1 Corinthians 13

The Take and Give of Love

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1 Corinthians 13

The Take and Give of Love

A sermon by Richard Niell Donovan

Several years ago, an old friend of mine was divorced. He had been in training as a counselor, and changed a great deal in the process. When his wife didn’t make a corresponding change, he found himself a girlfriend, and got a divorce.

Some time later, I found that one of the big problems of such counseling programs is a high divorce rate among graduates. My friend’s experience had not been unusual. Extensive therapy changes a person; the reasons they married no longer apply, and the divorce follows.

As a counselor-friend told me:

“We marry to fulfill a set of needs.
When we change, those needs change.
Our husbands and wives often don’t fulfill those new needs,
and divorce follows.”

I recently saw Shelly Winters explain her view of love, and it echoed this idea. She said:

“You love someone because he fulfills what you need,
and he loves you because you fulfill what he needs.”

The implication is that, when those needs change, it is time to move on. In her interview, Miss Winters told how she had moved on, and on, and on, and so on.

Now this is not a sermon on divorce. I am not saying that people should never divorce. This is a sermon about love, and the subject of love gets all wrapped up with marriage.

Now compare Shelley Winter’s view of love with that of the Apostle Paul, who said:

“Love doesn’t seek its own way….
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails” (13:5, 7-8).

Either Shelley Winters is wrong or Paul is wrong. We have to give Miss Winters credit for describing what we see, but we have to give Paul credit for describing what we want to see.

Perhaps Shelley Winters is describing what love really is—something we take for as long as it serves our purposes—and Paul is just describing an ideal—something that really is not possible for human beings. But no. We see Paul’s unselfish kind of love too. We see people who really do love without calculating the rate of return. We have been loved unselfishly, and we have loved unselfishly. Paul’s kind of love does exist.

The problem is not that either Miss Winters or the Bible is wrong. The problem is that we have one word—”love”— to describe a whole range of feelings and behavior. The one word is not adequate. Miss Winters described love. Paul described love. But they are two very different loves.

The Greeks had a better system. They had four words. Three of the kinds of love that they described are based on our needs, just as Miss Winters said. The fourth is based on what we can give. C. S. Lewis called them “need-loves” and “gift-loves.”

I have listed these four words in the bulletin. Follow along as I explain them.

The first word for love is storge, or affection. We might call it family love or kinship. It is the love that parents feel for their child, and the child feels for the parent.

This might look like a gift-love, because parents do give unselfishly in many cases. But storge needs to be needed. A mother, feeling storge would feel cheated if her baby suddenly became self-sufficient and didn’t need her anymore. Most mothers would be happy for their baby to become self-sufficient with regard to plumbing, but a mother feeling storge enjoys the dependence the baby has on her. Storge is a “need-love” in that it needs to be needed.

The second Greek word for love is philos, or brotherly love. This is the easiest to remember, because the Quakers used the word philos to name their city, Philadelphia—”the city of Brotherly Love.”

C. S. Lewis helps me to picture philos when he says: Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. It is this “seeing with the same eye,” sharing a truth, that characterizes philos.

Lewis says that this is why people who just want friends can’t find them. Being a friend means seeing the same truth. If you care nothing about the truth, and simply want a friend, there is nothing for the friendship to be about. Friendship must be about something, even if it is as trivial as dominoes or white mice.

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The third love is eros, or what we call “being in love.” Eros is sexual love, but it isn’t just sex. It is the love of a particular person.

When a man says simply: “I need a woman,” that isn’t eros—it is just hormones. But when he can’t get Jane Smith off his mind, that is eros.

There is much information and much myth about eros in our culture. Magazines build subscriptions witheros; movies and television thrive on it; billboards proclaim it; children sell blue-jeans with it.

The myth is that all happiness depends on eros. The fact is that eros has the potential to bring both great joy and great heartbreak—and most of us have experienced both.

Also, the fact is that, in many times and places, parents have arranged marriages for their children—with little consideration for eros. Many of those marriages have worked as well as marriages in modern America, where people tend to worship at the altar of eros.

Lewis makes the point that eros doesn’t aim for happiness; it aims at being together, even if that is painful. You can’t separate lovers by proving that their marriage will be unhappy. First, they won’t believe it. But more important it is the mark of Eros that we would rather be unhappy with the beloved than with anyone else.

When Miss Winters described love as based on needs, she was speaking of these three kinds of love. She was talking about what we can take from love.

But Paul says:

“I show a most excellent way to you….
Love is patient and is kind;
love doesn’t envy.
Love doesn’t brag, is not proud,
doesn’t behave itself inappropriately,
doesn’t seek its own way,
is not provoked,
takes no account of evil;
doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails….
But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three.
The greatest of these is love” (12:31 – 13:13).

The word that is used here and most places in the New Testament is agape, which is sometimes translated “charity.” The words storge and eros are never used in the Bible. The two Greek words for love that are used in the Bible are agape and philos—and agape is the one that is most frequently used. Agape is the epitome of love as far as the Bible is concerned.

Agape is a love that is concerned solely with the well-being of the other—it is a “gift- love” rather than a need love.” This kind of love is itself a gift of God. We can’t successfully decide to love unselfishly, but God shares with us the ability to do so.

All four kinds of love are good, and should be cultivated. You will find many good books on the first three loves. Parent-Effectiveness-Training can teach parents new skills in raising their children. How to Win Friends and Influence People will teach you about philos. There are libraries of books to teach you abouteros—how to win the guy or girl, and what to do once you have him or her. Buy the better books; read them; learn from them; cultivate those loves. Most human relationships involve a combination of loves. Develop them.

But agape remains a gift of God. To cultivate it, first cultivate your relationship to God. Let him teach you about unselfish love. Once he has, all the other kinds of love will have a solid foundation, and will give you all the more pleasure.

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2009, Richard Niell Donovan.