One of the “problems” with the word “love” in the English language is that we use the same word to describe the feelings we have for a spouse (“I love my wife”) and the feelings we have for our favorite sports team (“I love the Florida State Seminoles”) or our favorite food (“I love ice cream”). In some ways, one could argue that this devalues the meaning of “love.” Instead of describing a close or intimate relationship with someone, it is now tossed around (no pun intended) very casually. In no way is my love for my spouse in the same universe as love for some food. I’ll pay $5 for a bowl of ice cream, not more. And I’m certainly not going to die or alter the course of my life for some ice cream. If I had to give up ice cream on a permanent basis, I would do it. I certainly wouldn’t give up my spouse, not for all the ice cream in the world.
There are four kinds of love in Greek. There is storge, a word that is rarely used, but it describes generally the affection and love that parents have for their children.
Secondly, there is philia, or friendship love. This is the kind of love that is expressed between friends, or even strangers. The word “philanthropy” comes from philia. The word “philanthropy” literally means “friend of man.” So, this could mean expressions of concern for people you don’t even know. A philanthropist supports causes for the benefit of the greater good, not necessarily for people that he or she even knows.
Eros means romantic love. This is where we get the word “erotic” from.
Which then brings us to highest form of love, agape. This is the kind of love that God has for us, and the kind of love we are supposed to have for Him. Agape is unconditional love, the kind of love that lasts, the kind of love where someone would be willing to alter the course of their life for someone else.
There is a Greek expression “mu aresi” which is what we use when we “like something.” This is the expression used with pizza or baseball.
In today’s Bible passage, Jesus encountered Peter and asked Peter “Do you love Me?” In the original Greek, where the word “love” is used here, Jesus used the word ‘agape,” “Do you have agape (willing to die) for me?” Peter’s answer used the word “filia.” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You” (but like a friend, with Filia). So Jesus asked Peter the second time “Do you love (agape) Me?” and the second time Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love You” (filia). Then Jesus asked the third time, “Do you love Me? (but used the word filia for this third question). The Bible says that “Peter was grieved” because Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love Me?” Most people would think it was because of the redundancy of the questions, but rather it is because Peter realized the third time that Jesus was asking him if Peter loved Him with agape and Peter was answering Him that He love him with filia, like a friend. When Jesus asked Peter “Do you love Me” but used the word filia the third time, this is when Peter had his light-bulb moment, and confessed that indeed He did love the Lord. Jesus pointed out to Peter that indeed one day Peter would show agape for Jesus, and would eventually die for the Christian cause.
The lessons here are several. First, in Galatians 5:22, the word used, which we translate as “love” is “agape.” So the “fruit” we are to cultivate is agape love which is pretty significant. It is certainly much more than the “love” we ascribe to a hamburger or a football team. Second, agape is the kind of love we need to cultivate in our relationships with Christ and with one another. It is supposed to be strong, committed, sacrificial and not lukewarm. Finally, this question “do you love Me?” is a question that God asks of us continually. What is our answer?
“I love You when it’s convenient.”
“I love You when I need something.”
“I love You all the time.”
“I love You unconditionally.”
How we answer this question “Do you love Me?” not only affects our relationship with Christ in this life and into eternal life, it is a question that gives definition and shape to our relationships with Him and with one another. We use the word “love” either too lightly or too restrictively. Some of us say it so often it seems to become devoid of meaning. Others use it so sparingly that those around them sometimes wonder “what kind of relationships, exactly, do we have?” And others use the wrong word, they jump to “agape” when filia is probably more honest. The spiritual problem suffered by just about everyone is that we seem to love God only with conditions, different ones for different people. As long as life is going fairly well, it’s easy to go to God or express some sentiment of love. The battle for agape, with the Lord or anyone else, begins the day when things don’t go right. More to come on this topic.
Lord, thank You for loving me so much that You died on the cross for me. Help me to love You in a genuine and sincere way. Help me to cultivate the fruit of Agape in my relationship with You and in relationships with others. Show me the path to Agape and give me the courage and the patience to walk down this path, with You and with others in my life. Amen.
Cultivate agape and don’t throw “love” around too lightly.