Friendship, Marriage and God
One of the most compelling themes of the Christian gospel is love. Christian love refers to many things including the divine love of God for Creation, and also to human love for each other. Human love can manifest in a number of different ways or types of relationships. Marriage and friendship are two of the most important and universal types of human relationships that are based on love. In spite of differences in culture, language, and ethnicity, all Christians perceive and communicate love in similar ways. Christian love as a strong theological component, as for the first time in recorded history, God became equal to love: "God is love," (1 John 4:8). The Bible also shows how and why love can be psychologically as well as spiritually transformative, which is why the theme of love remains constant throughout the New Testament. Essentially, there are three distinct but related types of love in Christian doctrine: agape, Eros, and philia (Carmichael 4). Agape refers to the outpouring of divine love from God "through the Holy Spirit" and into the hearts of human beings (Romans 5:5). Eros is squarely focused on the love between husband and wife, which is a special type of Christian relationship. Finally, philia is a broad term referring to friendship as well as all other virtuous, respectful, and altruistic human relationships. Thesis: Christian love is defined by the commingling of agape, eros, and philia; it is impossible to experience, share, or define Christian love without all three of these essential components.
The Christian concept of love has evolved through the merging of Christianity with Greek philosophy. However, the term agape was not a term found in Classical Greek, indicating a completely new concept of love that came from Christ, which required the new word (Carmichael 35). The concept of agape is therefore the most central and important to Christian love, and underwrites all other types and manifestations of love including marriage and friendship. Agape is defined as the "altruistic love flowing down from God," (Carmichael 4). Likewise, the Bible clearly indicates that a person is incapable of truly loving God with agape without also and simultaneously cultivating and expressing love for fellow human beings in the forms of eros and philia: "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister ... cannot love God ... And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister," (1 John 4: 20-21). Therefore, all three types of love are central to the Christian worldview and identity. All three types of love also happen to be essential prerequisites for salvation, because God makes love "complete" and meaningful as it states in 1 John 4:17: "This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment." Human love parallels the promise and process of salvation. Therefore, loving thy neighbor, thy friend, and God becomes a spiritual imperative and the core component of Christian faith.
Christian love is often discussed in terms of sacrifice. According to Christian doctrine, a sign of God's love for humanity was in the mystery and sacrifice of Christ. "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins," (1 John 4:9-10). Thus, sacrifice must be a key component of human love. Human beings do in fact make sacrifices for their friends and loved ones. Those sacrifices can and sometimes do require suffering and even death. Virtuous love can exist between husband and wife, between friends, between parents and children, or even between individuals and their countries. For example, soldiers possess a virtuous love for their country that inspires them to sacrifice their...
Selfless love also entails sacrifice, whether sacrificing a kidney to save a person's life, or sacrificing money for the same. Most parents would willingly sacrifice their own lives to save that of their children. The idea that sacrifice is integral to love has its roots in the gospel of Christ, for "Christ is our true friend, wounded with love yet loving those who wound him" (Carmichael 41). Sacrificial love means being willing to put aside all thoughts of the self in order to do good for another, whether that other is another person or God's will.
Although agape, eros, and philia are interrelated and interdependent, these types of love are felt and communicated in different ways. God's love for humanity may be communicated in ineffable ways such as through miracles or grace. Human beings are technically incapable of communicating love in the same way God would, but can communicate love in other ways including but not limited to making selfless sacrifices. It is also possible to conceive of the love between husband and wife as being a process of unfolding grace given and shared between the couple (Cooke 81). The philial love that defines friendship is characterized by mutual respect, trust, and admiration. Depending on the nature of the friendship, the ages of the individuals, their backgrounds, and any number of other situational variables, the verbal and nonverbal expressions of philial love will be unique and yet always rooted in God. Friends often tease one another as a sign of affection, which is no less valid a means of communicating as a kiss between husband and wife or a "tough love" scenario in which a friend needs an intervention. There are theological reasons why love can be communicated in various ways; all love is one because theoretically all love comes from God as human beings are created in God's image. Even friendship is something that God gave humanity, as the archetypal model for friendship can be traced to Christ's relationship with His followers. One of Christ's roles was as "friend," and "friendship with God is possible" because people are children of God and God loves as parent to a child (Carmichael 33).
Although the relationship between Christ and a disciple or any human being is unequal given the status of Christ, Christ's "friendship" nevertheless provides a model for human friendship and love. In spite of the different methods of expressing or communicating love, when Jesus states, "Love each another as I have loved you," the implication is that Jesus is encouraging people to practice agape with each other (John 15:12). If humans are to "love one another" as Christ loves humans, then all love may stem from the same divine source. For example, Christ demonstrated incredible kindness towards others, including those who were unkind to him or to those who did not necessarily deserve good treatment. Kindness and goodwill exist between human beings and also between human beings and God. Friendship is "active love," or God's love in action through the works of human beings (Carmichael 32). In fact, it is possible to view the relationship of human beings with God as a type of friendship or at least as the bond between parent and child. Marriage, like friendship, mirrors God's love for humanity. Just as friends must model their love for one another on God's love, husband and wife must do the same. The Bible suggests that husband and wife become one flesh and one body, similar to the ways Christians and Christ share the same spiritual body (Lawler). Sexuality is a means of communicating God's love through the sacred bond of a marriage, because "that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh," (Genesis 2:24). Eros, as it is described here in Genesis 2:24, is one of the three main types of love and welcomed by God as the Bible and especially Old Testament contains many stories of husbands and wives having sex and bearing children as a result. One of the defining characteristics of love is oneness, the elimination of the ego and other false distinctions between people or between humans and God.
Self-love, which could be defined as being kind to the self or treating the self as one would treat another human being, is qualitatively and spiritually different from selfishness and is an essential part of the agape experience. To understand the self as being a part of God, or to know that each person including the self is a child of God, is to appreciate God's will and creation. This is why Christians are taught to love their neighbors as themselves; the message is not to love selfishly but to love as Christ loves all people. A similar analogy between self-love and love for others exists between husband and wife, showing that there is no distinction between eros, agape, and philia. As Lawler points out, the Bible teaches a universally applicable…
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