Dr. Fred Eichelman: What Is This Thing Called Love?
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4–7
When Cole Porter wrote the song “What Is This Thing Called Love?” he asked a question that men and women have no doubt asked since creation. The first verse related to a lot of young people:
“What is this thing called love? This funny thing called love? Just who can solve its mystery, Why should it make a fool of me?”
As students in college we talked about this in late-night bull sessions, and everyone seemed to have an answer. The apostle Paul, in his first letter to Corinthians, was inspired to give the best of all possible answers, but this is something that we cannot understand unless we feel it.
As one who loved movies, television, radio, and reading, I found any number of examples of people falling in love. Like many I idealized what “real love” would be, based upon different stories. I likely believed I was as smart as the next person when it came to love and I would easily recognize it. That was definitely something I prayed about, that God would put the one person in my life I would bond with forever. Certainly He had with my parents and both sets of grandparents, and I knew from reading Paul’s letter I had to be patient. And God fulfilled that with me.
Now that brings us to the matter of definition. Just what do we mean by the word love. Though an ancient people the Greeks before the time of Christ knew that one definition was not enough. They had four.
Storge – empathy bond
Storge (storgē, Greek: στοργή) is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity, family members or people who relate in familiar. An example is the natural love and affection of a parent for their child
Philia – friend bond
Philia (Greek: φιλία) is the love between friends as close as siblings in strength and duration. The friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities.
Eros – romantic love
Eros (erōs, Greek: ἔρως) was love in the sense of “being in love” or “loving” someone.
Agape – unconditional “God” love
This type of love, for our purposes, is most important.
In the English language “love” can have many meanings. We can love family members and pets, but is that the same as loving our job, a sport, a movie or pizza? An actress friend of mine who began her career in the sixties for 20th Century Fox once told me they had classes for young actors and actresses, teaching them the basics of dealing with their fans. They were warned to avoid using the word “love” when signing autographs as some fans make might take it literally and become stalkers. Obviously most young stars never took that seriously.
Jesus put Peter to the test regarding love with a series of questions.
From John 21:15-17
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me…?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
- 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
- 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
Jesus was not playing with the Greek definitions of love. He wanted Peter and the others to see the depths of real love. Caring for others in this way showed their true love of God.
- We are to love, but we mostly need to understand as John wrote, “God is love.” We need to use the word love carefully. Caring for the sheep. For all people. We are God’s children and have a real responsibility when it comes to the meaning of love.