Another Valentine’s Day is looming, to the breathless joy of many… and the opining chagrin of others. Why the illogical dichotomy? Love has historically brought out the best in show-stoppers past and present. Frank Sinatra once famously crooned: “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” Of course, the key question is how one defines ‘many splendored’. The Beatles’ international hit, “All You Need Is Love,” captured the imagination of millions worldwide — topping pop charts along the way. Unfortunately, most embracing their seemingly simplistic message found it woefully lacking. Why is love one of those thorny conundrums of life that most can’t seem to live with or without?
Back in the early 1990s, author John Gray wrote a wildly famous book about relationships entitled “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus.” The book is reported to have sold more than 11 million copies in the United States alone. Some 18 books later, Gray is touted the all time best-selling author on relationships. Interestingly, his second wife was another self-help expert named Barbara De Angelis. Although their marriage didn’t survive, multiple sources claim De Angelis kept trying… at least five times in total. Paradoxically, through chronic marital failure, De Angelis continued to offer wide scale advice in the sphere in which she had so profoundly failed. Of the many relationship-based books De Angelis wrote, consider the following titles: “Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know;” “How To Make Love All The Time;” “Ask Barbara: The 100 Most Asked Questions About Love, Sex and Relationships.” Would any thinking person follow her advice?
The point is not to belittle the relational struggles of anyone, including ‘so-called’ relational experts. The prior paragraph actually begs a more obvious question. If the ‘experts’ don’t have a clue about love; what hope is there for everyone else?
Maybe at issue is the definition of love, itself. Ask 10 different people on the street what love is… and 10 different definitions will likely ensue. Is there, however, a right answer? In the Bible, the apostle John makes a most interesting claim: “We love Him (God) because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). In short, true love is discoverable through evaluating how man’s Creator demonstrated love to His creation. Where is such a discovery made? In the pages of God’s love letter to man — the Bible. Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, offers three commonly used words for love. The first word, eros, is no stranger to the American public or the world culture at large. Most often found in its expanded form ‘erotic’, this Greek word for love deals specifically with physical or sexual love. Even a cursory evaluation of mainstream culture would indicate most are well versed, to put it mildly, in this most popular form of love.
The second Greek word for love is phileo, which means ‘friendship’. The historic American city of Philadelphia comes from this word, meaning ‘the city of brotherly love.’
A third Greek word for love is likely unknown to most westerners. It is agapao, arguably the least recognized or understood of all three forms. Why? Agapao speaks of willingness, on the part of one, to live selflessly and self-sacrificially for another. Though central to traditional wedding vows (“… for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part”), this aspect of love is generally lost in translation when the relational ‘chips’ are down. How could a cursory glance at three antiquated words help explain the modern love crisis around the world? Consider the three words once again, evaluating the ‘love’ question accompanying each one:
Eros: Do my ‘love relationships’ typically begin and end with this form of love?
Many, if honest, would offer a resounding ‘yes’ to this question. It’s understandable, actually, as the masses tend to blindly follow the relational directives of popular culture. What most misunderstand, however, is that an eros — driven relationship will almost always end in emptiness and disappointment. Why is that? Reconsider word two:
Phileo: Have I invested the necessary time to really get to know my love interest?
Relationships interjected with a heavy dose of eros from the start, typically exhibit a substantial vacuum in the phileo category. Passion, if allowed, simply prevails. Phileo advises, however, that a substantial friendship phase is crucial to lasting love relationships. Hollywood, on the other hand, suggests not to waste inordinate amounts of time in this lackluster stage; and multitudes swallow this advice hook, line and sinker. When the phileo phase is shortchanged, however, the result is generally devastating. Far too often, phileo- starved lovers realize much too late that they don’t even know the person they’ve promised their lives to. It was exhilarating while it lasted…but most don’t last long. Speaking of promises, reconsider the final word.
Agapao: Am I willing to commit my life to this person?
Imagine building a house without a foundation. It’s unthinkable in the world of sticks and mortar; but in the sphere of relationships, it’s too often par for the course. Simply put, does commitment form the foundation for the key love relationship in your life? Clearly, commitment is the backbone of any successful and enduring romance. However, commitment is not based in feeling. While feelings ebb and flow, commitment is a decision of the mind and the heart — a covenant based upon careful consideration of all the facts (and feelings) available. Without commitment, relational fear and insecurity run rampant.
Maybe you are anticipating Valentine’s Day with the same eagerness of an infected root canal. That need not be the case. Carve out time this week to reflect on God’s priorities for a healthy love relationship. Do you remember the formula? Begin with a deep friendship (phileo); make a lifelong commitment (agapao); celebrate securely in a context of joy and mutual understanding (eros). This is a plan for love that works — because it is God’s plan. Will you follow His way?
About the author
Jim Harper is the pastor of Mountain Bible Church, 302 E. Rancho Road, Payson. Services are at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., Sunday.
To learn more about the church and its programs, call (928) 472-7800.