“Love” might be the most often used word in America – and perhaps the least understood. People of all age groups just “love” anything from pizza to sports to cars to movies to vacations . . . sometimes even people. All of these expressions cause me to wonder if we genuinely understand the meaning of love.
The Greek language has at least three words for love. There is “philia” –friendship love – a type of relationship that begins to be learned at a very young age and continues throughout our life. It can include both male and female friendships and over a period of decades develop into a long list of people.
Friendship love involves a changing list of people, starting in early childhood and elementary school. If we are fortunate to remain in one geographic location during our growing up years, we might carry some friendships into our adult life. We hear fun stories of the marriage of two people whose friendship began in kindergarten. But very few adults can list current friendships that started early in life.
Friendships involve doing life together – in business, school, church, and the community. In the course of getting a project accomplished, we develop relationships to the point of calling each other friends.One of the best places for this to happen is in a church environment where common goals and values are shared. Some people will have many friends and others just a few. I have often said that in a church community, our goal should be that every person knows at least one other well enough to call them their friend.
Another word for love is “eros”– what I like to call “marriage love.” A man and a woman develop an appropriate friendship that they desire to move to the level of romantic love or sexual love. Ideally, they have reserved this love relationship for marriage, having kept appropriate boundaries in their friendship relationships.
Another word for love is “agape” – divine love. This is something only known in a relationship with Creator God, for He alone is Divine Love. This love is experienced by humans who are connected to the Creator because of belief and acceptance that Jesus is God, our Savior. Humans can experience great friendships and amazing marriages because they have followed the plan of the Creator. But the joy of agape love requires a relationship with its Source.
Perhaps the careless use of “love” in our culture is part of the reason people ignore boundaries in friendships and bring eros love into multiple philia relationships. If we love pizza, we might have the same thoughts toward someone we think we love and focus on immediate romantic satisfaction with no thought of a marriage commitment.It is easy to ignore boundaries when we are hungry – even if we know we are violating our own standards.
I like pizza and I have a host of meaningful friendships – some of them decades long. I have deep joy in my career, and I know that at times I say, “I love what I get to do.” I should learn to say “very fond” or “like very much” rather than “love.”
But my love for Carol is exclusive. And I hope there is at least an element of agape because of our mutual relationship with Jesus. The greatest joy possible is in loving Him.