I don’t have anything at all against Valentine’s Day, yet I feel challenged. It’s a day to highlight the concept and action of love. Of course, romantic love takes center stage, followed by duty love, rut love, expected love, loyal love, friendship love and I guess I have to love – in no particular order. The challenge comes in when I think about the type of love Christians are called to emulate – phileo, storge, eros, and agape.
Phileo or philia is brotherly love; the kind of love between dear friends. This kind of love goes beyond simple acquaintance and overflows with loyalty, dedication, consideration, compassion, deep caring and commitment.
Storge love includes the kind described in family. Through the togetherness of family life, spending time, facing challenges, and making memories, these bonds are naturally developed between siblings, parents, and extended family.
This Greek word eros means sensual, chemistry, attraction, oooh baby, baby. It speaks to the love that blossoms out of physical attraction between lovers and is biblically expressed in its fullest form between spouses in the confines of marriage.
The highest form of love we are called to is agape – divine sacrificial love. Jesus demonstrated this in that while we were still sinners, he died for each one of us. He gave up his perfect heavenly position, stepped into our imperfect realm, and became a humble and helpless baby in order to fulfill God’s plan for our salvation. Jesus made the ultimate and supreme sacrifice, and although we are not daily sacrificing our very lives, we are called to give sacrificial love to those around us, in the name of Christ.
We are his ambassadors as we give love in line with his example. Of course, we can never give true agape love – like that of God to his people – but we can strive toward that goal and sprinkle bits of it along the way. Unselfish concern for others and sacrificing self, while seeking nothing in return, are hallmarks of this kind of Spirit-led love.
So, the challenge comes when I have to deny my own wants and feelings of entitlement, irritation, annoyance, injustice, and anger in order to see things as someone else may see it. To consider their needs above mine, to overlook an insult, to forgive, and to show love despite their thoughtlessness or cruelty.
In addition to all that, there is the concept of hypocrisy. I struggle most with loving someone when I am faced with either cruelty or hypocrisy. When someone is cruel – either to me or to another person – I first ask myself why. What might be motivating them to behave that way? I usually give them the benefit of the doubt and look for anything positive I can hold on to that may help me deal with what I am seeing.
Yet, having gone to the logical, there is still the very real part of me that reacts emotionally. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in full force to guide and discipline my thoughts and feelings. Of course, in my nature I will feel and say negative things in my head. That, in and of itself, is not the problem. Not taking control of it and allowing it to run wild and free, ruminating in my heart and mind, is where it becomes sinful and dangerous. Left to my own flesh, I will begin the comments in my head – the criticisms, name-calling, judging, venting. Yet, thank God He gave us a Counselor to guide us through the daily times like these. I can catch myself; or more accurately, I can be caught by my conscience – aka, the Holy Spirit – nudging me toward righteousness.
I can rely on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to strengthen me to turn away from those ugly thoughts and feelings that try to drag me in. I can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ by choosing to simply say to them no sir, I will not go along with you. Even though this temptation will never be eradicated, with practice, my falling victim to it will decrease and become less frequent over time.
Even with all the times I fail, each small victory in my thought pattern, my willingness to overlook an insult and my awareness of the Holy Spirit’s leading, creates pathways for more righteous behavior and strengthens my faith. Sin will always be among us and in us, yet with the constant testing of our Christianity, we have opportunities for holy victories around every corner.