Saturday, August 24, 2013

"The Four Loves"

Steinbach Mennonite Church
25 August 2013
“The Fruit of the Spirit is Love”

I admit to some surprise when I looked over the qualities in the fruit of the Spirit and found that this pre-eminent quality of love still available. All but two had been taken, and “love” was one of them. So I took it! Love is one of the primary qualities that our society admires. We have a variety of ways in which we lift up this one quality of love. “Love makes the world go round,” we say. For many people, the verse from 1 John that says “God is love” is the only part of the Bible they actually believe. We place love at the centre, and so does Paul in his list of the qualities in the fruit of the Spirit. Love comes first because everything else expands what it means and builds on this fundamental quality of love. So let’s talk this morning about love.

“The Four Loves”
Human Loves
You may have heard that where we have one word for love, Greek uses at least four words—storge, philia, eros, and agapé. Let’s look at these quickly.

Eros is the one most people know about. When the Beatles sang “All you need is love”, they meant eros: sexual love. The ancients knew all about eros; they called the goddess behind this love “Venus” (Roman) or Aphrodite (Greek). One of the odd things about our own culture is that we have decided that eros must be the centre and primary glue of marriage. In point of fact, eros is basic to marriage; but a lifelong commitment to another person goes much deeper than the physical love we call “eros”. That takes us into our second word: storge.

Storge means “family love”. The old saying tells us, “Blood is thicker than water.” That is, we stick by our parents and our brothers and sisters and children when we like them and when we don’t, when we like what they do and when we don’t. Storge is a milder creature than eros, but can be more stubborn and continue on when eros fades. At their best both eros and storge help us to build strong families with people for whom we care deeply and who care for us in return. There is a sense in which both of these loves are especially evident to us as strong feelings.

I have heard people say that love is not a feeling, but rather that love is a decision, a choice. These forms of love—sexual love and family love—are probably not what they are thinking of. We experience these as strong feelings in which we care deeply about the one who we love, and we want them to love us in return. You might say that in some sense these are “need-loves”. That is, we want something and we need something from those whom we love.

Eros wants and needs sexual satisfaction. Storge wants and needs to take care of other family members, and to be needed and taken care of by their family members. If a child spurns his/her mother’s love that hurts the mother almost more than anything else we can think of. To be cut off by our family is almost unbearable to us. We love each other, and we need to be loved in return. This brings us to philia.

Philia is friendship love, the love between friends who share interests and ideas and experience a deep bond based on their shared outlook on life. Philia appears in the name of the American city, Philadelphia, whose name means “brotherly love”. The first two words we looked at hardly appear at all in the New Testament. Philia does appear, for example in Hebrews 13:1: “Let brotherly love continue” (KJV), or in the NIV: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” In the church we are bound together by our common commitment to Jesus and by the new life that we have when we are baptised into his death and raised with his new life in us.

In John 15:14 and 15 Jesus addresses his disciples as “my friends”. The Greek word for “friends” is related to this word, philia. The category of friend is one that carries special power in our context today. I remember the speaker from our older son’s graduation ceremony from the SRSS. She emphasized the value of friendship and encouraged the graduates to hold on to their friends from High School, wherever they went in their lives. I think we value friendship partly because we don’t choose our families, but we do choose our friends.

With family love there is great joy and power; but with friendship we step into a new area. Bound together by common ideas and commitments, friends give their love without demanding anything back. We care deeply for our friends, and we are able to face the world better because our friends are there.

When we first came to Steinbach to buy a house, we visited the library. Our younger son Nevin found Luke Janzen in the library as they both were looking at what books and videos were in the section on Star Trek. Two months later we moved into our new house, and Nevin saw Luke across the street! Nevin and Luke discovered that they were in the same grade, on the same street, going to the same church—and were both trekkies! There was an immediate friendship that has been good for both of them down through the years.

So there are three loves: eros, storge, and philia: These three forms of love encompass almost all that books and songs and human experience know about love. But the New Testament uses only the third as part of Christian love, and uses a fourth word almost entirely to describe God’s love, and to describe the Christian love that flows from God’s love. That word is agapé.

We know this word in Steinbach as the name of the centre for abused women in Southeast Manitoba: Agapé House.

Agapé is the Greek word used throughout the New Testament for “love”. Consider:
John 3:16: God loved the world so much—God Agapéd the world so much.
John 13:34: I give you a new command, that you love one another—that you Agapé one another.
Over and over again the Bible talks about love, using this word—not sexual love, not family love, not even friendship love; but Agapé love. What is Agapé?

