The Four Kinds of Love

I’ve referenced CS Lewis several times in my preaching and bible studies, and you probably have heard of this famous theologian and author before, too. Lewis wrote books like the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity. There’s another book he wrote, The Four Loves, which ties in perfectly with our discussion on love in 1 Corinthians 13.

Yesterday I preached on how we tend to think of love as simply having to do with feelings. We think romantic love is all that is important, and almost always look to other humans to set the standard for this virtue.

But the work of CS Lewis can help broaden our understanding of love itself. In The Four Loves, Lewis explores how in a biblical sense, there are several different kinds of love and words used to describe it. There are actually four different words for love in scriptures and church history, all with slightly different meanings. Here’s an outline of what these mean for us…

  1. Fondness (or storge in Greek): Lewis describes this as “affection of parents to offspring; but also of offspring to parents” and other family members. We see this all around us, from a mother nursing a young child, to even animals caring for their young and fellow species. This sense of fondness or affection is a common example of love in our world. We feel affection towards family members and people we were raised with. Lewis argues that this is the most humble of all the ways to love someone. Storge or fondness is very common.
  2. Friendship (or philia in Greek): Perhaps philia or companionship might sound familiar–after all, the city of Philadelphia is known as the city of “brotherly love.” This kind of love is between two friends. It goes deeper than simply being nice to someone, but actively seeks to develop a long-lasting relationship with him or her. CS Lewis argued that friendship is a tough thing to develop in our world, simply because we often view friends as optional. But any fulfilling life ought to have a handful of people you care about deeply, whether that be a close sibling or neighbor. Philia love is deeper than simple affection or caring. It actively seeks to better another individual and has a deeper sense of relationship.
  3. Romance/Erotic (or eros in Greek): Lewis says that eros is “the state in which lovers are in.” This is perhaps the most common idea we have when we think of love–romantic movies, love stories, longing to find “the one” in life. In addition to affection, caring for others, and companionship, eros love values one’s partner. Romantic love is much deeper than lust. Instead, in a Christian sense, we ought to glorify God through the covenant of marriage by loving our spouse as Christ loves us.
  4. “God” love/charity (or agape in Greek): We cannot forget the theological truth that without God’s love, we are nothing. We know what love is through the act of Christ on the cross (1 John 3:16). Lewis argued that agape love is self-sacrifical love, just like what Jesus did for us in dying to redeem us. All the other loves, whether that be love for family, a friend, or a husband or wife, really amount to nothing if we do not understand the true love God has for us. Lewis said that none of the other loves can ever replace God’s love for us (even if we enjoy experiencing storge, philia, or eros love). God’s agape love must always guide all these other relationships!

We often face difficulties in life when we confuse these different kinds of love. For instance, we are tempted to think that a family bond of fondness is the most important thing in life. Or we might fall into the trap of thinking that romantic love, eros, is supreme. Instead, we must always remember that God’s unconditional, agape love is the most important. Without it, we are absolutely nothing. And if we don’t use God’s love to influence the other kinds of love in our life, we’ll face troubles, too.

CS Lewis’ The Four Loves teaches us that love goes in ascending order. It is important to have family bonds, friendships, and/or a partner. But we should never forget the most important love of all: God’s love for us!

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