C.S. Lewis wrote a little book called The Four Loves. In it he explores the different meanings of Christian love. What we keep repeating in our English translations as “love” is actually four different words in Greek in the original New Testament. There is storge (pronounce store-gay) which has to do with family love. The next is eros, from which we get the word “erotic.” As you might guess it deals with romantic love. Physical attraction. Something popularly emphasized on Valentine’s Day! Then there is phileo which describes the love of friends. And finally there is agape, or charity. This is the selfless love for others.
All four of these loves are very different, yet you wouldn’t know it by reading an English Bible. We just use the simple word “love” to describe all of the affections. And maybe there is some meaning in that, because what unites all these loves is the fact that at some point they require the same thing: choice.
Some would argue that not all these loves are a choice. You don’t choose your family, for instance (storge); and you might not choose to fall in love (eros), it just happens, some would say. But each of these loves, while offering the benefit of effortless emotion and self-fulfilling joy, at some point do require a choice. We must choose to show love which looks like something very practical that is needed. It may be the choice to clothe a loved one no longer able to dress him or herself. It may be the choice to forgive a lover who has wounded us. It may be the choice to show tolerance toward a person with whom we disagree. It may be the choice to give to someone who isn’t even thankful of our efforts. At some point in every relationship, love becomes a choice.
At last week’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, the speaker was Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor who proudly identified himself as a follower of Jesus. He is a conservative Christian but he chose to speak on the topic of today’s rancor and division in politics with all the leading politicians of Washington in the room! He said, “The biggest crisis facing our nation is the crisis of contempt and polarization that’s tearing our societies apart.” But, he said, this is also the great opportunity for Christians. This is our chance to live out Jesus’ mandate not just to tolerate our enemies but love them.
He talked about loving others when it's hard, loving them when you don’t feel like it, loving them even when the actions are not motivated by the right emotions. He closed with these words: “Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing, to go against your human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching… Ask God to take political contempt from your heart. Sometimes, when it’s just too hard, ask God to help you fake it!”
Maybe this Valentine’s Day you will be surrounded by people for whom it is easy to show love. I hope so. But if not, know this, emotions can be faked, actions can’t. Choose to love!