Sunday, June 23, 2019

2. How should Eros, Philia and Agape ideally fit together in a godly marriage?

When a person comes to Christ, he or she experiences the unconditional love of God, and begins to show Agape love to others as the Apostle John puts it in 1 John 4:19, "We love because he first loved us." This is the foundation for all Christian relationships-the unconditional love of God for everyone. It doesn't matter if the object of our love is young or old, rich or poor, male or female. We love like God because we are loved by God.

Image result for agape, eros and philia in marriageAgape love is essential in a marriage relationship because this love enables one to love not just his friends but also his enemies: "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45). There will be times in any marriage when the relationship may be strained to breaking point. In times like these, our spouses might seem more like our enemies than our friends--and that is when Agape is needed to keep the marriage going.

But marriage is not built on Agape alone. Agape provides a strong foundation, but marriage should also be nurtured by Philia (friendship). Friendship love grows based on shared goals and values. A marriage is only as strong as the friendship between the partners. The key to developing friendship love is to spend time pursuing common interests together. Friendship takes time. Without friendship, married couples lose the fun and excitement of romantic love.

Sometimes, the caretaking of children becomes the couple's shared interest. While this can be the basis for friendship love, children eventually grow up and leave home. Therefore, it is important that friendship love in a marriage is built on more long-lasting common interests, such as ministry and recreational pursuits.

While shared interests can make us friends, only Eros (physical attraction) can make us lovers. Physical desire is what turns friends into lovers. But the gratification of the physical desire will have to wait for marriage. Eros is an essential part of the "one flesh" experience of marriage. Therefore, cohabiting couples and those who have engaged in premarital sex may lose the anticipation and excitement of marriage.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

1. What does the Bible say about different kinds of love?

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1. What does the Bible say about different kinds of love?

The Bible describes three kinds of love that are relevant to male-female relationships:

1. Sexual/Physical love (Eros): Eros is sexual attraction between males and females. It is usually associated with infatuation. It is usually hormone-driven and triggered by the physical attractiveness of the opposite gender. Eros is essentially a self-directed love as it seeks self-gratification through sexual release. This means one may lose interest in the other party once the sexual desire is gratified. There is a tragic story in the Bible (2 Samuel 13:1-19) about two children of David, Ammon and Tamar, that illustrates the ephemeral nature of sexual love. Amnon was madly in love with Tamar, his half-sister: "Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her" (2 Samuel 13:2-3). So he feigned illness to get her to serve him in his bedroom. When Tamar was in his bedroom, he sent his servants out and raped her. What happened to Amon next was appalling: "Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her" (2 Samuel 13:15).

Once Amnon's Eros was gratified, whatever "love" he had for Tamar was gone. From this story, we can observe the Ero's goal is not the other party's welfare. Since it is self-focused, it is often insecure and susceptible to extreme feelings of jealousy. This is the "love" portrayed and glorified by Hollywood, but it can never be the foundation of a long-lasting male-female relationship. This does not mean that Eros has no place in the biblical concept of romantic love, but it must take place within the safe and secure context of the married life.

2. Friendship love (Philia): Unlike Eros which is self-focused, Phila (friendship love) is often built around a common love. Thus, Philia is not self-focused but interest-focused. The common interest may be a hobby, a religious or civic cause, or even an educational or vocational pursuit. Philia is therefore not restricted to male-female relationships; it can apply to same-gender relationships. However, Philia can also lead to long-term commitment within marriage, which will include Eros. Romantic love is not always initiated through Eros and, in many cases, is a fruit of Philia (friendship love). There are many couples who were classmates or colleagues for many years before they began a courtship. On the whole, Philia-initiated relationships are more stable than Eros-initiated ones, for Philia is more rational in nature while Eros is more emotional in nature.

3. Divine love (Agape): The third kind of love described in the Bible is Agape. It is divine love and the most altruistic form of love. Agape is unconditional love--the kind of love God has for sinners regardless of their status, desirability or worth. Agape love is selfless and self-sacrificing; it is entirely "other-focused": "By this we know love (agape), that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1 John 3:16). The person loves not because the other party is lovely or lovable but because he himself is the embodiment of sacrificial love. Agape love is found in every individual because we are created in the image of God. Unfortunately, sin has distorted our expression of Agape, though we can still see glimpses of it in a mother's sacrificial love for her children or in the act of soldier laying down his life to save his comrades. Only Agape love can sustain marriage "unto death" because it is the only love that is independent of external conditions. For Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us as the source of the Agape love of God: "God's love (agape) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).

FAQs about Singleness, Love & Marriage

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From today, I will be posting extracts from my book, Frequently Asked Questions about Singleness, Love and Marriage  (Armour Publishing, 2016). I start with the Preface:


This book was birthed from my involvement in my church's singles ministry after I graduated from Trinity Theological College in the 1980s. My concern for Christian singles grew as I observed that many of them were unable to find a suitable match within their own congregations because they were busy at work on weekdays and actively involved in ministry on weekends, leaving them with very little time for socialising beyond their church circles. 

However, this burden took a backseat when I left the singles' ministry and joined the pastoral ministry. After 10 years in the pastoral ministry, I joined Alpha as a full-time trainer from 2003 to 2012. The 10 years at Alpha enabled me to minister in the workplaces, prisons and various churches, both locally and throughout the ASEAN region and beyond (including China & India).

In the last few years, my wife and I became the marriage course coordinators for Alpha, providing training for trainers of the marriage preparation course and also the marriage course. In the course of conducting these training sessions, we saw the need to get involved in singles ministry again. However, this time, our aim was not to create opportunities for singles to find life partners, but to help singles develop the skills and attitudes necessary for a successful married life.

At the beginning of each marriage preparation course, we ask participants an obvious question: "Why do you want to get married?" Often, couples are unable to give a clear reply. After some hesitation, the answers invariably revolve around the following key ideas: 
  1. Marriage is the next step after completing one's education and finding a job.
  2. Marriage is for companionship.
  3. Marriage is to start a family.
For Christian couples, I ask a further question, "So what makes your marriage different from that of non-Christians?" Usually, Christian couples are not able to articulate clear responses to this question. For them, the Christian marriage is not much different from non-believers' conception of marriage (similar to the three reasons given above). Very rarely do we come across a couple who say they want to build a marriage to glorify God.

This book is written for singles (and those helping singles) who want to explore the subject of love, courtship and marriage before they contemplate marriage as a serious option. To make this book easy to understand and read, I have used the catechism method of questions and answers. The questions in this book cover the areas of love, courtship and marriage, and are the questions frequently asked by singles. 

I hope this book will help singles navigate through some of the complex issues of love, sex and marriage, before they settle on any one person.

Then Chee Min
May 2016