I observed earlier that a dominant characteristic of sexual love and family love is our own need. We love, because we want receive something in return, and we need what we give. When we sing, “love makes the world go round”, that is part of what we’re thinking of. When the Beatles sang, “The love you take is equal to the love you make,” that’s what they were thinking of.

Now please understand me here. This is not a bad thing. Sexual love has been called “the exchange of mutual felicity”—that is, we give each other joy. That’s good! Family love binds us together powerfully: “blood is thicker than water!” That’s good! Even friendship love, which Jesus used to describe the relationship between him and his disciples, contains this element of mutual exchange, of giving and receiving. We need each other. That’s good!

Because these forms of human earthly love have this element of mutual exchange that binds us together in love, they include a strong aspect of emotion and feeling. We care for each other. We care about each other. Paul describes this kind of caring in Romans 12 with the words: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” When someone I love is hurt, I feel that hurt. We care deeply for each other.

Even God cares in this way through the Incarnation of his Son, Jesus. You remember how Jesus responded to the Jews when they rejected him, recorded at the end of Matthew 23: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” By living on earth as a 1st century Jewish male, Jesus the Son of God knows the forms of love that we know.

So the various forms of love we know on this earth are good gifts, given to us by God. But Agapé love goes a step further. Where eros, storge, and philia are primarily emotions and feelings, Agapé is pure will. The old English word in the KJV for this love is “charity”. This perfect love does not decide what to do based on feelings, but has only one question: “What will make you more like Christ? What will make you into what God wants you to be?” In his perfect love, God does whatever is needed to make us like himself. If we complain that it hurts, God continues to love and to do what we need. If we say that we don’t like what is happening to us, God continues to love us and to do what we need to make us perfect. This is a difficult concept, one that I can hardly grasp; but it is basic to what it means to be a Christian.

When Jesus and Paul and John say that we are to love each other, they use the word Agapé. So they aren’t asking us to feel good about each other, or telling us simply that we should care about what happens to each other. Indeed it is good that we care for each other and like each other, but Agapé goes deeper and further than our feelings. To love each other with God’s love means that we are ready to do whatever is needed for each other to help each other become fully what God wants us to be. That is why Paul describes this kind of love in the verses after the passage on the fruit of the Spirit by saying that it means carrying reach other’s burdens by “restoring those who fall into sin.” God loved us so much that he sent his Son to die for us, and John draws the lesson in 1 John 3: “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

To put it another way, real Christian love, the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, has to do more with how we treat each other than how we feel about each other. To be sure, feelings follow action, and the various kinds of human love all go together. We will indeed care about each other and feel life together. But the crucial piece is that we live lives of love, not just that we feel “loving”.

I like being able to give some specific examples of what I’m talking about. This morning I won’t do that, but I will give you a homework assignment. Stop and think through the way that you treat people around you. How can you and I live in ways that show real Agapé love?

Ken Medema has a song that says, “Don’t tell me that I’ve got a friend in Jesus, without showing me that I’ve got a friend in you.” How do we become truly the family of God? How do we love each other with both human and divine loves, loving each other as family and friends with the very love of God?

These are easy questions to ask, and we can give simple easy answers; but they are really very difficult questions to answer well and to live out the answers that we give.

They generate other questions too: Since Agapé love focusses on the other person (cf Philippians 2), we get the old acronym: Jesus; Others; You—putting Jesus first, others second, and yourself last gives a life of Christian joy. But people sitting here can relate examples of how this formula has become destructive, leading to people whose self-image is so bad that they have hurt their families and themselves by trying to show “Christian love”. How do we avoid this danger, well known in Mennonite circles, as we live lives of Agapé love?

You can think of other questions, and your homework is to try to answer them—in your families, in care groups or talking with your friends, and as you engage in your own private devotions on your own. This particular quality is the foundation, the very centre, of the fruit of the Spirit. Without God’s love at work within us, we can hardly even call ourselves Christians. Remember: The fruit of the Spirit is love!

Scripture Passages
You may have noticed that we did not read a Scripture. That is because I wanted us to hear the Scripture with this conversation about love in mind. So now we read the Scripture. We start with Ed reading 1 John 3: 1-3; 11-18. Then Keith reads 1 John 4: 7-21. I conclude with 1 Corinthians 13.

There are so many other passages we could have chosen, but these three remind us a little bit of what the New Testament says about love: the beginning of God’s Spirit at work in our lives bearing his fruit.

No comments: