Six Kinds of Love

Do you love God the same way you love your new shoes? Do you love your cat the same way you love your spouse? Can you love your child in the same way that you love a movie? Why is it that we use the same word, love, to describe the different ways we feel about so many different things?

C. S. Lewis, the famous Christian philosopher, wrote a book exploring four different kinds of love described in the Greek language: eros, storge, philia, and agape. Briefly, these four loves can be understood in the following ways:

Eros: This is the Greek name of the Roman god Cupid who is often depicted as a winged baby, armed with bow and arrow, on Valentine’s Day cards. It is a love bond between a man and woman that is often described sexually. The English term erotic is based on this word.

Storge: This is an affectionate love, such as the love of parents for children. It’s a “mama bear” kind of love that moves us to protect our homes.

Philia: This is often called “brotherly love,” and it is the word that forms the base of Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love.” We use this word to describe relationships with those with whom we share common spaces, such as family, neighbors, and friends.

Agape: This is the word used to describe how God loves us. In John 3:16, when we read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son,” this is the word that is used. It refers to a general, universal love of humanity. When the Bible says that “God is love,” it actually reads, “God is agape.”

However, there are a couple of other words that Greeks use that could be translated as love. I am going to add them to Lewis’s list:

Philautia: This word literally means “self-love.” It is a combination of philia (neighborly love) and auto (self).

Xenia: This word refers to a ritualized friendship that can best be understood by our word hospitality. For the ancient Greeks, it was a moral imperative to show kindness to aliens and strangers. This is the type of love you might show to a person from another country who is visiting your hometown.

One way to think about these six different types of love is to arrange them in within concentric circles, placing yourself in the middle.

Only God can truly love us with agape love, for this defines his character. As we think about our own limitations in loving, we can see how these concentric circles make it impossible for us to love all people in the same way. For example, you cannot engage in erotic love with your entire neighborhood, and you cannot fight for a foreigner’s home with the same emotional intensity with which you would fight for the home where your children sleep.

Jesus said that all the commandments of God can be summed up in two statements: Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. In these two statements, we find that there are three people God requires us to love: God, others, and ourselves.

We cannot love our neighbors as ourselves if we do not love ourselves. Our love for others depends upon our love for ourselves. If we do not see ourselves as valuable, then we will not see others as valuable. This is not to say that we should be selfish or self-centered, but there must be a foundation upon which we can comprehend love. How can we see our neighbors as deserving of love if we do not first comprehend our own need for love?

You may say that God is the foundation of our love, and technically, you would be correct. However, as the Apostle John asks, “If you cannot love your neighbor, whom you can see, then how can you love God, whom you cannot see?” (1 John 4:20). We can also ask, how can you love God if you cannot love the person you see in the mirror every day?

We often hear of the importance of showing love for all humanity, but this is easier to say than it is to do. Practically speaking, what does it mean to “love humanity?” How can you demonstrate love for an orphan in Ukraine, a widow in Tibet, or an enemy combatant in Gaza? In any case, even if you could offer yourself as a loving sacrifice for the entire world, consider what Jesus asks us: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the entire world, but he loses his soul?” (Mark 8:36). You cannot love the world enough to satisfy its desire for love, for humanity’s desire for love can be satisfied only by God.

With this knowledge, we understand that we — being in the world — also require satisfaction from God’s love, for other people will never be able to satisfy our hunger for love. Our desire for love, acceptance, and value cannot be found in approval from our neighbors. It can only be experienced in the eyes of God.

But how much does God love you?

Consider this: If you had a dollar, you might be willing to exchange that dollar for a cheeseburger. If you gave away the dollar to receive a meal, then you would demonstrate that you valued the food more than you valued the dollar. You would be saying, “I want this cheeseburger more than I want this dollar.”

What, then, has God given in exchange for your soul? The Apostles remind us of this by writing that we were bought with a price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). God traded the blood of Jesus for your soul. This should tell us something about what God is willing to exchange to possess us. It tells us how much value we have in his eyes.

If God sees you as valuable, then you have a foundation of love upon which to love both yourself and your neighbor. If you love yourself as God loves you, then you can also love your neighbor as you love yourself. This is why our love for God must come first. If we do not first receive God’s love, then we have no way to comprehend how to love either ourselves or our neighbors.

If you want to love others as God wants you to love, you must first learn to love yourself as God loves you. You must express that love in the appropriate context into which God has situated you. You cannot be a spouse to your neighbor, and you cannot be a parent to children who live on the other side of the world. Only God can love us all individually and intimately. We can’t possibly love people we don’t know in the same ways that we love people we do know.

God is demonstrating his love to your wife by placing you in a relationship with her. God is demonstrating love to your children by giving you to be their mother. God is demonstrating love to your neighbors by placing your home next door to theirs. God is loving your community by opening a door for you to serve on a committee. God is showing love to a stranger by booking them in a seat next to yours on your next flight. God is showing love to the world by allowing you to spend the years of your earthly life sharing the planet with the rest of humanity.

To honor God’s commandments to love him and to love your neighbor, make these commitments:

  1. I will choose to see myself as valuable in God’s eyes.
  2. I will honor my spouse above all other persons in the world.
  3. I will commit myself to care for my household.
  4. I will live at peace with my neighbors.
  5. I will show courtesy and respect to people who live outside my community.
  6. I will recognize the value of every human being in the eyes of God.
  7. I will demonstrate my love for my heavenly father by loving his son, Jesus, and by loving all in the family of God.

[Do you need help learning how to love others? Have you learned how to love yourself? Click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor].

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