by Tiffany Dickerson
When I was a sophomore in college, February 14 was rapidly approaching, and yet again, I had no significant other to celebrate said “holiday.” Thankfully, I had some awesome friends and fun plans to enjoy the day and not overthink my state of singleness. Valentine’s Day morning arrived and with it a special gift, double pink eye. Yes, you read that right. I had pink eyes for Valentine’s Day. Ironic, yes? The campus doctor proudly told me she had never seen such a bad case and that I was highly contagious. Thus, no going out with friends. You can imagine my joy as the holiday I had so carefully tried to avoid being alone had now become one I would enjoy in solitary confinement in a dorm room.
I would love to say I weathered the storm with a positive attitude and God taught me some deep truths through that situation. But alas, I was twenty and rather selfish and just wanted someone to love me and make me feel special like everyone else. As I look back on that time I wish I could tell that young girl her understanding of love was all wrong. I wish I could tell her that she had fallen into the trap of the cultural definition of love. Sadly, that same girl, a little older and wiser, still falls into that trap at times. Our definition of love can get muddled when we allow anyone or anything to define it other than God.
The English language can be rather finite in its use of words. If you look up the word “love” in a dictionary you will find that it is both a noun and a verb and each one has four or more definitions. It’s no wonder in one breath we can say we love a taco and then in the next breath say we love our mother. The nuance and importance of the word gets lost with over use. The Greek language however, has many words for love. Depending on who you ask, the Greeks have six to eight words for love. Four of these are used in the Greek translation of Scripture and help us understand what the original authors were trying to teach us about the type of love displayed. Today, we are going to take a quick look at three and why they matter for our understanding of gospel-centered love and not just the kind of love celebrated on Valentine’s Day.
Eros – Simply defined, this definition of love is romantic, passionate, and sexual love. This is the type of love people often celebrate and promote for Valentine’s Day. Eros love is a gift from God for marriage and one we should embrace and enjoy. But it is only a small part of the bigger and better picture.
Philia – This is the love of deep friendship. The love you have for a childhood best friend, your lifelong friends from college, or even your small group at church exhibits philia love. It is an intimate and authentic friendship. This is also the love that Jesus and His disciples had for one another. It is one of the types of love the church is called to have for each other as well (John 15:13–15).
Agape – This type of love is unconditional and selfless. It is God Himself. This is the love that God poured out on mankind when He willingly sacrificed His son. It is the love Jesus showed on the cross as He gave up His life to save us from ourselves. Furthermore, it is the type of love Jesus calls us to extend to others. It is the love we should exhibit in the church as we seek to honor our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16).
These three examples of love should show us that love is so much more than romance and finding your perfect soul mate. There is nothing wrong with celebrating eros love within our marriages. But what we have to remember is that love is more than fleeting passion, satisfying physical desires, and filling an emotional hole that was always meant to be filled by God. We have all the love we will ever need in Christ. Any other love we experience is a gift of grace from God.
Don’t allow the cultural definition of Valentine’s Day to define love for you.
Love was defined when it hung on the cross over two thousand years ago. Love was defined when Jesus bore all your sin and redeemed you. Love was defined when it promised to come for you again.
To love is to know the author of love, Jesus. To love is to love others as He does, selflessly and unconditionally. This Valentine’s Day, celebrate the gospel love you have through agape and philia love. Celebrate the love God has given us through a gospel-centered community. Don’t allow the cards, flowers, or candy to either make you sad or to distract you on this day. Even when it is over, you have all the love you will ever need from a Savior who gave His life for you. You can celebrate that love each and every day. God is enough no matter what season of life you find yourself in.
He is even enough for a girl sitting in a college dorm room with double pink eye.