“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
God planted within each one of us the need to love and be loved. It is one of the ways He made us in His image. Through a relationship with our Heavenly Father, we experience His deep and abiding love. And He designed us to both receive that wondrous affection and share it with those in our lives.
Scripture provides many examples of how we can express devotion to each other. One Christian writer found four words in particular, from ancient Greek, that capture the essence of several types of love we are capable of showing. They vary in degree of intimacy and intensity, but all are meant to encourage and edify.
What Are the Four Loves?
The phrase The Four Loves came from the title of a 1960 book penned by C.S. Lewis. Based on a set of radio talks he’d done two years earlier, the book presents and then explores the notion that humans are able to feel different kinds of love, depending on the situations and relationships involved.
He used translations from ancient Greek, because he knew that language had a large range of words to define what love can mean. The four he chose were:
Lewis makes the point that all of them can, and often do, intertwine. And, he adds that they are displayed to others at their deepest and most meaningful level when they grow out of a love for God first.
1. Storge Love“Familial Affection”
This is the type of care that exists between family members, friends, or companions. Longer-lasting, it goes beyond an initial infatuation or attraction. Built on a familiarity between people, the emphasis of storge is on devotion and intimacy that develops over time.
Real-life examples include parents toward children, siblings, spouses, and sometimes very close friendships. One of the 10 commandments shows what storge love can look like:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).
The Apostle Paul reminded spouses of God’s order to seek and show it as well.
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Ephesians 5:25).
Phileo most often describes a relationship between people, one of generous warmth for another. But in a broader sense, it can also apply to churches and even cities. The basis of this common bond is shared beliefs, values or interests.
An image that comes to mind as an example of this is good friends who look out for each other. But many churches and towns have what they call “sister” congregations or cities.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 13:1).
This kind of affection is meant to describe a healthy, sensual love between husbands and wives. Romance and physical attraction play a part in it. God gave us this kind of desire with the clear instruction to express it only within the bonds of marriage.
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine…” (Song of Solomon 6:3).
Scripture clearly tells us that He cares about what we do with our bodies. Believers are cautioned to avoid showing Eros love to anyone but our spouse, so that the choices we make honor God.
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Agape love is probably the most talked about of the four kinds of love. It is the highest, most complete form of affection. God’s love for us is the foundation of this love. And Jesus gave us many lessons about and examples of agape - a strong, selfless and sacrificial love - during His earthly ministry.
The early church actually used the term to describe two separate activities they practiced. One was a sacred rite with bread and wine, similar to the Eucharist today. The other was a regular fellowship meal they held, to which the local poor were invited.
Jesus reminded His disciples over and over again that we are called to show this agape to God and to other people, whether they are friends or enemies.
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).
“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven’” (Matthew 5:43-46).
Are the Four Love Types Biblical?
The Four Love terms that C.S. Lewis explored are not named specifically as such in Scripture. But all through God’s Word we can find people who demonstrated each of them.
- Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9)
- The siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany (Luke 10; John 11)
- David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18)
- Paul and Timothy (Acts 16:1-3; Acts 17:14-15)
- Part of a father’s instruction to his son (Proverbs 5:18-20)
- The King and his bride (Song of Solomon)
- Between God and us (John 3:16; Romans 8:38-39)
- Between us and the Lord (John 13:34-35)
- Between us and others (1 John 3:16)
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis explores the nature of love. He starts with the Biblical truth that God is love, and sets out to see how our lives can reflect the different aspects of that. In his book, Lewis wrote: “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”
He also talks of a maturing process we will ideally go through. First, we make the choice to show love, especially storge and phileo, to others. As we do, our hearts will align more closely with God’s.
As we become more giving in our spirits over time, more of the selfless agape love will naturally pour out of us. And that will lead to blessings for others, and for us. It is a wonderful cycle that can change the world for the better.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:3-4).
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Tammy Fullum
Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby! You can connect with her on her website: heatheradamsworshipwalk.com