lansdowne, Cape