Meditation on Love - I Corinthians 13

Sermon preached by Mario Ribas at De Goede Hoop Metropolitaanse Gemeenskapskerk
CAPE TOWN – 14th of May, 2006

Today I want to reflect with you on Love. The text of Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13 is quite stimulating in what regards love as he presents us a completely different understanding of what love is all about. This letter he wrote actually was destined to the Corinthians, in Greece, and in the Greek language there are three different words to describe Love, which are: Eros, Phillia and Agape. 'In English the word ‘love’ comes from the Germanic form of Sanskrit Lubh, which actually means ‘desire’, therefore making the word rather broadly defined, and hence imprecise, which generates first order problems of definition and meanings'. We use this word for our friendships, family, for things when we say - I’d love to drive this car - I love this food - and also for our sexual encounters, we use the expression “making love with somebody.” The word ‘love’ is therefore corrupted by all the nuances attached to it.

Perhaps then, the Greeks words for love would help us to have a clearer understanding of what love actually means.

The first Greek word we should explore is

EROS

'The term eros (Greek erasthai) is used to refer to that part of love constituting a passionate, intense desire for something, it is often referred to as a sexual desire, hence the modern notion of 'erotic' (Greek erotikos). In Plato's writings however, eros is held to be a common desire that seeks transcendental beauty-the particular beauty of an individual reminds us of true beauty that exists in the world of Forms or Ideas (Phaedrus 249E: "he who loves the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it." Trans. Jowett). The Platonic-Socratic position maintains that the love we generate for beauty on this earth can never be truly satisfied until we die; In this quest to fulfil our desires, many of us have particular notions of beauty, for example, what types of bodies we like or feel attracted to. But then we know that it is not a sustainable or permanent thing because our bodies change, they are vulnerable to illness, to the marks of ageing, so if Eros is the major driver in our quest for love, then it should not be fulfilling, but rather a source of frustration or unhappiness. '

PHILIA

'In contrast to the desiring and passionate yearning of eros, philia entails a fondness and appreciation of the other. For the Greeks, the term philia incorporated not just friendship, but also loyalties to family and polis-one's political community, job, or discipline. The motivational distinctions are derived from love for another because the friendship is wholly useful as in the case of business contacts, or because their character and values are pleasing (with the implication that if those attractive habits change, so too does the friendship), or for the other in who they are in themselves, regardless of one's interests in the matter. The English concept of friendship roughly captures Aristotle's notion of philia, as he writes: "things that cause friendship are: doing kindnesses; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done" (Rhetoric, II. 4, trans. Rhys Roberts).'

AGAPE

'Agape refers to the paternal love of God for man and for man for God but is extended to include a brotherly love for all humanity. (The Hebrew ahev has a slightly wider semantic range than agape). Agape arguably draws on elements from both eros and philia in that it seeks a perfect kind of love that is at once a fondness, a transcending of the particular, and a passion without the necessity of reciprocity. The concept is expanded on in the Judaic-Christian tradition of loving God: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5) and loving "thy neighbour as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18). The love of God requires absolute devotion that is reminiscent of Plato's love of Beauty (and Christian translators of Plato such as St Augustine employed the connections), which involves an erotic passion, awe, and desire that transcends earthly cares and obstacles. Aquinas, on the other hand, picked up on the Aristotelian theories of friendship and love to proclaim God as the most rational being and hence the most deserving of one's love, respect, and considerations. '

Now, St. Paul, when he speaks about love (I Cor. 13.), he goes on defining its major characteristics - Like love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude. It does not insist in its own way, and is not irritable or resentful.

Although our emotions play an important part in love, it is not about that Paul talks about. There seems to be a certain tendency to mistake love with our feelings, and mix them both, leading us to develop an understating of love that is entirely subject to our emotions. To fall in love is an expression for passion, which in Portuguese we have a specific word for it, which is apaixonado, or taken over by passion. So instead of saying I have felt in love for someone, I’d say, I am apaixonado for someone. The English expression to “Fall in Love”, sounds rather fragile because it denotes that something fell down, something collapsed, which brings up the understanding of a feeling we have no control upon, it fell down. Nothing wrong about that, it is part of our emotional reactions, mostly attached to Eros.

We need to understand that our emotions has its moods, it has its own rules, it may be affected by the weather; if it is cold and cloudy you may feel a bit melancholic, if it is sunny you may feel in high spirit, or perhaps agitated. It may be affected by the loads of work you may have to do certain days, and on your professional development and relations. It may be affected by our health, and also by the financial issues. So, today, you may feel in a frame of mind to say that you love someone, but is this feeling going to be there next day? It may not be there next day, and then what are you going to do about it?

You go dancing at one of the night clubs and meet this gorgeous guy or girl, really well dressed, you dance together, next day he or she invites you for dinner or drink, you have nice conversations, and then it goes onto the next date, and the next …. Then you found yourself falling in love, suddenly you find yourselves in bed - the sex was terrible… What are you going to do now? The bad sex experience made that passion disappear…. Or let say even the sex experience was great, you decide to stay together. After a while you move in together. Then you both have to face each other’s real self… each one with their own behaviours and manners which may conflict with yours… you suddenly, think it was a great mistake…. And then you drop him or her off, and say - I don’t love him or her anymore.

