Song of Solomon 5:2 “My sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled.” In the New Testament, there are three Greek words used for love: phileo (brotherly love); eros (erotic love); and agape (God’s unconditional love). The great Christian thinker and writer, C.S. Lewis, described Four Loves: affection, friendship, eros, and charity. Although it may be possible to categorize the aspects of love in several different ways, I think the progression of love’s course as it deepens is fairly typical. Affection deepens to friendship, which deepens to brotherly love, which eventually—as it is purified and matured—penetrates to the bedrock of true charity (2 Peter 1:7).
What type of love do you think the bridegroom was demonstrating? The evidence of the next few verses demonstrates a selfless, Christ-like love. But, how mature do you think the bride’s love is at this point? Will she get up and open the door?
Probably most people—myself included—married with eros in mind, but before we experienced a true agape love for another person…the kind that will patiently and consistently inconvenience ourselves in order to sacrificially care for someone else’s needs. How do we so easily confuse passion with enduring love?
We need to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (genuine love, I Corinthians 12:31) and “follow after charity” (I Corinthians 14:1). We need to begin pursuing true agape love in our relationships with all people from the first moment we’re aware of its existence.
The confounding variable is our sexuality, and that must be negotiated in every relationship. To love one another as believers with both the fervency of true brotherhood and the purity of true charity we must first pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Immorality. One of my sons once made the observation that he believes all love borders on romance, and all romance borders on sexuality. I think this is profoundly true for us as fallen human beings, because our sexuality is encoded in every cell of our body! How conscious we are of this dynamic, and how much each individual may struggle with the problem, are doubtless variables with a tremendous range, but I believe they exist in each of us and therefore need to be recognized and addressed.
As a person who experiences emotion intensely and loves freely, I have found one of the greatest challenges of my life to be I Peter 1:22, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, [see that ye] love one another with a pure heart fervently.” How do we actually develop purity in passion? Can they coexist? Yes, but only as we obey the truth and live a life crucified to our flesh. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Walk in the spirit and base every decision on the clear directives of God’s Word. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14). Make no “provision for the lusts of the flesh”…don’t pack any picnic baskets to feed that black bear of sinful imaginations lurking in your heart!
Practically, I have found that having a pure and fervent charity for others is the direct outflow of having my heart rightly related to God, and that as I grow to love Christ more deeply and find my security and love needs met in him, I am more able to love others with a pure heart. Do you find yourself longing for someone to love and be loved by? Do you find yourself coveting someone who is not your mate? The ultimate answer to our love problem is truly in God, and God alone. Whether we are single or married, that deepest need for intimacy and love is only met in Christ, and if we have not become rooted and grounded in his love, we will struggle in every other relationship…either with purity or with passion.
“Oh,” you may say, “But I’m not physically attracted to anyone!”
“Well,” I would respond. “But, do you fervently love everyone?”
You see, to live without a passionate love for people is also missing God’s best. Certainly we are called to purity, but the Christian must go beyond purity to fervency. It is easy to have “pure” thoughts towards someone if we have no thought towards them. If we don’t care about them or think about them, that isn’t exactly “purity,” that is simply “nothing!” But, when we begin to enter into their woes and feel compassion…when we begin to see them as human beings not so very different from ourselves…when we begin to reach out to them…then we have begun to experience love, and it needs to always be the love of God given with the mind of Christ and constrained by the love of Christ. Let his mind be in you. How? Fill your mind with his thought in his Word. “Put on” the Lord Jesus and walk in his Spirit. Pray without ceasing. I think this is the secret to passion and purity.
“Christ be beside me, Christ be before me, Christ be behind me
—King of my heart:
Christ be within me, Christ be below me, Christ be above me—never to part.
Christ be in all hearts thinking about me, Christ be on all tongues telling of me;
Christ be the vision in eyes that see me, In ears that hear me Christ ever be.”
(adapted by James Quinn
from words inscribed on St. Patrick’s breastplate)