February 14, 2016 (published in the Fort Bend Herald)
We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19)
“Love’s a word I never throw around.” Those are the lyrics to a Robert Earl Keen song, words appropriate for this Valentine’s Day. It might come with roses, chocolate, or a card, but no doubt this Valentine’s day is a day when many of us will say the words: I love you.
We say this to friends and family members. We say it and mean it differently when we say it to our spouse. That word of love is a word we never throw around. We might say we “love” convertible cars, but isn’t this different from when we speak of the love of God? It must be different when God says the word, when he says he loves us.
C.S. Lewis wrote a famous book titled The Four Loves. In his book, he identifies four different types of love. We can have affection or love for the things or the people who are familiar to us. We often have this love for our pets. I have no doubt that my parishioner mourns the death of her cat because she loved her companion.
Lewis says the second kind of love is the love we share with friends. The Greek word for this love is philia. It’s the love found between family members and true friends. We can think of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.
The third kind of love is the “Valentine’s Day” love; it is the romantic love. Eros is the kind of love we experience when we say we are “in love” with another person.
But there’s a fourth kind of love that originates from no other place than the heart of God. The fourth and most important kind of love is “agape” love. This love comes from God, and it is fully revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Agape is the kind of love we don’t simply share with our significant other on Valentine’s Day. It is the love we have received in Christ and therefore the love we can’t help to share with others. It’s when the floodgates open and the unconditional love of God flows through us, those who have first been loved.
In his book Grace in Community, Jim McNeely writes, “As God loves each of us, we recognize and join in the spirit of that love. We forgive. We persist. We bless when there is no blessing in return. We impart favor upon another. We give without counting the cost. We understand that the other beloveds in our circle may sin against us, and we hold none of it against one another. We are not asked to love apart from God. Love is from God.”
While it is a day for love, let us consider joining in the spirit of that love we call the love of God. This would be the “no strings attached” love we have from God, the kind of love that is truly gift, the kind of love we can share because God first loved us.