Our culture will celebrate love tomorrow. Mostly, it will focus on a form of love the Greeks called eros. It is the source of our English word erotica. It is not a word found in the Greek New Testament (GNT).
Yet, two other Greek words for love are found. One is phileo or friendship love and is the root for the motto of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. The other is agape or unconditional love. This unique biblical word was reserved for the special type of love early believers discovered in God as a reflection of their experience of Jesus Christ.
When we talk about love in the community of the church, we are mainly talking about agape, which occurs more than 150 times in the GNT, while phileo is found barely 20 times.
Agape love is what we claim about God, giving us a very simple equation and the most basic of all logical problems: If God is eternal and God is love, then agape love is also eternal.
This love cannot be destroyed any more than you can destroy God. It transcends all conditions and all threats. It was in the universe before we arrived. It is woven into each molecule and spans the spaces between. If we share an eternity with God, we share in love’s permanent story. Every corpuscle and breath in our bodies is bathed in love. We are alive because of love’s dependable embrace.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day for Christians is not, then, just for lovers. It’s for everybody. We can applaud the blushing love of infatuation, honor the rewarding love of committed couples while also acknowledging how love persists for those flying solo and can be renewed for those bruised and battered by love’s loss through separation, divorce or death.
In other words, eros and phileo are mere dim reflections of this greater love and are made better when joined with their true source.
Remember that our model of love’s greatest expression belongs to a man whose status was classified as single. For all friends and lovers, his standard of unconditional acceptance and service inspires a deeper and more fulfilling experience of love.
Love is the perfect antidote to knock off winter’s chill. So let’s not limit it or draw cultural boundaries around whom it includes. Love is from God, and it is for everybody.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.