Love Pirates!: 'Agape versus Eros'

Flying the Jolly roger of eros

Love Pirates

The following is an excerpt from our upcoming book: Money and the Church: A Better Way to Live and Give.

Greek is a far more precise language than English.  In English, love is a very obtuse term. I can love my wife, hot dogs, and my car. I hope there would be a difference, but our language doesn’t help the distinction!

In Greek there are four words commonly used for love: agape, phileo, eros and storge.   Eros refers to any love that is self-centered, not just the familiar sexual aspect. Eros is often quite clean and respectable. It presents itself as something that it’s not. Any love that under the surface has self-satisfaction and self-gratification as its motive is erotic. The Greek symbol for eros was a snake swallowing its own tail, consuming itself. Eros can be deeply set in the ethics of many faith communities.

We can believe we are ambassadors for the love of God, when in reality we are spiritual pirates. We run up the flag of love for others, but when people get close to us, they discover the Jolly Roger of eros:

  • I witness to others because I feel guilty when I don’t – eros.
  • I tithe because I want a hundred-fold harvest – eros.
  • I sow my “faith seed” because I want to get _____  (fill in the blank) – eros.
  • I serve because I want recognition – eros.
  • I attend the meetings because I want to be validated – eros.
  • I volunteer because it’s the path to spiritual promotion – eros.
  • I exercise a spiritual gift because I desire esteem  – eros.
  • I praise the Lord because I get to feel His presence – eros.
  • I pray because I get what I want when I do – eros.
  • I obey/do what I’m told because it earns me esteem from leadership – eros.
  • I keep busy in service so I don’t have to deal with my brokenness – eros and fear.
  • I behave properly so I will never have to be corrected – eros and fear.
  • I stay away from people because I can’t deal with their hypocrisy – eros
  • I sit in the back because I don’t want to be too committed – eros.
  • I am free in Christ, so I don’t have to “do” anything I don’t feel He is “leading me” to do – eros.

Scripture never uses the word eros—for good reason. It does use agape and phileo. Some say there’s no difference and others say agape is superior to phileo. I think they are distinct, but complementary.  God’s agape is not based in His emotions. It’s based in His volition, will, and actions. It’s love based on evaluation and choice. We need to think of it as an action term rather than an emotive term.

Phileo covers more of the emotional side of things. Agape is God’s active and beneficial good will toward those who don’t deserve it. Phileo is love based on shared interests and common values. It’s the harmonious sense of affection and emotional warmth that occurs when unity, singleness of purpose, and agreement exist. It more nearly represents the idea of tender affections. Storge is the warm affection one would have for a family member.

Ideally, in the ekklesia, we would desire and express all three, but being the human beings that we are, agape is the baseline essential we need to live in when the other two are weak or absent. If as individuals, we are short on phileo, we can still express agape and storge. Simply put, love is not a feeling. Love is goodwill in action. Love has feet.

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Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephrcrosby@gmail.com.

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