There is a beautiful word that has been stripped of its meaning. It is the word love. The term is used widely, and loosely. People say, “I love maple syrup.” “I love cherry pie.” “I love my dog.” “I love the Steelers.” “I love my wife.” One term will fit all.
The force of the word love has been diminished in the Church by ministers who preach meaningless sermons about this noble facet of the soul in a sloppy and sentimental way. The American novelist, Upton Sinclair published a novel, Elmer Gantry, in 1926, exposing this reality in American culture.
Lewis introduces his character by saying, “Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.” He was also a preacher. With an eloquent tongue and a charismatic personality, Gantry woes women, and overwhelms audiences as he speaks of love. “Love is the morning and evening star. It shines on the cradle of the Babe. Hear ye, sinners. Love is the inspiration of poets and philosophers. Love is the voice of music. I’m talkin’ about divine love – not carnal love.”
The Bible does not treat the word love casually. The Greek language distinguishes four types of love.
There is the love of storge. This is an affectionate, familial love. It is the feeling a person has for their parents, a sibling, or a child. C. S. Lewis describes it as “the humblest and most widely diffused of loves.” It can be felt by all because it is something as natural as falling asleep.
There is the love of philia. Philia is reciprocal love. The feeling of this philia love is experienced when a friendship is formed. Lewis describes philia as the “crown of life” because it brings great pleasure, and lesser pain when it is terminated.
There is the love of eros (Gk. desire). Erotic love is passionate, and rapturous. It is euphoric, demanding, and explosive. Songs are sung about eros. Sammy Fain recorded the song “Love is a Many Splendored Thing”, written by Paul Francis Webster.
“Love is a many-splendored thing,
It’s the April rose, that only grows, in the early spring,
Love is nature’s way of giving, a reason to be living,
The golden crown, that makes a man a king.
Lost on a high and windy hill,
In the morning mist, two lovers kissed, and the world stood still,
When our fingers touch, my silent heart has taught us how to sing,
Yes, true love’s, a many-splendored thing.”
Poems are written to celebrate the virtue of eros love. Elizabeth Barrett Browing (1806 – 1861) wrote about love.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
“There is no art without Eros” (Max Frisch, 1911 – 1991). Wars have been fought over the feeling that eros invokes. Unfortunately, eros has been exploited and perverted so that it is more associated with pornography and erotic literature than its proper place in the human psyche. God would have His creation be passionate, within divinely ordained boundaries. God would have men and women “generate the magnetic power of eros through sensual, mental, and spiritual delight” (John Friend b. 1959).
There is the love of agape. This love reflects the essence of God, for “God is love [agape]” (1 John 4:8; 4:16). Agape love can be known by the action it promotes, regardless of feeling. God so loved (agape) the world that He gave His Son. Christ so loved (agape) His sheep, He gave His life for them. Jesus did not want to die. “And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). His feeling of agony in facing the cross was so intense, “He prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
It is agape love that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13, and which Christians are to model in order to reflect the love of God.
When we study the love of God, care must be taken not to read into Scripture what is not there because we have been conditioned by our secular culture to think of love in a romantic or sentimental way.
For example, more than one minister, with a man centered theology has argued against the Biblical doctrine of election by stating with great emotion, “If I had five children, I could not love three of them, and not the other two.” The implication is that the biblical doctrine of election cannot be based on the idea that God has chosen to salvation souls to be saved.
Reduction theology is emotional, it is sentimental, and it is Biblically indefensible, for it does not even consider that not every person who is born, is a child of God. Some are of their father the devil, and the lust of their father they will do (John 8:44). ““But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1;12). God does love all of His children, but who are His children? Those whom He has chosen “to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).
The love of God is rooted in reason. Agape love is a rational love. It can be no less, for God is love, and God is rational.