To English speakers, this may seem somewhat odd. Agape love? What's that? As we pretty much have one word for 'love' (which is often misused, by the way) this differentiation of types of love via words is strange. The Greeks, however, had multiple words for love. Eros, for instance, is the term from which we derive the english word "erotic" and deals with passionate love. Philia speaks of brotherly, or friendly, love. Storge speaks of familial love. And Agape is sometimes called "Christian" love - it speaks of unselfishness, and a desire to seek the best interests of others above your own. This is the love that drove God to send His Son to pay the price for our redemption.
Agape love is the type described in the famous "love chapter" of I Corinthians 13.
1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not selfseeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
So husbands are to "agape" their wives. And agape love is certainly a high calling. A husband having agape love for his wife does not seek to raise himself up, but rather seeks to lift up his wife. Such a husband does not lie to her, does not abuse her, does not lose faith in her, does not seek his own good over hers. The agape loving man protects his wife, both from the outside world and from his own selfish or sinful self. He is kind and patient, not because he gains by this, but because his wife does.
I don't know of a single man who lives up to this every second of every day. I certainly don't. But this is not an excuse, nor does the reality of our sin nature evidence that we cannot live up to this ideal. We have no excuse for not loving our wives in this way.
This focus on agape love does not also mean we can't exhibit eros, philia or storge love at different times - in fact, it could be argued that God's command in Genesis 1:28 - to be fruitful and multiply - is a command (for the married folk) to exhibit eros love. (And I think I just heard an amen! from some of my brothers in the audience). Likewise, there is nothing wrong with sharing familial and friendly love with our wives. But our entire marriage should focus on loving our wives unselfishly, with a continuous search for ways to bless them.
In my next post (which could be Monday or could be June, depending on Blogger's availability) I'll talk about how Jesus showed agape love for His disciples, and how that applies to these passages. Following that, I'll talk a bit about the differences between the three passages, and what agape love isn't (i.e a feeling) before wrapping up with a post on the larger issue of marriage roles and a summary. This outline subject to change as God leads me:-)