We are at the start of a new series about outcomes. Last week I defined this as a change in behavior, which can result from various experiences; all of them life changing.
The specific topics for this series are drawn from a list created by the Apostle Paul in his letter to a small group of first generation Christians living in the city of Galatia in what is now modern day Turkey. His tone was rather alarming as he reacted to their enticement from outsiders for these initiates in the faith to adhere anew to the former way of Godly worship by observing the requirements of the Mosaic Law. For Paul this was tantamount to a loss of dearly won spiritual freedom.
He redirected the thinking of those he earnestly cared for by identifying nine behaviors as evidence that the Spirit of God was alive and well within them. Love was the first item on the list.
For those of us who rely on others to define the Greek words used in Paul’s letter, the type of love he wrote about was agape, defined as an unconditional, self-denying affection that was to be freely shared with any and all, who came into their charitable orbit. In fact Jesus told his most dedicated followers that they would be easily identifiable by others if they loved one another in this manner, following his example, which was extreme.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus told those who were with him for a last meal immediately prior to his arrest and execution. This pronouncement came as part of a lengthy sequence, recorded for us by the Apostle John, which began with Jesus’ awareness that his earthly ministry was nearing its end. “Having loved (agape) his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
The Greeks had three other words they used for the types of love commonly experienced in the everyday world. Storge, often translated as empathy, is the love one has for family and close personal friends. Phila is the love one has for mankind in general. And eros, the root for our word erotic, described romantic love capable of being both good and bad. In fact all loves can be counterfeited. We are absolutely capable of faking bliss.
Being neither a philosopher nor theologian my take on the issue is that there is only one kind of love and that is the agape of Jesus’ teaching. Any differentiation we might make of it is a matter of degrees and our relationship to the recipient of our love. My proof would simply be in the love a mother has for her child. While we might categorize this as storge love it is no less all-encompassing, all-giving and just as unconditional as the fullest expression of agape love can be.
What counts, then, is the quality of the love that resides within us, an outcome based on prior experience and teaching that affects what we do and how we do it for others. For it is a mistake to separate the motive from the action, the outcome seen in the service it compels. Love may not conquer all in terms of the people we encounter, but it must surely conquer ourselves if we are to properly express it.