Four Kinds of Love, One Way of Life

Love mystifies me. I cry at movies and when I read books. I tear up when I see young couples holding hands. My heart skips a beat when I see parents with young children.

Love makes the world go round, launches a thousand ships, and inspires countless poems and song lyrics.

Like water running through our fingers we cannot contain it. Like wind moving past us we cannot hold it. Like breath we cannot live without it.

Some languages have different words to capture the nuances of love. Even with the huge vocabulary at our disposal in English we have just one word for love. Of course we have lots of adjectives and adverbs, but no real substitutes exist for love.

Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Koine Greek it has several different words for love. These words capture some of the nuances involved in loving.

The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) has two primary words for love (ahav, or hesed). These words carry some of the same connotations which we have for love in English, but they also suggest sentiments we associate with kindness and friendship.

The Greek New Testament primarily uses two words (philia, or agape).  Philia suggests a kind of brotherly or friendly love while agape suggests a kind of love shaped by good will or benevolence.

In the wonderful way the Bible captures the full experience of human life, it presents to us four different kinds of love. These different kinds of love stand out in the Scriptures and shape for us ways to be loving.

One kind of love present in scripture is sensual love. The Song of Solomon stands out as an obvious example of sensual love but there are many other allusions in stories like Jacob and Rachel and Boaz and Ruth.

Love has a physicality to it that people often exploit for commercial gain, but there exists nothing inherently wrong with our human desires to express our love for another person in a physical and sensual way.

Love also exists as a friendly love. The friendships of David and Jonathan and Paul and Barnabas stand out here in the Scriptures.

All of us need this friendly kind of love. We cherish the person with whom we can sit down with and share a cup of coffee, or tell a few jokes, or confide a few secrets.

Each of us needs that friendly love that allows a person to tell us we are wrong or selfish and when we hear it, because the person is our friend, we know it is true.

Spiritual love also helps give our life meaning. Deeper and more intimate than any kind of love we share with with friends is the love we share with our spouse, or significant other, and God.

A love like this requires complete transparency and shared experiences. It requires risk and openness. This kind of love means we give to someone else our deepest secrets. Some part of us that we share with no one else we share with our spiritual lover.

Finally, we have self-giving love. Each of these kinds of love grow in commitment requiring more and more of the participants. The highest kind of love is self-giving love.

Lived out by Jesus Christ, made available to us, we are called to live a life where we continually and intentionally place other people first in our lives. Self-giving love remembers, “I am second.”

These four kinds of love excite us, comfort us, ennoble us, and bless us. We can choose to live our lives with many different goals and purposes, but we were meant to love and to be loved.

Living life fully and the best way possible calls for us to love with all our soul, our heart, our mind, and our life. Let us love one another.

Have you been loving lately? Do you have some relationships that need repairing with love?