Bollywood movies have a cliche line that goes: “Pyar ka Doosra Naam Qurbani Hai,” meaning, “Another name for Love is Sacrifice.” How true!
The New Testament portion of the Bible was written in Greek. From the Christian perspective, in Greek, there are at least four words for the word love. Each has a distinct meaning. Let’s look at each of them.
- Philia (fil+ya): This is the love friends have for each other. You may be friendly with many people, but you can probably count on only a few who will actively come to your aid, should you ever be in deep trouble. Why? Because they are the ones who love you. That emotion or bond towards you is called philia. As they say, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” The others are simply acquaintances that are friendly, and probably well-meaning too. By all means, treat them well, for some of your acquaintances of today could become your best buddies tomorrow!
Drawback: Camaraderie between friends can sometimes cross rational limits. When that happens, the person could begin ignoring their duty and sense of belonging towards their family members. Such people tend to hang out more with friends and may even detest the company of their family.
- Eros (ee+row+s): Although this is basically a romantic or sexual love, in the context of Christian values, it is the love that a husband and his lawfully wedded wife have for each other. Contrary to the entertainment industry’s portrayal of eros, this type of love is not what engaged couples have for each other. Also, an emotional or sexual attraction between individuals of the same sex in the context of Christian values is not eros, simply because the Bible does not permit such a relationship. It must be between a husband and his wife.
Over a period of time, a healthily married couple would usually come to love each other emotionally, in addition to romantically and sexually. They are likely to care deeply for each other, and thus their own selves too (or at least, they ought to). At this stage, you can say, their eros graduates to what is called pragma, or mature love between long-married couples. Simply having sex with or sexual attraction towards a person of the opposite gender does not constitute a Godly kind of eros.
Drawback: Erotic love other than towards your lawfully wedded spouse of the opposite sex can lead to health and morality problems. So it’s not an ideal type of love – just one type of love to be given and received within limits.
- Storge (storr+gay): This is a big one – the one that comes with a lot of sentiments attached. Often, rightly so. The love that parents have for their children (not the other way around) is called storge. Parents, especially mothers, often say that there just isn’t any kind of love that is superior to or even equal to their love for their kids.
Parents will usually go to great lengths to protect their children and fulfill their every need (within reasonable limits) as best as they can. Jesus Christ says in Matthew 6:32, “…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Do babies and infants not depend on their parents to have their every need fulfilled? They don’t even know what most of their needs are, yet their parents do and make sure these are met. Even growing children and adolescents depend on their parents for their food, shelter, clothing (accessories included!), school fees, toys, sports gear…and the reassuring hug. Note that storge is basically familial love, and is not restricted to parental love, but could extend to other family members.
Drawback: Parents can sometimes become so overbearing on their children that the children may never develop the confidence to take on the world alone. At some other times, they may spoil their kids for choice, leading to the child eventually becoming self-centered, rather than service-centered. It becomes a case of “Well, the storge just backfired.” And not only that, parents too are subject to emotional ups and downs. They may not always be at their kids’ beck and call, even if they want to.
- Agape (uh+gaa+pee): From the Christian perspective, all the above kinds of love have one drawback or another. Do you know why? Because such love is initiated by a human being. And by nature, we humans are not perfect in our own right. So what is the kind of love that is perfect…that is not given on merit and that cannot be over-given? It is God’s love for his earthly Creation, especially towards mankind. It is the ultimate form of sacrificial love. God knew that man has sinned against him, yet he chose his Son Jesus to incarnate and die on our behalf, because he had compassion on us, knowing that we could not bear the penalty of our own sins or pay the price for our forgiveness. To seal the deal, he raised Jesus from the dead, giving eternal life to all who believe in him.
Drawback: Drawback? Well, there’s only one – the beneficiary of agape may not reciprocate. But when it comes to God’s love, he loves us with what Charles Finney, that great revival specialist, calls ‘disinterested benevolence‘. God does not love us because he wants it back from us, but because he wants us to be happy. It is superior to parental love in that God is perfect, while human parents are not. And therefore, even though God did not need to, he put into motion the great (yet simple) plan for our salvation.
Learn more about what God’s plan for our salvation is.