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If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:1-13, NRSV)

Love is a popular topic in our culture. From movies to television, literature to theater, thoughts on love are easy to find. Just take music and think of the variety of messages. Where George Gershwin wrote "Our Love Is Here To Stay," Tina Turner sang "What's Love Got To Do With It." In the 1960's, The Beatles sang "All You Need Is Love," while Bob Dylan sang "Love Is Just A Four Letter Word."

Love is a recurring theme throughout the Bible as well. In the New Testament, we find three Greek words for love. “Philia” is the Greek word for friendship. “Eros” is Greek for romantic love, while “agape” refers to selfless, sacrificial love. In his book, the The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis, best known for the Chronicles of Narnia, argues that there are four different kinds of love. Besides the three I’ve just listed, Lewis also describes a fourth type of love. In Greek it is the word “storge” and it refers to affection especially between parent and child.

Do these four words describe different types of love as Lewis suggested, or merely different manifestations of one love? To answer these questions, we need to look more closely at each type of love.

The first type of love which C.S. Lewis describes is "storge" or affection. He contends that affection is the "humblest love" (p. 231). It permeates our lives and makes us feel comfortable. Lewis wrote "Affection almost slinks or seeps through our lives. It lives with humble...private things; soft slippers, old clothes, old jokes, the thump of a sleepy dog's tail on the kitchen floor" (p. 231). Lewis asserts that affection does not exist apart from the other types of love, rather, it "...can enter into the other loves and colour them all through and become the very medium in which from day to day they operate. They perhaps would not wear very well without it" (p. 232).

When we feel affectionate we feel comfortable around the other person and enjoy spending time together. However, mere affection does not go as deep as the other loves. There is a difference between being friendly and really being friends. This brings us to the next type of love.

The second type of love is "philia," which means brotherly love or friendship. To the ancient Greeks, "friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue” (p. 224). The bond of friendship can go so deep that it may surpass even a family bond. Proverbs 18:24 states, "There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister. Wherever we find our friends, we have found people who make life worth living. People who help us endure our difficult times and celebrate our happy times. The fourth chapter of Ecclesiastes states, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help" (4:9-10, NRSV). The love that we have for our friends certainly involves affection, but it is more than affection. Friendship goes deeper.

There are different levels of friendship. There are people with whom we work that we would call our friends. But if one person changed jobs, what would happen to the friendship? In one instance, the two people might grow apart because they no longer have work in common. In another instance, they may remain friends and find other avenues for the friendship. Even so, the length of a friendship and the depth do not necessarily correlate. With some friends we mostly swap news about what's been going on in our lives. With other friends, we get beyond the headlines and bare our souls.

This brings us to the third type of love which the ancient Greeks acknowledged as "eros" or romantic love. When we talk about being in love, it is eros to which we refer. Falling in love, in all its tumultuous grandeur, can fill our lives with joy or pain. There is nothing like the feeling of becoming vulnerable and opening our heart of hearts to someone. Yet those to whom we are the most open, also possess the power to hurt us the most. Fortunately, they also have the power to heal us the most as well.

Romantic love cannot stand on its own without affection and friendship. There are times when we feel the surge of romantic feelings which we equate with being “in love.” There are other times when we don't feel this way at all. Passion comes and goes, but affection and friendship are the cornerstones on which marriage depends. Affection and friendship can help lovers become life-long partners.

Sometimes with our mate, and sometimes in the life of a total stranger we see glimmers of the highest love, that self-surrender known as agape. Lewis defines agape as charity. I think it is better defined as sacrificial love. Where Lewis understands the other loves to be natural loves, agape is understood as divine love. I would part with Lewis on this point. While agape certainly describes God’s love for humanity, it seems to me that wherever we find love, true love, be it affection, friendship, romance, or self-sacrifice, we find something with its roots in God. Something which reflects the world as God intended it. At its best, human love mirrors God's love. Humans are capable of agape. Not every minute of every day, but hopefully we have our moments when we give of ourselves in sacrificial and selfless ways. There are people who do the heroic deeds which make headlines--going into a burning building to save a child or donating a kidney. Others make a real sacrifice to take care of an aging parent or a sick friend. People who build wheelchair ramps for a man with ALS, tutor children at Adventures in Learning, cook a meal at the Interfaith Nutrition Network, or pray every week for those on our Prayer Chain – all of these reflect agape. Agape love is best seen in the life and teachings of Jesus. He taught us to think about others, to love the unlovable, and to lay down our very lives if necessary. For Jesus, no one was untouchable and he once healed 10 lepers with a loving touch. He put himself at risk by eating with the most unpopular man in Jericho, Zacchaeus, and by stopping the unjust stoning of a woman caught in adultery. Shysters or lepers, children or disciples, Jesus exemplified love to all, and following his example, our lives can shine with love too.

This brings us back to the question, do these four words, storge, philia, eros, and agape describe different types of love, or merely different manifestations of one love? I would answer the latter. That each is an expression of one love. Love manifests itself in different ways in different situations. Each expression of love shares the same source: God. In I John chapter 4 it says that "God is love." Love sums up God's inexpressible essence. Out of love God created a world where human beings might exist. More than exist, God made it possible for us to live and thrive by giving us the capacity to choose evil or good. When we choose to love we choose the ultimate good. We come the closest to the heart of the Bible's teachings and the soul of Jesus’ message of love for God, neighbor, and self.

The more we love others, the more God's love moves freely through our lives. I John 4 also says, "If we love one another, God lives in us, and God's love is perfected in us" (4:12b, NRSV). Or as the Apostle Paul put it, “So faith, hope, and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love,” AMEN.

Written by Rev. Jimmy Only February 12, 2017 The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)


Eternal God, your love stands firm from generation to generation and your mercy is never ending. You are the source of love—love for family and love for friends, love for the one who makes our heart sing and love for all your children. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with compassion, we may freely share from the blessings we have received. Give us open and understanding hearts that we might not only love those who love us back, but also love and care for those who are difficult to love, knowing that you love us one and all.

Through Jesus Christ your perfect embodiment of love we pray. AMEN.

Portions of this prayer were adapted from http://lectionary.library.

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