When I was a kid my favorite restaurant was McDonald’s. When I saw a t.v. spot for the latest Happy Meal toy, there was nothing doing until I got one. In time I had to decide between the Happy Meal and the Big Mac. All through high school and into college McDonald’s was still my favorite, but during my college years I was introduced to Applebee’s. I had a couple of friends that worked there at different times, and eventually I came to know pretty much everyone at our local restaurant on a first name basis. At a different time in our life, my wife and I ate out just about every night and wound up at Applebee’s even if it was just for desert or to see our friends there. We moved away, grew up a little bit, and now live about 45 minutes away from the nearest one. Ruby Tuesday is now our favorite place to eat out. We save it for special occasions, but their salad bar can’t be beat. I’m a big fan of the bleu cheese crumbles. We love Ruby Tuesday.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and I’m asking the question “Who loves you?” I can say I love Ruby Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean I love any building, food or television program the way I love my wife, my child or God. I love to blog, but there are limits to what I would do for my blog. For my family, I would do anything humanly possible and in desperate times with God’s help perhaps some things that are not. So what’s the difference really?
One problem lies with the English language. The Angle-Saxons were speaking Old English when the Normans arrived speaking French, and the English language has been messed up ever since. (Teaching history is my day job.) We mean different things when using the word love in a sentence. “I love the Atlanta Braves” and “I love you mommy” do not convey the same emotion. The Greek language, which the New Testament was originally written in, had multiple words which we translated as love. The only way to truly understand what the New Testament writers meant is to learn something of the words they were using.
I can love Ruby Tuesday all I want, but it’s never going to love me back. Real love involves a relationship, a love that must be shared. Agape means love, brotherly love, in modern Greek. In ancient Greek, however, it represented a more true love or real love than just attraction. Agape is the word the New Testament uses to describe sacrificial love, in 1 Corinthians and in other places. Eros is a physical attraction or passionate type of love. It is the word from which we get erotic. Philia is more of a friendship type of love. The word does not imply passion, and is used for family, friends or community. It is also used to describe desire for something. Which means I can love (philia) blogging or eating Big Macs, but I do not agape or eros those things. Storge is another Greek word translated love, but it rarely appears in ancient texts. Storge is a type of affection, like that parents feel for children. It could also describe a willingness to put up with something.
French may be the “language of love” but Greek has definite advantage for expressing exactly what we mean. In English we do the best we can by using love to mean several different things. Our culture also tends to say love when what we really mean is lust. Eros was the Greek word for describing passionate feelings, attraction or arousal. Teenage boys may love Meagan Fox, but that relationship will never go past enjoying seeing her on screen. David began his “relationship” with Bathsheba in the same manner. People in our culture date, move in together, and even get married but have nothing more in common that physical attraction to one another. Real love, relational love that is built over time, doesn’t not fade as he goes bald or she gets fat.
God is an infinite being that surpasses our level of understanding in every way. The aspects of his personality are described in the Bible in terms we can grasp, often in the language of metaphor and analogy. God loves the way a parent loves a child. God loves the way your friends do, and also as a brother or sister. Agape love describes God’s sacrificial love, in that he gave his only Son to die for us. Yet in another sense, no language is sufficient to describe God’s love. His goodness and mercy surpasses our understanding in every language.
Marriage is an allegory for the love Christ has for the church. It is the last relationship we have today the resembles a covenant. Paul explains that two individuals become one flesh, but also that Christ and the church is somewhat of a mystery. God uses the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament to demonstrate the way he loves us. Hosea married a prostitute, Gomer. She violate the sanctity of their marriage relationship, a covenant relationship, as she continued to prostitute herself. But Hosea accepted her again and again, the way God takes us back now matter how many times we turn away. The analogy of God’s love is potent, but no amount of words or demonstrations can ever really do God’s love justice. God loves in a way that we cannot understand.
Hopefully you were loved by your parents, but in many cases that’s not the case. Over half of marriages end in divorce, even among Christians. God loves his children, all of them, in a way that we cannot express or imagine. Who loves you? Hopefully your parents, spouse and children. But I can say this with certainty: God loves you. That’s more than a slogan, bumper sticker or church sign. It’s the Gospel.