There are three Greek words used to express the issue of love. In the English, we have one word, ‘love.’ The Greeks saw a distinction though between the manners in which we express love and therefore, used three different words to distinguish these expressions. The expressions are found between a mother and her newborn child. It is an incredible picture. It is the Greeks who saw the miracle of birth a mystery in its truest sense. It is for that reason, Greek sculptures during its early rise as a powerful community clothed woman, representing the mystery of a woman and the miracle of birth. (It is unfortunate that today, the miracle of birth in some circles are not seen in this manner. That though is a post for another time in the near future. Stay tuned.)
As the Greeks studied this bond of love between a mother and her newborn child, they saw two separate forms of love being displayed: A certain type of love from the mother to her newborn and the love from her newborn to its mother. It is in this intimate picture, the bond between a newborn and its mother; we begin our study on love.
The first term in the Greek we will briefly look at is the term ‘eron.’ Eron is a love that is from a newborn given to its mother, even from its first moments of life outside of its mother’s womb. The Greeks saw that the child loved its mother in a very selfish manner. The child was so needy of its mother. The child could do nothing in its own ability but looked to its mother to change its diaper, feed it, burp it, walk it, and rock it to sleep. The newborn does not care if the mother just spent 15 + hours pushing and sweating to give birth to it. It also does not care if the mother is sleeping or busy with other things; the newborn will cry until whatever is needed is done and the newborn is content in its situation. Eron is a ‘one way love’ that is expressed in this manner. For a newborn, this type of love is acceptable and understood. The mother receives this love from her baby joyously. The problem comes when a 150 lb ‘newborn’ comes home from college and acts out this one way love towards its mother. The problem comes when a 150 lb ‘newborn’ comes home from work and acts out this one way love towards his wife or towards her husband. If a 150 lb ‘newborn’ child, husband, or wife comes home and acts out in this manner (feed me, burp me, rock me, sing to me, do my laundry, or change my diaper), this 150 lb baby does not need a wife or a husband. It needs a mother – so send him or her to their mother and explain to his or her mother their ‘newborn’ needs. If it is your 150 lb child, tell him or her to take off their diaper, learn to potty train, put on some ‘big boy’ underwear, and figure it out on their own. No one needs a 150 lb ‘newborn’ acting in this manner of love. It is time to grow up and move on.
Unfortunately, the term eron has lost its meaning in the Western culture to mean an erotic or physical love expressed in some form of sexual activity or event. It is a shame such an amazing word has a new connotation that, in the very sense, mistranslates its intended and true meaning.
Agape is the next term of love we will look at. It comes from the same situation (a mother and her newborn baby). It will surprise some of you to learn that agape does not mean God’s love. It simply means love. As the Greeks looked at a mother and her newborn child, they saw the love of the child towards its mother (eron) and saw the love given to the child from its mother (agape). This is in fact where the word originates in the Greek. Agape is the unconditional love expressed to a child from a mother. It is what makes this bond between a mother and her child so special and unique. The mother will do anything for the child because the mother loves it. She will look out for its welfare and will protect it at any cost. Again, we are talking about the ancient Greek culture here. (Today, 48 million ‘would-be-born’ babies will never receive agape from a mother or express eron to its mother. What a sad situation.) The mother would express this kind of love, expecting nothing in return. This is amazing love.
Now I wrote in the above paragraph that agape does not mean God’s love. It simply means love – a one way unconditional love expressed from a mother to her child.’ The reason many pastors and teachers of the Bible teach agape as God’s love is because God is the ultimate expression of this unconditional love to us. God demonstrates His agape, that even when we were sinners, He died for us. It was unconditional. No price of His agape can be matched or repaid. It is a radical agape given by Christ to us – and it never runs dry. In this manner, we are given the ability to surrender our lives to Christ and agape Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is a positive and appropriate response and desire for us to agape God. It should be unconditional, cost us everything, and be willing to maintain its honesty and integrity.
The Word of God tells us, “We cannot agape God and agape the world.” We must be single-minded in our agape towards God. The Word of God tells us, “We cannot agape God and ‘mammon’ – money.” Because God’s agape is priceless, our response should be the same; anything less than this is idolatry, which ultimately breaks the first of the Ten Commandments.
It is agape love we should show to a wife or a husband; a one way unconditional love – expecting nothing in return – no matter what the situation or circumstance. Unfortunately, we again could say much of this issue in the Western culture and the continual climb of divorce rates both in the secular society and the Church universal. How sad it is when a newly married couple is suddenly divorced within three years. How sad it is that 56 percent of marriages that will happen this year will end up in divorce – this is the church I am talking about. How sad.
As a relationship either between a married couple and two friends mature throughout the years, the third and final word for love is expressed. The word is of course is ‘philo.’ As a couple or a friendship grows, each person is able to express philo towards the other (this is not a sexual expression rather a genuine expression of appreciation and friendship).
My parents have been married now for 43 years. To me, that is a lifetime. To them, it is only the beginning of their relationship. Each day, they fall in love all over again, finding each other more attractive now than when they first met. They are ‘best friends.’ They know one another so well; they are connected by a special bond of philo that they show to each other in their marriage. Philo is the only word for love that is a ‘two-way love.’ It is a love that is received and given. Philo expects to be received and given. It is a choice to philo another person. It is a positive choice we make with certain individuals either in our marriage or among our friends.
So there you have it. Three terms used to describe love. Each has its intended meaning and its powerful testimony. Take some time and consider these terms and how they fit your life. I promise you it will change the way in which you say, ‘I love you.’ God bless.
(Side note: There is another love we did not look at tonight. The term is storgae (store – gay). It refers to situations in which we say something like, ‘I love the mall’ or I love McDonalds.’ We ultimately do not ‘love’ these things but we interchange our English word for love in almost everything. It would be more correct to say, “I really like (storgae) English muffins.” – Anyway. Because its intended meaning is not love but rather a term used to define something we ‘really like,’ I excluded it from this study – even though now you have it for your personal notes.)
So what is the challenge? Our challenge is to learn how to love. It is a task we have all been called to live. Loving God and loving others is what God has called us to. So, everyday, consider loving those around you. It will make your day worth living and possibly be a blessing to others.