The Four Kinds of Love

Girl in snow warming hands with breath

by Amy Green / Photo by Erin Drago

“Buy a Crush for your crush!” A smiling student raised an orange soda can in the air behind the fundraiser booth. The deal was you paid a few dollars, wrote a message (signed or unsigned), and on Valentine’s Day, a can of Crush would be delivered to your crush in his or her homeroom.

Cue the drama fest. One girl sent a can to herself to make her boyfriend jealous. Another guy received three anonymous cans. Some girls were crying in the bathroom because no one sent them anything. Others analyzed the handwriting to the point of distraction.

Clearly, my classmates were confused about real love and how to celebrate it—and they weren’t alone. If you look around today at songs, movies, advice columns and internet headlines, you’ll notice that most people still have a fuzzy picture of what love is supposed to look like.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered some help from a well-known author and theologian: C. S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series. His book The Four Loves looks at the four Greek words for love used in the New Testament. Let’s tag along with him to see what we can learn.

The first love: storge

The closest English word for this one is affection, a warm, instinctive love we feel toward family members. No one had to tell your mom to feed you and kiss your boo-boos. She did it because you’re her daughter and she loves you.

Lewis says this love is “solid and durable.” It’s based not on what you do, but on who you are.

The second love: phileo

The next love Lewis wrote about is phileo, the word for friendship.

In a world with social media, it can be hard to tell whom you can even call a friend. That guy you met at camp but know nothing about? Your teammates or the cast of the play you’re in? Only your closest childhood friend who knows all of your secrets?

According to Lewis, friends share something in common. It could be as simple as a hobby or as deep as something important like your faith. Good friends are:
• Kind (Ephesians 4:32)
• Wise (Proverbs 13:20)
• Trustworthy (Proverbs 11:13)
• Encouraging (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
• Willing to help each other grow and change (Proverbs 27:17)

The third love: eros

This is what many people think of when you say love: romance and kisses and wedding bells.

Listen, God designed attraction between men and women. He created the picture of two becoming one through marriage. He created sexual intimacy and love for life. It’s all good and beautiful.

But this kind of love has often been messed up because of sin. One way we get eros wrong today is when we think romance will satisfy our every need, just like in the movies. Guy meets girl; they fall in love and “complete” each other, right? Nope. Not going to happen.

So many of my friends in high school hoped that having a boyfriend would make them feel valuable or give them purpose. But God didn’t design romantic love to define us like that.

The problem

In fact, Lewis says God created loving relationships to be wonderful and life-giving, but they aren’t enough by themselves. Affection can be broken. Friendships can be shallow. Romance can be obsessive. You might even relate to that.

Maybe you come from a family where trust has been broken.

Maybe you’ve been hurt by a guy.

I’ve been there.

Back to Valentine’s Day my junior year of high school. That was a hard year: My two longtime best friends moved away. My church family faced a sharp division. And my crush dramatically presented a dozen roses . . . to someone else.

What I learned was that God created those first three loves for us to enjoy and offer to others. But there’s only one type of love we can depend on.

The fourth love: agape

Agape is the word for God’s promise-love, the unchanging, unconditional faithfulness He shows us. It is the most genuine of all loves.

King David wrote Psalm 63 in the wilderness after getting kicked off the throne. All three other types of love had failed him. His son (storge) led a rebellion against him. Many of his friends (phileo) abandoned him. And the whole mess started because of his affair (eros) with Bathsheba.

Yet here’s what he said to God: “Your steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3). Apparently David knew he could count on God’s agape love.

Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There can be no greater act of love than Jesus sacrificing himself for us. Instead of turning us away, He brings us into His family. Instead of rejecting us as enemies, He calls us His friends. And instead of leaving us lonely, He is like a groom bursting with joy to be with us, His bride.

And that kind of love can fill our every need. It equips us to love others well. And it’s worth celebrating this Valentine’s Day—no matter who buys you a can of soda.

Amy Green often celebrates Valentine’s Day with a special party for her youth- group girls. She lives and writes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2020 issue of Brio Magazine.

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