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A Christian
Thought for the Month - February 2013
Thoughts for believers & seekers
The Greeks had a word for it

1 John 4:10  This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son
The shops are telling us and the restaurants are telling us that Valentine’s Day is coming again. Love is in the air - they hope! This time last year on this page I wrote about God’s love and the different ways a father shows love to his children, and the different ways God may express His love. This time I want us to think about what this word ‘love’ means in the light of this Valentine’s Day. .

I get the impression that the younger generations have been conned into equating ‘love’ with ‘sex’ but sex can come so easily with a one night stand, so clearly you can’t say you ‘love’ someone who you have only known a matter of hours, so that undermines the idea. The New Testament of the Bible was mostly written in Greek, and the Greeks had a word for physical love, ‘eros’, from which we get the word erotic. Although that sort of love is not referred to as such in the Bible, from the earliest pages we find, “a man will leave his father and mother and he will be united with his wife and they will become one flesh.” Sex was God’s design and it’s good in the right context.

But so many in today’s Western world have separated love from sex, so sex is purely another pleasure, just like eating and drinking. Unfortunately for them, virtual plagues of sexually transmitted diseases suggest it is not that simple. Moreover various TV series have shown that for many young people (and perhaps older) love is an elusive commodity. Perhaps the Bible has something to teach us.

Another Greek word that the Bible does use in one form or another is ‘phileo’ which has connotations of friendship or brotherly love. How sad that many young people today have failed to enjoy friendship before they move on in their relationship. Sex and then friendship? Well, maybe not, because sex in that order suggests a taking of a pleasure by the use of another, whereas friendship is about giving. Sex and then friendship puts a question mark over the reality of the friendship. Is this friendship just because we have sex? Do we enjoy each other just because we have sex?

But then the Bible uses another Greek word which has much greater power and strength and is the word used for God’s love for us, and the possible love we can have of Him. It is ‘agape’ and essentiality it means  “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards others”. Now normally you can’t have that sort or depth of love towards another person until you have committed yourself to them; it’s just how it works.

Now pause a moment to consider that simple but profound definition of this ‘agape’ love that the New Testament of the Bible speaks: "selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards others". If young people (and older) waited until their relationship had passed from phileo to agape before they married, it is highly probable that such relationships would not so easily break up, we would have far less divorces, and all that goes with them,  and we would have far fewer damaged children and young people hurt by those breakups.  

Have you picked up on the ‘God’s design’ order for relationships: phileo, agape, eros,  i.e. friendship, commitment, physical expression. Of course the lie that so many today have bought into comes with the question, “But if we don’t have sex before we commit, how will we know it it will work for us once we are tied by marriage?” Well, actually you only have to look at the statistics (and the world is pretty good at measuring these things today) and you find that those who follow the order - eros, phileo, agape (IF they ever reach agape love) are much more likely to break up than those who follow the order phileo, agape, eros.

What is tragic, of course, is that although common sense and statistics prove the point so conclusively, the media pressure, cultural pressure and peer pressure are so great that it takes a strong person (or couple) to say, “THIS is the way I want it to work: friendship, commitment, physical!”

You want to think about how you can check and see if you have got agape love? “Who wants it?” I hear a cynic pushing in. The odds are that it’s a male cynic! Stop for a moment and consider the two possibilities we have been referring to. Let’s examine them as imaginary case studies, but case studies built on many observations of life today.  

Here are ‘A’ and ‘B’ (we dare not give them a name or you might think we are pointing at you); they both had a number of sexual encounters before they decide to move in together. Eventually she gets pregnant. Three years later they now have two children. She’s working full-time and their children are often in child-care but she battles to be a good mother. But it’s tiring and wearing and she doesn’t look as good as she used to. Her partner has encountered someone brighter looking and more enjoyable to be with at work. Eventually ‘A’ and ‘B’ split up, the kids staying with her. Life becomes even more difficult to handle being a single mum, but she does it.  As years pass she has various other temporary partners but nothing ever seem to stick for long. He has long split with the girl from the office and he drifts into middle age wondering if he’s going to grow old alone.

Now of course that may not happen, but it does too often to be coincidence. It’s a lifestyle approach that is found wanting by so many. So check out C & D. They probably have religious faith, but not necessarily.  They decide to work on phileo, agape, eros and keep it in that order. Six years later they are still together and have two children. The presence of agape love means that they have committed themselves to each other - whatever happens - and so thirty years later, despite life having had some rocky parts to it, they are still together, enjoying approaching old age together and having the joy of grandchildren coming along. It worked!

Commitment  is not a Valentine’s Day card. A card is cheap, commitment is costly, but the long-term life of stability, security, ongoing love, care, etc. for one another is worth every ounce of sacrifice. This is worth thinking about. Happy Valentines Day!