“I love you.” When you hear that, what comes to your mind? When you say it, what do you mean?
In a few days we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day, the annual event dedicated to love. (In the case of retailers, it’s the love of money – the result of increased sales of flowers, candies, jewelry, and anything else someone can think of that represents their affection for another.) We see commercials with the Valentine’s theme, and the Hallmark channels use it as an excuse for more of what they do – show movies about schmaltzy, sentimental love.
However, thanks to the multi-tasking nature of the English language, when someone says, “I love you,” we almost need to ask, “What do you mean by that?”
Because expressions of love can mean just about anything. We can love our dog, our car, our job, our favorite TV show, a warm, sunny day, or our favorite sports team. Each use of love carries very different meaning. We can love our spouse (or significant other), and love our children – our love can be just as intense, but it doesn’t mean the same and the way we demonstrate it is different. And love for God has a meaning all its own.
We read a lot about love in the Bible, but the ancient Greeks had numerous words for love that covered a broad range of meaning. “Philia” refers to affectionate regard, or friendship. The city of Philadelphia got its name from this word. “Storge” refers to affection, particularly between parents and children. “Eros” was the word for sexual passion; we get the word “erotic” from this. But most commonly used is “agape,” which typically refers to selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love.
The latter usage is the focus of 1 Corinthians 13, that favored passage often inserted into marriage ceremonies, sometimes with serious intent and other times to confer a sanctified tone. But it says:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
After declaring that, “Love never fails,” this passage concludes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:4-13).
We often hear the phrase, “What the world needs now is love.” And so it does. But what it – and we – need is not the warm, fuzzy, mushy kind of love, but the kind described above, that intentionally and determinedly puts others first, setting personal agendas aside.
As for Valentine’s Day, which is the best kind of love to have? Friendship, affection, sexual passion, or sacrificial, unconditional love? How about all of them? They’re all important, invaluable parts of the whole, one being incomplete without all of the others. Sealed with love for God and His love for us, they cannot be conquered.
After all, as John 3:16 emphatically declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Imagine divine love so deep, and so wide, that even the outstretched arms and hands of Jesus Christ – on a crude, cruel cross on a desolate hillside in Jerusalem – couldn’t begin to contain its measure!