The Four Loves is a book by C. S. Lewis written from a series of radio talks in 1958 and published in 1960. The book examines love from Christian and philosophical perspectives. In his book, Lewis distinguishes between Need-pleasures (e.g. water for the thirsty) and Pleasures of Appreciation (e.g. the love of nature). To his exploration of Need-love and Gift-love, he added what he called “a third element”— Appreciative-love.
Not all love is the same, so after addressing distinctions of need and love, Lewis then addressed four categories of love. He did this by defining and explaining the four Greek words for love used in the Bible—storge (affection), phileo (friendship), eros (romantic), and agape (sacrificial). Because “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) understanding how the Greeks distinguished love is helpful. Borrowing from Lewis’s writings, let consider how we should understand love.
Storge (storgē, Greek: στοργή) is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity, family members or people who relate in familiar ways that have otherwise found themselves bonded by chance. Some refer to this as familial love. Lewis referred to it as affection.
According to Lewis, this kind of love is based on both Need-love and Gift-love and it generates human happiness. However, the strength of this love is lacking. Lewis says it is “built-in” or “ready-made,” is expected and liable to “go bad,” and is a dependency-based love that risks extinction when needs are not met.
Philios (philíos, Greek: φιλία) is the love between close friends. It is a strong and lasting bond between people with common values, interests, and/or activities.
Lewis described this as friendship love—”the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious, and necessary…the least natural of loves.” He suggests this because man does not need friendship love in order to reproduce. However, he also notes that friendship love is a freely chosen love, thereby setting it above other forms of love. Examples of this deep and abiding love between two friends are David and Jonathan in the Bible,Orestes and Pylades in Greek mythology, Roland and Oliver and Amis and Amiles from French literature. Such friendships have diminished in our time, with the shallowness of social media friends and brief, often misunderstood, text communications between friends. In addition to David and Jonathan,
Lewis wrote, “to the Ancients, friendship [love] seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”
Eros (erōs, Greek: ἔρως) is described by Lewis as “being in love” or “loving” someone. Lewis illustrated this as the difference between wanting a woman and wanting only one particular woman. This reflected his view of man as a rational animal, a composite both of reasoning angel and instinctual alley-cat.
In his day, Lewis wrote of the modern tendency for Eros to become a god to people who fully submit themselves to it. How much more so, in our day, is eros a justification for selfishness? In his book, Lewis examined sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. Being in love (eros), he wrote, is in itself an indifferent, neutral force, suggesting that “Eros in all his splendor … may urge to evil as well as good.” Lewis noted the dark side of eros love, in that it could lead even to suicide pacts or murder, as well as to furious refusals to part, saying, “mercilessly chaining together two mutual tormentors, each raw all over with the poison of hate-in-love.” In this, we understand the hot “fires” of emotion that exert control over man’s reason and rationality.
Lewis distinguished between erotic and phileo love by saying that erotic love is personal and not to be shared, but sharing friendship love is desired:
If one who was first, in the deep and full sense, your Friend, is then gradually or suddenly revealed as also your lover you will certainly not want to share the Beloved’s erotic love with any third. But you will have no jealousy at all about sharing the Friendship.” — CS Lewis
Agape (agápē, Greek: ἀγάπη) is a sacrificial love given without conditions. It exists in good times and in bad, regardless of changing circumstances or the influences of others. The Bible, as well as Lewis, define this love as selfless, generous, virtuous, and the greatest of the four loves.
In Old English translations of the Bible, this word was translated as charity, indicating a heart of love being worked out in sacrificial service. In his book, Lewis wrote “The natural loves [storge, phileo, eros] are not self-sufficient.” As Christians we know, from the writings of Paul, that it is the agape love of God, expressed in the gift of His grace, that is truly sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).
Agape love is counterintuitive to human love. I suggest that we only have it when we receive it from the One who is agape love (1 John 4:8). It is the love of God in which we stand and in which we rest (that’s true abiding love). It is God’s love freely given to us, and freely received by us, that enables us to freely love others.
Lewis’s Words About Love
“To love at all is to be vulnerable, love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make of keeping it intact…you must give your heart to no one not even an animal…lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change, it will not be broken it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
This is a truth that is hard to hear. If one’s heart is hard and cold as stone, one is safe and protected from outside forces. But sadly, one is also shut out from receiving love—both the love of God and the love of others. When we come to Jesus in trusting faith, He removes our hearts of stone and gives us new hearts of flesh (Ezek 11:19, 2 Cor 5:17). He gives a warm and tender heart that is able to receive the greater love of all — the agape love God so freely gives. And when we receive God’s love, His love “grows” in our hearts in a way that we are able to freely, generously, and graciously love others.
Agape love, loves the unlovable, gives to the undeserving, accepts the repulsive, expects nothing in return, and rests in Christ. It is the fuel that fills our tanks (hearts), the power that stirs our souls, and the joy that gives us strength. It comes from God and it is the riches of Christ’s glory and grace “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5), and, therefore, we can love others as we are loved.
1 John 4:19 We love Him because He first loved us.
John 13:35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Note: Only the words phileo, eros, and agape are used in the Bible. There are many examples of storge, familial love, found in Scripture (e.g. the love of Jacob for his sons, the love between Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus), but in the New Testament the Greek word storge is not found.
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