The Greatest Love
Today is valentine’s day - a day where we celebrate love - and in particular romantic love. But in our 21st-century world where isolation and loneliness are fast becoming an epidemic. this is a tough day for many people. Because even if you are lucky enough to find that kind of forever love, life is about seasons and even those who do get married may well experience another season of singleness later in life. If you are not in a romantic relationship - if you have lost a partner, or if your relationship is struggling, it’s easy to feel like the chances for valentine's love - for great love - are lost this year. But have we missed a vital message about the greatest kind of love?
The language of the bible talks about love in much more complex terms than English. Greek, which most of the new testament was written in, has several words for love, depending on which kind of love it refers to. Now we know about romantic love - sensual love - and our culture teaches us a lot about it. The greek word for this kind of love is EROS. We’re OBSESSED with eros love - romantic love - and its expression through sex. But we’ve become so obsessed, so focused on sex and romance that we have forgotten about a form of intimacy in friendship that is vital to healthy human flourishing.
“In the west, we have virtually collapsed sex and intimacy into each other. Where you have one, you are assumed to have the other. We can’t really conceive of genuine intimacy without its being ultimately sexual.” Sam Allberry (7 Myths About Singleness)
But there is another kind of love that is significant - its the greek word PHILIA. Philia love isn’t superficial - it is a deep kind of love - deep affection. And it is what we are designed for as people. In Genesis the story of creation is one of God looking at this world he has put together and taking moments to enjoy its goodness - literally, the Hebrew word used when God sees that things were ‘good’ means they were just the way they should be. Then in Genesis 2:18, we see the first thing that is ‘not good’ - not the way God intended - and it is because the human heh as created is on his own - literally ‘disconnected’ from other humans. He has the animals and all of creation but there’s something about other humans and that human connection that he needs on a basic level. He is designed to need that kind of love.
“Philia is profound friendship…the sort you only really achieve by going into battle together. Philia is all about fierce loyalty, emotional confidence and even sacrifice in the name of friendship. It’s the real deal.” K Leaver (The Friendship Cure)
The most important thing to realise about philia love though is its potential. In our eros obsessed world, we have forgotten just how amazing friendship is. Proverbs 18:24 says that ‘there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’ - reminding us that great friends really can become family to us. But the word used here for ‘stick closer to’ - a Hebrew word that can be translated as ‘clings’ it’s meaning is so strong - is used somewhere else in the old testament, somewhere very significant. It’s in Genesis 2:24 when it talks about a man leaving his father and mother to become ‘united’ to his wife.
That’s right - the same kind of bond that we find in marriage - in lifelong romantic commitment to one another - can be found in friendship. In the new testament when Jesus quotes this verse he uses a Greek word to translate this feeling which literally means ‘to stick together like glue’. We mustn’t do down friendship. We must remember we can experience the same kind of bond and intimacy and deep love in friendship that we can find even in the most committed of romantic relationships.
“Those who cannot conceive friendship as substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a friend.” C.S. Lewis
After all, when Jesus talks about the greatest kind of love it is not marriage, or romance, or dating that comes to mind. It is friendship.
"The greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all. And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends." John 15:13
This refers to a third kind of love - agape love, not a feeling at all but a decision to love through whatever life throws - through not just good but tough times, not when it feels good but even when it doesn’t. This is the kind of love we can find in friendship - and in romantic relationships, if we’re lucky enough to be in that season. This is love that holds us and loves us even when we have got it wrong. Even when we are struggling. Even when life or emotional health or physical health has us beaten down. Even when we can’t think of anything we can do that might make someone want to love us. Love that gives you permission to get things wrong, to not be perfect, to mess up and still know people have your back and are there for you.
So this Valentine's day, if you are not in a romantic season don’t feel that love is out of bounds for you. And even if you are don’t get so caught up in the lovey dove stuff to forget other amazing love you might want to celebrate as well today. Why not take a moment today to be thankful for a great friendship and the most amazing kind of love?