O Tell me the truth about love
Some say that love's a little boy,
and some say its a bird,
Some say it makes the world go round,
And some say that absurd......
When it come, will it come without warning,
just as I am picking my nose?
will it knock on the door in the morning,
or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
will its greeting be courteous or rough?
will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love
January 1938 W.H. Auden
January 1938 W.H. Auden
In the original Greek of the New Testament , there are three different words translated by the one English word love.
There is eros, which means sensual or erotic love, the kind of love that leads to marriage. Erotic love lies in senses and the emotions that find the object of love attractive.
Then there is philia, meaning love of the likeable, the admiration and devotion we have for a worthy person or thing, such as love for a hero, love of parents, and love of art. Likeable love dwells in the mind that judges the object of love worthy of it.
Finally there is agape, which means self-sacrificing and unconditional love, even for a person who may not deserve it and when there is nothing tangible to be gained. Agape love is in the will. It is a decision.
In Verse 15 of the 21st Chapter of St John's Gospel Jesus asks Peter, “Do you Agapas me? Do you have agape love for me?” meaning “Do you love me in such a manner as to sacrifice your life for me.” Peter knows that he has not lived up to this standard of love. He knows that he disowned Jesus in order to save his own skin. So what does Peter answer? He answers, “Philô se. Yes, Lord, I have philia love for you,” meaning, “Yes, Lord, you know how deeply I like and admire you.”
Peter is saying to Jesus, “Yes, I like and admire you, but no, I have not been able to love you with a self-sacrificing love as you demand.”
So Jesus asks him a second time whether he has agape love for him and Peter again replies that he has only philia love for him. Finally, unwilling to embarrass him any further, Jesus then asks him “Do you have philia love for me?” And Peter answers “Yes, I have philia love for you.” End of the interrogation! Jesus accepts Peter the way he is. Even his philia love is good enough.
The Peter we see here is not the loud-mouthed, confident man who thought he was better than the other disciples but a wiser, humbler man who would not claim more than he can deliver. Peter’s confession here can be likened to that of the father of the possessed boy who confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). What Peter is saying is “I love you, Lord; help my lack of love.”
So if Jesus is asking us this morning do you love me? I wonder which kind of love we are prepared to name and honour? Philia or Agape?