“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
No doubt those are the words most folks remember from the poem, Sonnet 43, Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote for her husband, Robert, after getting married. After suffering a debilitating spinal injury at age 15, Elizabeth became withdrawn and depressed. However, to ease some of her anguish and pain, she began writing poetry. And, between 1841-44, her poetry caught the attention of her fellow countrymen, including Robert Browning.
He began writing letters to her and they finally got to meet in 1845 and began a secret relationship. She knew her father would disapprove, but they continued corresponding and secretly meeting. Finally, they eloped and in September, 1846, moving from England to Italy. After suffering four miscarriages, Elizabeth gave birth to a healthy son named Robert, whom they called Pen.
What a beautiful love story! And, what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than focusing on this thing called “love?”
We use it so loosely—saying “I love hunting” or “I love shopping” or “I love reading a book.” But, in reality, what we’re saying is “I find great pleasure in doing these things.” That’s why it’s important to understand the real meaning of love if we’re to truly experience it.
Although there are six Greek words for love, the three most familiar to us are “eros, philia and agape,” even if we’ve never heard of them. Therefore, let’s take a look at them this week and see which one is most important to us.
Eros. From this word we get “erotic,” which we know to be “sexual or sensual love.” Named after the Greek god of fertility, it’s that physical attraction we’re born with. God created us with that desire, primarily for the purpose of reproduction; however, when given unbridled, free reign, it wrecks great havoc. History is full of examples of what can happen when hedonism and sexual promiscuity are rampant. In fact, all we have to do is look around us today to see the toll it takes when lust is mistaken for love.
Philia. The city of Philadelphia’s name is taken from this word, which means “fraternal or brotherly love.” It’s really the essence of deep friendship, which bonds two or more people together because of mutual interests, views-and-values. It’s non-sexual in nature and benevolent, where there’s a kindred spirit and a person is sometimes called one’s “B.F.F.” (“Best Friend Forever”). Likewise, this altruistic, giving spirit lies at the root of philanthropy or the acts of heroism during times of war where one sacrifices his/her life for others.
Agape. Known as “selfless or self-giving love,” this is used in the Bible as a “God-type, God-shaped Love.” Although somewhat similar to philia in nature, its true source is God Himself. And, without a doubt, the greatest expression of it is the death of His Son, Jesus, on the Cross. That’s why John 3:16 is the greatest verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Wow! True Agape in action: God, the greatest Lover…Who loves in the greatest degree (“so agape-ed”)…the greatest number (“the world”)…and gave the greatest Gift (“His only begotten Son”)…offering it in the greatest invitation (“that whosoever believes in Him”) …to give the greatest deliverance (“should not perish”) and life’s greatest assurance (“but have everlasting life”).
Thus, if God were to borrow the lyrics from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem for Himself, He’d point to the Cross and say “How do I love thee? Let Me count the ways.”
That’s why this week as we celebrate Valentine’s Day and will likely do it by giving flowers, candy, cards, jewelry, etc., we should also say those same words to the One Who created us and show Him by putting Agape Love into action through acts of service to Him and those around us.
Never forget, dear Reader, others will remember the things we do for them much longer than the things we say to them. Therefore, be a giver, not a taker—a conduit, not a reservoir. That way you (and those around you) can experience God’s type of Valentine’s Day every day. God bless you.
NOTE: If you’d like to contact Bro. Tom or receive his daily e-mail devotional, entitled “Morning Manna,” you can write him at P.O. Box 10614, Fort Smith, AR 72917 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.