In all of life, words matter. Our choice of words can mean either we get our message across or our message gets lost in translation.
The Bible uses words from two principal languages, Hebrew and Greek. Both languages have words that can carry different meanings depending on the context. They also have context specific words. So the choice of words and the context used is critical to a proper understanding of the biblical text itself.
In Greek language, there are three words that convey the idea of love; eros, which often depicts an erotic/personal type of love, phileo, which conveys a brotherly/relational type of love, and agape, which is frequently understood as unconditional love/godly love. The first, eros, is not found in the New Testament but was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. I share this to lay the groundwork for a quote from C. S. Lewis. The context of the quote centers on a discussion regarding the words eros and agape.
Both (eros & agape) involve a prizing; Love prizes the beloved so earnestly that it cannot rest without its possession (eros), without experiencing the completion of itself in the other. Love prizes the beloved so highly that it does not withhold any feasible gift or service (agape). Eros yearns for the self’s fulfillment through another; agape yearns for the other’s fulfillment even at a cost to oneself.
We have probably heard people say, “I couldn’t live without them”, or “that person completes me,” or “I am nothing without him/her”. We may have even echoed those sentiments ourselves. But these are love phrases steeped in eros – a love that expresses the very idea of “the completion of itself in another”. Perfectly understandable, since often the ones that are the focus of that love are people we have been spending our life with – our spouse.
Agape love, on the other hand, deflects our needs and focuses on the needs and fulfillment of the other person even, at times, at grave cost to oneself. We cease to look to ourselves or another for completion, and strive to meet the needs of the other person. It’s no longer about us, it’s about them.
The same is true about God’s love for us and our love for God. First, God’s love seeks the very best for us. He seeks not to do us harm or confound our way, but rather desires, even intends, to bless us and guide us, to comfort and encourage us. Second, our love for God wraps itself in a desire to fulfill his will and complete the course of his love, as we love others. We abandon the what’s-in-it-for-me syndrome and seek the how-can-I-glorify-him way of living. Jesus not only fleshed this out but also made it clear to his disciples that the primary way people would know them as Christ-followers is if they loved one another. Putting the other person first was a pivotal way of making that love real.*
The challenge facing me in the New Year is how do I express agape love to my friends, my family, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? How do I move beyond mere motion and shallow words into the sphere of genuine help and encouragement? What will move me to see needs and act upon them not just express words of concern and understanding? Will people know that I am a Christ-follower by my love?
* John 13:34-35