In “The Four Loves,” scholar, author and renowned Christian apologist C.S. Lewis talks of the four words for love in the Greek language. During this year’s Super Bowl, New York Life, an insurance company borrowed that idea and gave a pretty good explanation of the four loves.
The commercial begins “the ancient Greeks had four words for love” and then goes onto explain:
Philia: the type of love among friends.
Storge: which refers to familial love.
Eros: Romantic love.
Agape: Agape love is meant to talk of an enduring love which exists regardless of circumstances. It’s a selfless love. It’s charity. It’s altruism. It’s love where it doesn’t necessarily benefit you.
Of agape, the commercial says: “Love as an action. It takes courage, sacrifice, strength.”
Now, it is still a commercial that’s trying to sell insurance.
But it is still interesting that the commercial decided to tackle the nuances of different words for love in Greek. Love is so transcendent that the Greeks had four words to describe different types of love. In our culture, we’ve so deadened the idea of love that we co-opt the meaning of love and allow other ideas, which are not love, to be called love. We look at things we like (but don’t love) and say we love them. We cheapen love when we say things like “I love pizza,” or “I loved that new movie.”
We simply like those things.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is just about a feeling. The idea of agape love has nothing to do with how we feeling about something or someone. With agape love, you can be loving to someone even in times when they’re unlovable.
It’s the type of love that God has for humanity. That we’re sinful, we reject him, we want to glorify ourselves and goodness and creativity. Yet, God loves his people anyway. It’s a love that’s not superficial of sentimental.
One thing that I did like about the commercial’s description of love at the end was that it takes action. Love is not an abstract philosophical concept. It’s not something we just think about. It’s not only a matter of verbalizing “I love this” or “I love that person.” Love is something that we demonstrate.
Love is shown by action and it costs us something. That’s true in our families where we are to support each other. It’s true in the relationship between a parent and a child where they’re called to put the welfare of the child ahead of their own. Merely saying it is not enough. It must be shown.
The ultimate example of love is Jesus. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It’s the ultimate example of love because it’s the ultimate example of those who were unworthy of love being loved anyway. God shows his love. We see it on the cross. And we are to show our love for God by living for him.
I’m a huge fan of C.S. Lewis. For another piece I’ve written on his classic “the Problem of Pain,” click the link!
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Josh Benner is the pastor of Christian Bible Church in Cissna Park, Illinois. He has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He has an awesome wife named Kari.