Love and Desire: The Five words for Love (Part 3 of 3)

Thanks for reading Is it “Love” or is it…Desire? Part 1 of 3, and Part 2 of 3.  In these two posts we looked at how the emotion of “love” (or lust and desire) may have gotten us in hot water in our past and if so, how could a more complete understanding and demonstration of the emotion benefit us.

In this final entry on this subject, I’d like to offer a few more thoughts that may help us to understand why Desire (better defined by “Epithumia” below), which is a beautiful part of ourselves that we need to honor, works best when it is contextually influenced by the other characteristics that “complete” the definition of Love.

As mentioned in Part 2 of 3, God does not want to take away your Desire. We were created with this vibrant, wonderful, beautiful, natural, biological and psychological part of us that helps us to express love and to feel loved, and it, like the other words that define love, are to be developed not squelched, valued and not devalued. Love and Desire are to reside hand in hand.

At this point, let me clarify that I don’t presume to speak for God.  How you experience God is uniquely your experience, where change, healing and growth issues occur in time frames, processes and in relationships that make sense to you and God alone.

What I would like to offer to you is additional information that will hopefully provide insight and clarity about core and powerful characteristics that God, as a Higher Power, has wanted you to experience and would want you to benefit from in your life, marriage, family and in other important relationships.

In addition, you will read about two terms that I introduce: redeemed and unredeemed.  Nothing mystical about these terms.  To me, “unredeemed” means qualities and aspects of the word that are not influenced by the practice of your spiritual disciplines (prayer, study, confession, fellowship, meditation, reflection, worship, etc.).

The absence of these spiritual disciplines may lead to negative, maladaptive, selfish and dysfunctional behaviors that tend to be harmful to the individual and his/her relationships.

On the other hand, the redeemed behaviors, which are influenced by the practice of your spiritual disciplines, often lead to insightful, adaptive, functional and constructive outcomes with your behavior.  The practice of your spiritual disciplines more than likely will determine if you achieve healthier versus unhealthy outcomes with your behavior.

Having said this, lets look at the five Classical Greek words that define what I think is the most important “intimacy need” that human beings have, which is Love.  When combined together Love (Agape), Desire (Epithumia) and the other ingredients cook up some very edifying, rich and meaningful experiences in our life and in our relationships!

The Five Greek words for Love: Eros, Epithumia, Storge, Phileo and Agape

1. Eros: Eros is the Greek word for sexual love, and believe it or not, is not even mentioned in the Bible, due to its “weak” description of what true love is.

In its unredeemed expression, Eros is a behavior that is related to the word PORNEIA, from which we receive the word pornography. Porneia conveys a picture (which is what porn is) of “a type of relationship” but is not a real relationship (these are actors) based on any kind of sexual encounter, where the primary focus is on the genitalia. The fact that Eros primarily focuses on the genitalia is one of the reasons why Eros alone could never provide the full expression of what love is.

When redeemed, erotic or sexual/genital love is a beautiful, sensual and fulfilling expression and manifestation of what God intends in a marriage, a relationship where two people have committed their lives to each other. Engaging in erotic love is one of the most pleasurable ways to say I love you, but there are other words that capture the meaning of love also.

2. Epithumia: Although our English word Love does not appear in scripture when Epithumia is used, it is included in this list because Epithumia is the word that is mostly translated as desire or craving. Epithumia is a “neutral” word, meaning it can be expressed in good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, functional or dysfunctional ways. When we think about our appetite, our lust, our desire, our craving and our passion, we are describing Epithumia.

In its unredeemed and extreme form of expression, Epithumia depicts a strong and negative desire to possess and treat another person as an object and contextually, primarily for one’s own selfish sexual gratification (Ephesians 2:1-3; Galatians 5:16-17). Signs and symptomatic behavior were described in Is it “Love” or is it …Desire? Part 1 of 3.

However, when redeemed, Epithumia portrays a picture of healthy and focused desire, as desire and passion is directed toward one’s spouse in order to share in, learn about and enjoy the presence, work and fruit (sexually and otherwise) in the marital garden that is built for two and two alone.

Epithumia  is also important to our emotional well-being in that its root Thumos, is found in other New Testament words (Patience), as well as other English words (Thermos, Thermostat and Thermometer).  These words speak to important relationship skills that are key in the development of emotional self-awareness and learning how to contain our emotions.   You can read more about these words and this process in “Additional thoughts about Emotional Self-Awareness: Trust me, these are really important!”

3. Storge: (pronounced “stor-gay”Storge is the beginning of love that is demonstrated for the well-being of another person, as opposed to the unredeemed qualities of Eros and Epithumia, which tend to be self-centered in expression if experienced outside of a healthy spiritual context.

Storge appears in the Bible (Romans 1:31) actually with the prefix of “a” in front of it, denoting “no, not or without,” negating its meaning, which is to “cherish affectionately.”

Storge conveys the picture of the type of love that a parent has for his or her children; love which seeks to care for them and provide for their needs, marked by affection, comfort, nurturance and commitment for their safety, their development and their survival.

If you have bought a two-year old an ice cream cone one hour before dinner and enjoyed the delight on her face as she consumed it, you have experienced Storge. If you have laughed with your 10-year-old about a fanatical rant heard on the radio as you began a road trip to the NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies, you have experienced Storge. Or, if you cried on the night your first child was born, and you knew your life would not be the same and you prayed for God to help you to sacrifice anything for her well being, you have experienced Storge.

Unique to your children, Storge is the warmth you feel inside you when you are making the life memory, and it is the warmth probably mixed with laughter as well, that you feel when you recall the memory years later.

4. Phileo: Phileo is the word used to convey a closeness and fondness that develops as two people choose to befriend each other, and who work to build a friendship and a relationship with one another, within or outside of their family relationship.

Phileo is the type or expression of love that clearly marks how a person of faith is to enter into and to constructively “share and repair” relationship with another person of faith, as “best friend” qualities are reflected in their interests, activities, time, connection and conflict resolution, with each another.

As with Eros, Epithumia and Storge, Phileo really comes to life when spiritual values, disciplines and behaviors are integrated into one’s expression and experience of these words.

5. Agape: Agape (the grand-daddy of them all!) is the word that defines the unique quality of love that is demonstrated from God to us, us to ourselves and the spiritual and behavioral love that we are encouraged to demonstrate in our relationships: to spouses and other “neighbors” within or outside of the family of God (Luke 10:27-28).

It is definitely action-oriented and most often, its focus is to engage in healthy and balanced behaviors which contribute to the overall well-being of the recipient (yourself included).

Agape is marked by our unconditional expression of love, acceptance, honor, cherishing, value, esteem and devotion that we display to the recipient.

Agape is the type of love that is compassionate and merciful in its expression (I Corinthians 13:4-8), and it is the love that Jesus states will clearly indicate who is following Him in word and deed, to any observer who happens to be watching you or is needing Agape from you (John 13:34-35).

We are encouraged to allow Agape to inform and guide our thoughts, feelings, behavior, and experiences (especially in the core area of our sexuality – I Corinthians 6:18-20), realizing that Agape is the seed, fertilizer, process and the fruit (good outcomes) that we produce and enjoy in life.

In closing, what do you think and feel when you consider these 5 words for Love? Could you see that this “five-legged stool” is very strong when all five components are present, alive and actively working that create behaviors and outcomes called Love? How are these qualities evident in your life? At a glance, where might you want and need to improve in order to create a more complete “Agape Love” experience?  It is possible, even under the most challenging of circumstances in your life.

Thanks again for reading this and as time permits, make sure you read about the other emotions that we will explore.


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