The two loves: a meditation on 1 Corinthians 13

by Jim Denison


The couple had only been married a few weeks when he came home from work to find her in tears.  “What’s wrong?” he asked, sure that he had done something for which he would now receive his just punishment.  “The dog ate the meal I cooked for you,” she sobbed.  Relieved, he said, “Oh, that’s alright, we’ll get another dog.”

That night, two slept in the doghouse, I would guess.

We want our families and relationships to be healthy and happy, but it’s not easy.  In fact, it may be harder than ever.  Tom Brokaw claims in his outstanding book, The Greatest Generation, that the World War II generation is in many ways the greatest in American history.  He has an entire section titled “Love, Marriage, and Commitment,” which begins, “The World War II generation shares so many common values: duty, honor, country, personal responsibility, and the marriage vow: ‘For better or for worse . . .’  It was the last generation in which, broadly speaking, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option. . . . Of all the new marriages in 1940, one in six ended in divorce.  By the late 1990s, that number was one in two.”

Clearly, our families and relationships need help—a foundation to build our homes on, strength when the storms come.  What blocks make that foundation secure?  In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, we’ll consider the most essential stones in that foundation.

What does “love” mean? (v. 1)
Aldous Huxley said, “Of all the worn-out, dog-eared words in the English language, surely love is the worst.”  He’s right, of course.  We “love” ketchup on our hot dogs, we “love” the Cowboys (at least when they win), some of us “love” the latest blockbuster enough to wait in line, and we “love” our Lord and our family.  Surely, not all in the same way.

What does God’s word mean when it speaks of “love” as a “most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31), the one indispensable block in the foundation of your family and relationships?

There are four different Greek words which we translate by the single English word, “love.”  Agape is the Greek word in our text.  Simply put, agape is gift-love.  It is love given because I want to give it, not because I need to give it.  Agape is given regardless of what you do with my gift.  It is selfless, sacrificial, gift-love.

The other three words are all need-love—love we give because we need to, and we need to be loved.

  • Storge is not found in the Greek New Testament, but was common in Paul’s culture.  Storge is “affection.”  It is the need to give affection, as with a parent to a child.  However, when storge is refused, it stops giving.  If you give to your family or friends out of affection for them, but stop giving when they refuse you or your gift, you are not acting from agape but storge.
  • Philia is friendship.  It is the need for relationship.  As with storge, when philia is refused, it stops giving as well.  If someone refuses a relationship with you, so you refuse a relationship with them, you are not acting from agape but philia.
  • Eros is desire.  It is the need for emotional experience and gratification.  It can be sexual, but is more than sexuality.  As with storge and philia, when eros is refused, it changes from into something else—hatred, apathy, etc.  When this happens, you are not acting from agape but eros.

As you can see, storge, philia, and eros are all need-loves.  They are given because we need to give them, and because we need them to be received and reciprocated.  Only agape is gift-love, given because we want to give it, regardless of the way it is received.

Only gift-love is constant and consistent.  And so gift-love is the only foundational stone upon which our families and relationships can be built…


The two loves: a meditation on 1 Corinthians 13 – Denison Forum on Truth and Culture