Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Two-Sided Coin Of Biblical Love

While there are other Greek words for "love," two stand out as forms of love that Christians must practice. One is agape/agapao and the other is philia/philadelphia/phileo (just highlighting the noun and verb construction). Like all word studies, it can get technical, and one can dig about as far as they would like into etymology, uses, shades of meaning, etc. Basically, for this discussion, it's enough for us to note the two-sided coin of biblical love.

One side is primarily a love of the mind. Agape/agapao is that love. It is a love of choice, of will, of intention. By exercising this love, one can love even when he/she doesn't "feel" like it. For this reason some have thought of agape/agapao as a "higher" kind of love. I'm not sure that is entirely true, but there is something about this kind of love that overrides and overcomes the limitations of other forms of love. This is the love that can be commanded, as Jesus did to his disciples. This is the love by which one positively engages his enemies for their good, despite the fact the enemies may be trying to destroy the person doing the loving.

The other side of the coin is the philia/philadelphia/phileo love. This love is close kinship, bonded friendship, emotional connection. It is the inclusion of the emotions that makes this love so very different from the first, and gives it the potential for limitations that are often hard to overcome. Emotions may cause us to hurt, to fear, to experience hatred, sadness, depression, and more. Emotions are often negative, not just positive, but when they are positive, they are among the strongest experiences of human life.

The problem is that we're very much like the proverbial coin. Flip a coin, let it bounce on the ground and it will come to rest with one side or the other up. The other side will be down. Human love is the same. Life flips us up, we tumble a bit, bounce around, and if we manage love at all, it is often one or the other. We struggle to balance the two kinds of love.

It is important that we love people by simply choosing to do so. At times, it is vital to exercise our will and love people despite the circumstances, the behaviors, the words, and more. This is the love that keeps marriage secure. Every husband and wife has awakened to the reality that the thrill of youthful emotion was left somewhere in the past, at least on any given day. It doesn't mean it can't be rekindled, or that those high emotions are necessarily lost forever. It means what married partners understand. Sometimes, you have to choose to love, for one or the other has lost their grip on the emotional bonds. Choosing to love is what moves us past our emotional limits. Deciding to love enables us to engage people who irritate our prejudices and our morals, and who aggravate and insult us.

It is also important for people to thrill to the highly emotional love of friendship and brotherhood. This is the love that ties us with bonds stronger than decisions or even will. When we are emotionally bonded to others, we are capable of loving with a strength, an energy, and a vitality that can shame the love of mind and will. This is the love that endures, reaches across distances and time, and links the hearts of people. Little wonder that the New Testament urges both kinds of love, for both are important to the life of God's people.

As I write this, I am forced to think of the people who fit the categories that require one kind of love or another from me. There are people who demand agape/agapao from me, for the only emotions that connect me to them are negative, not positive. Still, God would have me love even an enemy, do good to them, help them, and never do harm. That's a tall order for me when I put specific names to the test. But, there is another group, far larger, thankfully, for whom I have no trouble loving at all. These people fit the philia/philadelphia/phileo kind of love, and for me, it is exciting, positive, down-right good to love and be loved by those people.

Real discipleship takes both kind. Do not be afraid to love, with either side of the coin. Each calls for different abilities and produce different actions, but together they involve the two most important elements of a person's inner life: the head and the heart. People who love solely by the head often miss out on the sweetest experiences of all. People who live solely by the heart, also miss out on some wonderfully powerful experiences. Love with both your head and your heart.