Love is undoubtedly the core teaching of the Bible. Jesus said the greatest commandment in the Old Testament is to love our God, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the famous I Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul wrote the immortal nature of the kind of unconditional love that all Christians should bear (in the context of the Corinthians overemphasizing the significance of gifts). But it is only one type of “loves” in the Scripture.
In this past summer, I read one of the most popular works of C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves. In Greek, there are four words that can be translated to the word “love” in English. C. S. Lewis wrote a chapter for each of them. These four loves are affection (storge, στοργή), friendship (philia, φιλία), eros (eros, ἔρως) and charity (agape, ἀγάπη). The love that the Apostle Paul described was charity.
While we are commanded to love, we often fail to do so because it is very hard for humans to love unconditionally. In fact, only God is capable of loving unconditionally. He is the Ultimate Giver of love. He commands us to love Him, although He does not need to be loved. Perfect charity can only be found in Him. For human love, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, there are always components of need and appreciation.
Need-love refers to loving because of a need. For instance, affection contains much of it. Affection grows out of familiarity, especially within a family. We love our family, because we can hardly live without it, or in other words, we need it. Eros undoubtedly has the need nature. In loving one’s husband or wife, we give but we satisfy our physical and emotional needs at the same time. Friendship also has a need in nature in terms of social connection.
Appreciative-love is another aspect of human love. In friendship, people get together because of mutual appreciation of common interests. In eros, we love someone because of one or a few strengths of him/her that we genuinely appreciate.
C. S. Lewis described the natures of the four loves. Indeed, except for charity, our loves must possess the natures of need and appreciation. (But I don’t want to overemphasize the presence of need as one can think of self-indulgence). Even when we say we love God, part of it means we need the Lord. With our limited capacity and fallen nature, we need His grace and love so that we can come to Him. Recognizing and accepting the fact that we need the Lord is a kind of humility that we know where we are and helps us love the Lord. Without loving Him, we cannot be who we are and have a normal relationship with Him. Only in this way we can love unconditionally (charity) to an extent close to how God loves us.
However, Lord loves us unconditionally without the need nature. He does not need to redeem us from the slavery of sins. But out of His love (charity) towards us, He sent His Begotten Son to the world and to die for our sins.
We have just celebrated Christmas. Let us appreciate what kind of love He is having towards us.