October 22, 1991
The English language is a puzzle to those with a different heritage. We use “hot” and “cool” to describe the same thing. “Bark” can be a dog’s sound or the covering on a tree and many words that sound the same are spelled differently: rough and ruff, been and bean, profit and prophet.
Another confusing word is “love.” We “love” our kids, our car, our silk pyjamas, strawberry pie, and the latest hit song. This one word covers a multitude of feelings and desires. However, the Greek language is far more precise; it has several words for love. For example:
EROS, the root word of erotic, is the passion a person can feel towards the opposite sex. It can be one-way or two way, and easily becomes lust where one person uses the other person for selfish reasons.
PHILEO is the affection shared between friends. It is wanting the best for the other person, but to keep it alive, both must work at it.
AGAPEO: When the love of God was recognized as none of the above, this new word was coined to describe it. It is a love not governed by feelings nor does it depend on the responses of the loved person. It is an unconditional love, a commitment to do what is righteous toward the other, whether or not they deserve it. It is a love that cannot be faked nor does it exploit.
Knowing these differences is vital to a strong marriage. It is common for a couple to think that warm feelings mean love. Then, when the feelings (eros) fade, so has “love” fade or gone. They are shocked because they never thought this would ever happen to them because their “love” was so strong.
This loss of “love” is cause for many a divorce, yet it does not have to happen. The Greek definitions of love can clarify what is going on. Not only that, careful attention to what the Bible says about love can help couples restore those important feelings and keep their marriage alive.
First of all, the Bible says demonstrating love is equal to obeying God. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” and “...whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him...
These actions of obedience can be done with or without any feelings of affection whatsoever. When God says, “Be kind,” we can behave in a kind way, with the help of His Spirit, even if we feel no affection or passion at all.
Yet God does not call His people to a life of doing right and never feeling like it; that would be terrible. Instead, the One who created us built in us a strange capacity for manufacturing feelings. I first noticed it in our children. When they were small, there were days they didn’t really feel too loving toward their parents. However, if I encouraged them to do some sort of positive action for their dad or me, as soon as they did it, their negative feelings were replaced by affection. It worked every time.
It works between couples too. When the fire of eros grows dim and the affections of phileo grows shaky, then the positive actions of agape will bring back the passion into a marriage relationship.
It works best when both decide they will give of themselves (as required by agape), not hold back until the other person gives. Also, the doing must be with a reliance on God, not out of a sense of “duty.” But because this is the love of God, it will outlast all emotional ups and downs and weather the trials faced in all marriages, even the worst of them.
So, if the language of love has confused you, learn a little Greek. Learn the difference between “I eros you...” and “I agape you...” Then decide to DO the deeds of agape, God’s love. Through it, He wants to heal heartaches and rekindle the fire for couples who think it has gone out.
(A 2015 update: I’ve learned that sometimes these Greek words are used interchangeably in the Bible. The most reliable way to define what they mean is by their context. This does not change the basic truth in the above article. Love can be hormones, but it is supposed to be a commitment to put others first and rely on God to do it!)