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Love:  A Many Splendored Thing

"I love you."  The phrase carries with it enormous meaning when uttered.  But what do we really mean when we say it?  In the Greek New Testament, three words are used for love:  Eros, Philia, and Agape.  Eros is romantic sexual love.  It is a passionate, intense love that focuses on sensual pleasure and emotional excitement.  Philia is a reciprocal love, the love of friends and family.  You love because you are loved.  Agape is the unconditional, selfless love of God.  It is a love that responds to need instead of reacting to fault.  Agape is the sentiment which characterizes John 3: 16;  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  A particular picture of love is painted within the text.  In this instance, God acts as "the invariant lover", seeking to restore relationship with humanity by giving His loved ones what they needed instead of what they deserved.  It is action motivated by a desire to give, not gain.

This is an excellent example of how to approach our mates in times of crisis or conflict.  Some husbands give their wives advice when what she needs is a listening ear.  Some wives seek to dialogue with their husbands when what he needs is time to reflect and think.  Spouses are hurt when rebuffed and can walk away feeling rejected, inadequate, or angry.  It is important in these moments not to personalize our mates' actions, but to ask ourselves if we gave them what they needed.  What was it that motivated our actions?  How can we develop the kind of love that enables us to respond appropriately to our loved one?  Perhaps the answer lies in the characteristics of Agape love.

Agape is knowledgeable.  God knows the "innermost parts" of His loved ones.  But what do we really know about ours?  Real love is based on knowledge; truly getting to know a person can be a lifelong process.  People are dynamic creatures, constantly evolving and becoming more than they were before.  In order to keep in step with one another, partners must be willing to create "sacred space" for their relationship; to devote uninterrupted time to developing a real understanding of the others' hopes and desires.  During this time partners can inquire about one another's needs, articulate their own needs and seek God's will for the relationship. This "sacred space" can also be a time for a couple to enjoy recreational activities together, so a sense of freshness and vitality can be preserved in the relationship.

Agape is tenacious.  God was constantly seeking after His loved ones and was willing to make whatever sacrifice was necessary to remain connected to them.  Thus, if we want this kind of love in our life, we must be willing to make whatever sacrifices are needed to make sure our relationship gets all the sustenance and nurturance it needs.  This may mean both partners re-prioritizing some of their professional goals and sacrificing some of their personal aspirations so that more time can be spent together.

Agape is intimate.  Intimacy is about vulnerability and acceptance. God saw His loved ones as they truly were and loved them away.  Real intimacy is about creating a space where you and your mate feel safe to be vulnerable, safe to reveal who you truly are without fear and rejection or judgment.  So often we must wear masks to protect ourselves from callous scrutiny and exacting standards of other people.  Our intimate relationships are supposed to be a sanctuary from those demands, where we can find rest and sweet refreshment.  This means not withdrawing our support or affection even when our expectations are not met, choosing to be kind instead of right.  We must allow our partners to know that their weakness does not jeopardize the strength of our love for them.  This is the sheer and sublime beauty of God's kind of love that is truly remarkable, relevant, and real.


- Wayne E. Evans, 2002