The issue we have to face here is our desire to be with someone, our search to love and to be loved. And if you go out to any of the bars and night clubs in Cape Town after this service, there will be a great number of single people, expecting to meet somebody to take them out of their loneliness. But their expectations of Mr. Right, or Miss Right may be too high to be met, and often built upon the Eros desires for beauty. As we all know, a good looking guy or girl, in few years time have to face the fate or ageing. Our bodies are vulnerable to changes, changes that not always we have control upon. So, what are you going to do if the gorgeous person you met in few years time lost all that body beauty you once knew? I very close friend of mine, back in Brazil, met this gorgeous tall blond guy fifteen years ago. After just few months together this guy found out that he was HIV positive. At that time, you know, the treatments options were limited, hence his partner lost a lot of weight, his cheeks lapsed, and also he got into high depression. All that body beauty suddenly disappeared, but one thing my friend tells me is “I fall in love with the person”, and the person is still there. Everything else may go, but the one I love is still there.

We, gays and lesbians, have many things to offer to the world, and one of them is sensuality, and pleasure. These are important elements that are needed in a world dominated by a sadic mentality. Yet, sometimes we let those elements be the driving force in our desires to be with someone, in our desires to belong. There is nothing wrong about those elements, but if we truly want to love and be loved, we need then to go to Phillia or Agape forms of love.

Once we build our notion of love based only upon our attraction to the other person looks, we may be disappointed. But more than attraction, love is action. The feelings might not necessarily be there, not on the way we often expect though. But we still let love acts because we feel loved.

In terms of friendships - tonight actually several of friends are here - And I must say to them that their friendship means a lot to me. We have been there for each other, we have been supporting each other in bad times, and we have been celebrating with each other in the good times. When we do something for each other, we know that there is no expectation of reciprocity. We just do it because we are so fond of each other and we truly want to be a blessing to each one’s lives.

Sadly I met someone this week that does not believe in friendships. Specially regarding how long they may last. However sometime in our quest to meet a boy-friend or girl-friend we ignore friendships building. I must say that friendships building should actually be a priority. Once you have friends, you are never alone.
Now, dealing with our desire to love and be loved. There are three important elements that are important to be considered:

The first important thing is that it requires from us an openness to be loved, or being able to receive love. We need to make friends with our own self, and not be afraid of being loved. It may be a strange thing for some people who throughout their lives have been rejected, despised, never hugged, never kissed, and then later they develop that rejection towards loving because they think they are not worth of it. Nevertheless this first step requires honesty to be who we are, and accept it. It requires getting rid of all pretentiousness, not being afraid of who we truly are and where we come from. And sometime it requires openness to run risks; otherwise we protect ourselves too much from being loved due to the fear of getting hurt.

The second important element is Communication. Some of you will remember that my last sermon here we explored the importance of communicating. It is not just sharing information, but it is about being able to reach each other’s soul. When we speak about friendships or relationships, communication surely does play a fundamental part. Being able to talk and listen, that is the way we understand each other, and once you share each one’s stories, a new history starts to be built. This also requires honesty, and integrity.

The third element is that love in partnerships of every level requires that you let the wind dance between you. It is an interconnection in separateness - For true partnerships can only be achieved by separateness and whole beings who retain their separateness even in unity and uniting. It requires trust, it requires on “letting go”.

The apostle Paul places love, faith, and hope, on the top of the list, three important elements in our lives, but he goes stressing further that the most important one is Love. Once you find love, you find happiness, you find passion, and you find life. Nevertheless always remembering that love is not limited to our emotions, and also remembering its kindness, its openness, its generosity, its endurance or patience.

Love God and your neighbour as yourself requires first you love yourself; otherwise we are unable to truly love and receive love. Actually I did something to two of my friends this week, it is a comic thing to do, but I would do it over and over again: they felt badly and really let down in their relationships, so I dragged them to face a mirror and face themselves, and ask them the question: who do you see? Who is that person, isn’t him beautiful? It is an important thing to look at the mirror and be in loved with the person you see reflecting there. We all have been created in the image of God, and God is diverse, he is creative, he hates sameness, so he made each one of us look different, and we are all beautiful, gorgeous, and sexy. We cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of the market, or the Men’s Health Magazine idealisation of beauty or perfect bodies. Our bodies are important indeed, and we must look after them, but never wanting to have anyone coming after you because of what you body looks like. Relationships must be based on our integral self.

Finally, I want to conclude this meditation pointing out another thing: I believe most of you are familiar with St. Exupery’s book, ‘The Little Prince’, in the conversation between the little prince and the fox, the fox states that for them to become friends, the little prince would have to tame her. In other words he would have to captivate her heart, and once it happens they would become good friends. The thing I want to say is that, once you captivate someone, you do become responsible for him/her. We are responsible for those we captivate. For those we conquer. Once we share our stories, we built a new history. This is because Love is not selfish love is kind, love is self-giving. Love much more than emotion is action.

If you click on top of the paragraphs with the description of the origin of the english word for love as well as the description of each greek word, you shall be directed to the web page where I quote them from (Alexander Moseley), and where they can be found in its integral part, without the cuts and ads done for this sermon.
I have b een thinking whether there is a strong distinction in the three greeks words for love, as it has been presented by many western scholars, as you can see in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or if in fact the three words were actually strongly interconected instead of somehow being compartmentalized. Of course it is relevant to look at Love as an Action of our will towards others, towards other's benefit, which still is not necessarily controled by our emotions and feelings. Anywayy, I shall leave this text online while I reflect further and will be glad to share if my mind change on this aspect.

Mario Riebas blog can be found online at http://oscrimesdopadremario.blogspot.com/

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