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Teach the many definitions of love

1 John 4:8 tells us that “God is love.” We are called to mirror that love throughout creation and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us (John 13:34-35). Human expressions of love vary and are sometimes complicated. Read on to see how love has historically been grouped into four “types.” How do you love? Let’s count the ways!

Love is all around. But what “love” are we talking about? Most people know they experience different types of love, but they may not know the different definitions of love or how they can have all kinds of love in their daily lives. Talk, teach and have fun with love.

What is love? Ask the children first, and you’ll get some great answers. When Grace United Methodist Church in Warren, Pa., asked this question, they received this thoughtful response: “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too. That’s love.”

Understand and know love
We see love around us, but we usually don’t take the time to learn about love. The Greeks defined four types of love (storge, phileo, eros and agape) in ways that still apply today. C.S. Lewis explored the concepts in his book, The Four Loves and this Wikipedia article shares some definitions:

Storge is a family-type love. While storge love happens naturally among relatives, it also can happen when friends come together to form family-type relationships. Some, including Lewis, describe familial love as the most natural and emotive. Yet, it also presents challenges because this type of love is expected or ready-made.

Friendship love comes when people have a bond, often through a common interest or activity. More than companionship, phileo love occurs when the connection is felt strongly.

Eros love can be explained better as “being in love” or “marital love.” Eros love occurs when two people have a deep emotional and passionate connection with one another.

The greatest of all loves, agape takes a charitable definition. People who experience or act with agape love show they care for people regardless of circumstance. This often is how we define God’s love for us, though God transcends a single definition.

Teach love.
How you teach your congregation about the definitions of love first depends on the age level.

School-age children
Make it fun for them to learn the types of love. You don’t need to delve deep into etymology, but it’s easy to let them recognize that there are differences.

In a Sunday School lesson or other group activity, ask the children to define love and what or whom they love. Have them take crayon to paper to illustrate or record their answers on newsprint or poster board taped to the wall. Their responses will probably fall into broad categories — people, activities and things. Most likely, you will find they say they “love” things. Explain that what they really do is “enjoy” things and that they “love” people. Then turn the discussion to people. Of course, depending on the age, some children will eschew the notion of “love,” dismissing it with murmurs of distaste. In that situation, the activity is even more helpful so children realize that “love” doesn’t only have a romantic meaning.

Create a poster that both lists the type of love and includes a picture and words to describe the relationship. Or put the children’s pictures next to the appropriate word as you go through the lesson.

Start with agape love because children already have a familiarity with God’s love. Refer to it as “charitable love.” Talk about volunteer activities, including things the children already do in your church and community. Move on to storge love and refer to it as “family love.” Then move on to eros love and talk about it as “being married” or “being in love.” Focus on their parents and grandparents. Then move on to phileo love and talk about “friend love” for their classmates and teammates.

To summarize the activity, bring pictures to illustrate the various types of love. Hold up the picture and ask the children to put the picture next to the right type of love on the poster. Reinforcement of lessons learned always is helpful.

Teens and adults 
Turn it into a game. After a quick lesson (or refresher) on the types of love, the games can begin. Create a game show with buzzers or bells to ring in the correct answer. The questions can describe a relationship or simply name two people whom the participants would know (famous or local — be creative) and the first one ringing in says what type of love these two people share. Give point values based on difficulty. The person with the most points wins a heart-shaped box of chocolate or some other prize reflecting the theme.

Turn it into a discussion. 
Take the children’s lesson and dig deeper. Go more in depth with the definitions. Invite participants to talk about how they see love in their lives. Ask questions to spur the conversation such as, “Can someone experience more than one type of love with the same person?” “When does one type of love seem more important than another?” and “What about storge love — how do you handle the expectations of built-in love when a family member isn’t very lovable?”

Be creative and build on these ideas to put the Greek definitions of love into a more visual presence at your church and among your congregation.

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