The word “love” is tricky, isn’t it? I love my husband. I also love tacos. And I love it when I see God in the details of my life. But really, I don’t love tacos as much as, or even in the same way that, I love my husband. I don’t even love my kids the same way that I love my husband!
Just like some other great ideas – such as democracy, the Olympics and marathons – the Greeks also had a good handle on defining love. They had multiple words for love that helped clearly communicate the emotion or commitment being expressed. Here are some simplified definitions:
Eros – sexual attraction
Phileo – emotional fondness
Agape – unconditional love aimed at fostering growth
Storge – love between family members
So, I can Phileo tacos, but it would be inappropriate to Storge them. I am instructed to Agape my enemy, but I am not required to Phileo them.
When we first met our spouse, we probably experienced Eros. We liked what we saw and our appetites were whetted. That second, third and so on dates likely contributed to the development of Phileo. We were growing more and more fond of this person. Honestly, Eros and Phileo are what drive most of us to the altar. They are a powerful duo that create romantic love. It’s hot, it’s urgent and though it feels good, it makes an unstable foundation for love in marriage.
Sometimes marriage is smooth sailing, but sometimes a healthy marriage requires us to do things that are challenging and most definitely not fun. That’s why God desires Agape to reign supreme in our marriages. Dr. Chris Thurman, author of The Lies Couples Believe, defines Agape as an act of will aimed at fostering a person’s growth. Agape is how God loves us. He chooses to faithfully love us every day and He works everything together for our good – a.k.a. He fosters our growth and maturity. When we choose as an act of our will to positively influence our spouse’s growth, then we Agape our spouse. This contrasts with responding out of our emotion, attempting to control and manipulate or just keeping the peace. Agape means valuing maturity over happiness. Since Agape is a choice that we can renew each day, it can be a solid foundation of love to build on, not blown to and fro by our emotions or circumstances.
How romantic, right? Oh, but it is! When humble Agape is at the center of our marriage relationship, then Eros and Phileo are sure to remain strong as well. When my husband is wisely spurring me on to help someone when it is not convenient or to offer someone forgiveness when the wound is still fresh, then I know he is for me and on my team. When he notices, or encourages, my maturity I feel super close to him. That intimate connection spills over into the bedroom. As strange as it may sound, when he energizes me to trust God more, honestly, it’s a turn on. Look out Eros and Phileo! I once read that Agape is the glue that holds the other loves together and gives us the wisdom and patience needed when the other loves fail us.
There is so much conveyed when we say “I love you.” Which words for love would you use to describe your marriage? Have they changed over the years? What are you doing as an act of your will to promote your spouse’s growth?
P.S. Remember, just like you, your spouse has free will. How they respond to your Spirit led Agape is out of your control. Whether they choose to grow is not in your wheelhouse. Choosing to humbly Agape is what God asks you to do. Leave the results to Him.