Agape: The Perfect Love
How many different types of love exist? Just one? Three? A dozen? The ancient Greeks specified four principal classes of love: storge, philia, eros, and agape. So what’s the difference? Storge, philia, and eros are all imperfect loves vulnerable to sinful pitfalls and can only be redeemed by agape love.
Storge can be described as the basic affection and fondness relations feel for one another. Established in familial love, storge is exemplified when a mother cherishes her child or when a husband protects his wife. According to C. S. Lewis, storge is “the humblest” and “the least discriminating of loves.” Lewis posits that storge is comprised of both Gift-Love and Need-Love. Storge that has not been redeemed by agape love is susceptible to jealousy, pride, possessiveness, and the insatiable compulsion to give.
Philia, or, friendship love, is a natural love that enables its participators to enjoy companionship and camaraderie. Also termed, “appreciative love,” philia treats others as free equals. It is a type of brotherly love, characterized by benevolence and kindheartedness. The friendship of David and Jonathon in 1 Samuel offers a powerful scriptural example of philia. As Christians, we are exhorted to love our brothers and sisters in Christ: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (NKJV, Romans 12:10). One of the chief downfalls of unredeemed philia is its propensity to exclude others.
Eros is best described as physical, sensual love. Eros is distinct from, but not exclusive from sexuality, hence its other facets include romance and intimacy. In Greek mythology, Eros functions as the god of love and epitome of passion, the Greek equivalent of Cupid. Plato perceived eros to represent a yearning for wholeness or completeness. The value of eros should not be overlooked, as it is an integral part of a God honoring marriage (Ephesians 5:31-32). However, the unrestrained pursuit of eros can lead to evils such as adultery, betrayal, and immoral sexual gratification.
Agape, or, selfless love, is the perfect love God demonstrated for us when he sent us His Son (John 3:16). Compassionate and unconditional, agape is the highest type of love, always seeking the beloved’s best interests. There are no potential disadvantages of agape; it alone has the transformative power to redeem distorted storge, philia, and eros. God first exhibited agape love for man: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NKJV, Romans 5:8). As Christians, we are commanded to show agape love to our fellow men: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (NKJV, John 13:34-35).
Ask yourself “What areas of my life need to be transformed by agape love?” If you’d like a more in depth study of how agape redeems distorted storge, philia, and eros, check out C. S. Lewis’ The Four Loves.