There are many ways in which true love is expressed. In ancient Greek there are at least seven different words that mean some type of love. Eros refers to romantic love, the idea behind Valentine’s Day in our time. One of the saints, Valentine, was a Roman priest or bishop who is said to have performed Christian weddings for Roman soldiers. His service to fellow Christians was unlawful in those days; the clergyman’s “crime” angered Emperor Claudius, and Valentine ended up losing his head.
Legend also tells us that Saint Valentine healed the blind daughter of either the jailor where he was incarcerated or the judge before whom he was tried. Before his execution, Valentine is said to have sent a note to the child whose sight he had restored. It was signed, “Your Valentine.”
True love is so much more than can be described by words, cards, flowers, chocolates, or jewelry. I love my wife. I love my children and grandchildren. I love those who are oppressed. I love Sophie, my sweet Boxer. All those loves are different; but true love is patient, kind, self-giving, trusting, forgiving, and determined - whoever the recipient.
Stacia, our daughter, loved Morgan, her Boxer, with a true love. That love was reciprocated. Morgan was determined to be with Stacia as long as she lived, even when she no longer felt like living, even when her injuries from years ago made it impossible to stand, even when she cried in agony; and Stacia was determined to care for Morgan as long as she possibly could. She carried her up and down the stairs so they could be together. She carried her outside to “do her business.” She boiled chicken and scrambled eggs so that her old girl would eat. She raised her for 14 years - from a baby to an old woman - and she was still Stacia’s baby.
Morgan could no longer stand up or even sit up. She was nearly blind and almost deaf. She had a tumor the size of a baseball near her hip and other smaller tumors in random places. Finally, after struggling with the decision for weeks, after days of tears and embraces, Stacia realized the most loving thing she could do would be to take her to the veterinarian to end the horrific suffering; and, weeping, she held Morgan in her arms as she, peacefully, took her last breath. Friends, that is a true love story. Everyone who knew that precious, loving dog has shed tears over this.
But let me tell you of an even greater love. After Peter denied knowing Jesus, Jesus died on the cross for Peter - and for you and me, by the way. That’s the greatest love.
Then, after the Resurrection, Jesus asked Peter one morning following an all-night fishing trip, “Peter, do you love me?” The word Jesus used for love was “agape,” which means total, selfless, all-encompassing love and commitment.
Peter answered, “Yes, I love you,” but he used a different word for love. He used the word “philea,” which refers to a deep friendship...”love you like a brother.” Remember, there are at least seven Greek words that mean some kind of love.
Perhaps you remember the story from your English translation of the Bible. Jesus asks three times. In the Greek, Jesus uses the word agape the first two times, and Peter answers with the Greek word philea. The third time he asks, Jesus uses Peter’s word and Peter is sad, because he realizes that Jesus knows who really loves whom. Peter loved Jesus like a good friend. Jesus loved Peter enough to die for him.
How much do you love Jesus? His love for us is complete, total, without reservation. How much do you love others?
“Even if I speak with the greatest of human eloquence or with the language of angels, unless I love with the self-sacrificing kind of love, AGAPE...I am nothing...” (I Corinthians 13) Steve Playl , retired pastor and chaplain, columnist and college instructor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org