In most parts of the world February is celebrated as “the month of the heart” or “the month of love.” This is a good time, as any, to learn more about the different faces or facets of “love” and thus practice them faithfully in our lives.
The word “love” has been overused and often abused. People say, “I love flowers, noodles” – or what have you. All they really mean is that they have a fondness or appreciation for such things as they like.
The Greeks have three or four words that express the different aspects or faces of love. Let us take them up one by one, and see what light the Bible – God’s word – can shed on them.
First, we have the Greek word eros. In the Greek pantheon of gods, Eros was the god of love. From eros we derive the word “erotic” – meaning having to do with the sexual act. Some call this “romantic” love.
In His original intent and design God purposed that erotic love should be between a man and his duly married wife. In Genesis 1:27 [NKJV, throughout] we read: “So God created man in His own image: in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Verse 28 continues: “Then God blessed them, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
From this we learn that from the beginning God intended that a man and a woman – in marriage, as we shall see later – reproduce their kind [“mankind”] through the sexual capacity He gave each one to produce offspring – to bear “fruit,” be “fruitful” and “multiply” in numbers.
Genesis 2 details God’s creation of woman after He had created man [Adam]. Verses 19-20 show how Adam was given the task of naming all the other creatures, but none of them was found to be compatible with him. God saw this and said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to [appropriate or fitting for] him” (Verse 18).
Verses 21-22 show how God then created woman out of the man’s rib and presented her to Adam, saying: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Thus God thereby instituted marriage between a man and his wife.
The phrase “one flesh” is explained elsewhere in the Bible as having sexual union or intercourse [see 1 Corinthians 6:15-16]. Genesis 4:1 says: “Adam knew his wife [a reference to having sexual or “erotic” relation], and she conceived [became pregnant with child].” This sexual union, done in love, also binds the couple more strongly to each other.
To protect this God-intended marriage between a man and his wife, God commanded: “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). Thus God prohibits having sexual [erotic] relationship with some other person than one’s spouse. To do so destroys the couple’s relationship and adversely affects their children and family.
Furthermore, God instructs, through the apostle Paul: “The wife does not have authority [KJV, “power”] over her own body, but her husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4). Paul also wrote: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality, that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel [one’s wife] in sanctification [holiness] and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” ( 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
Thus, any manner of sexual activity except that between a husband and his wife is prohibited, not approved of, by God. This includes self-masturbation, adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality (all of the latter four forbidden in Leviticus 18:6-20, 23-24; 20:10-15, 17, 19-21).
Abstention from any sexual or erotic activity outside of marriage may be a formidable challenge. But it is something God can help us with (Matthew 19:3-12). [See: The Rainbow Connection and Does God Require Us to Do the Impossible?]
The next face of love is philia. From this we derive the word “filial love” – love for one’s family. “Phila” is used as a prefix to indicate “love for.” Thus: “Philadelphia” [brotherly love] and “philosophy” [love for wisdom], etc.
Caring for one’s own is a natural drive God placed in man to help preserve oneself and one’s family. The Greeks have another word for this: storge. We see this even in the animal kingdom, as when a mother hen squawks to her chicks to get them to hide under her brood when a hawk flies overhead, or if some other danger threatens. Male lions guard the territory of their family [called “pride”] from invaders, and with the lioness bring in meat for their young ones or cubs.
Even non-Christian people have a natural drive to provide for their own family. That is why it is a shame and reproach for a Christian man, especially a husband or father, to fail to perform this duty. Paul told Christians: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Timothy 5:8).
There is nothing sexual, as such, about philia. However, it has been used in some English words to denote forbidden sex, as in pedophilia [engaging in sexual acts with children, boys or girls] and philandering [having sex with a person other then one’s spouse – adultery]. These acts do not express true, God-ordained love.
The last and noblest face of love is agape. It is the kind of love that God has for mankind – a love given to someone not deserving of it. In a famous Bible verse we read: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Verse 5 continues: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Paul wrote: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates His love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified [made righteous] by His blood, we shall be saved from [God’s] wrath through Him. For if when were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:6-10). And: “[We are] justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [payment for sin] by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith [who believes] in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26).
In return, God expects us to love [agape] Him also. He has made that possible “…because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit [that] was given to us” (Romans 5:5). The gospel writer John [also called “the apostle of love”] wrote: “By this we know that we love [agapeo] the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2-3). Quoting Jesus, John also wrote: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (Verse 21).
We could sing “I love You, Lord” as much as we can, but if we don’t keep Jesus’ commandments, we don’t really love Him! [See: The Law of Christ and The Four Dimensions of Christ’s Love.] True love involves obedience to God’s commandments and laws. The essence of God’s law is love for God and for one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10).
With this knowledge I trust that you will “…increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we [Paul and company] do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.