February 2012, A Letter from June
Last February—just in time for Valentine’s Day—one of the world’s largest online dating sites released results of a survey they took of 5,200 singles. It is said to be the most comprehensive poll of its type ever taken. The survey of 21- to 65-year-olds (and older) reported that:1
• 72% of singles would live with someone in the future without marrying.
• 36% of singles are open to a casual “hook-up” in the near future, and 54% reported they have had a one-night stand.
• 76% of single men and 77% of women ages 21–34 were no longer virgins.
The results plainly portray the challenging cultural terrain today’s Christian singles navigate when dating. Carolyn was one such sojourner. Hurting and confused, she called me on Hope In The Night a few months ago, explaining that she was involved with a man who was in the “process of getting a divorce.” In other words, she was dating a married man.
“He’s not a Christian but I am . . . and I know better,” Carolyn confessed. “The Holy Spirit talks to me and says, ‘You know this is not right.’ But on the other hand, I ask myself, ‘Why did God send him to me?’ I love him!”
My rebuttal: “There’s no way God sent you a man who’s already married! God would be going against His own character. Understand, it’s so easy to believe a lie . . . to justify. You’ve compromised in a way that let your heart rule your head.”
As our conversation progressed, it became clear that Carolyn, like so many Christian singles, didn’t understand the true meaning of love. In fact, her concept was completely backward.
While the English language has only one word for love, the Greek language features multiple words with multiple meanings.2 Understanding what love truly means is critical in order to enjoy a healthy, Christ-centered dating relationship. Let’s look more closely at three types of love expressed in the Greek language.
Eros is passionate, romantic love, but it can also represent the feeling of strong emotion without a romantic focus. Eros within marriage is designed by God for physical and emotional pleasure. Eros within a dating relationship is designed to be morally pure and without passionate lust. You can have passion for a person without passionate lust, aware that physical purity is necessary for spiritual purity. First Thessalonians 4:3–5 reminds us, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified [meaning “set apart”]: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.”
Phileo is affectionate love, brotherly love, mutual enjoyment. Phileo is true friendship—the love of “liking.” When Jesus wept following the death of His dear friend Lazarus, the onlookers remarked, “See how he loved (phileo) him!” (John 11:36). It can also refer to love for another that is as deep as the love for oneself. For example, I Samuel 18:1 says, “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” Jonathan’s phileo love moved him to strengthen David spiritually, as we see in I Samuel 23:16, “Jonathan went to David . . . and helped him find strength in God.”
Agape is unselfish love, unconditional love—a commitment to seek the best and highest good for another person, regardless of any response. Agape love originates with God. First John 4:10–11 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God’s agape love is the source of our ability to love others selflessly, as evidenced by I John 4:7: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Here’s the problem. Most dating starts with eros. In fact, many couples never move beyond this phase. Those who do move past “romantic” love typically move to phileo, the affectionate love of genuinely liking. This route, however, rarely leads to agape—unconditional love that seeks what is in the best interest of the other person—because it’s hijacked along the way by selfishness, lust, or any number of other relational roadblocks.
The eros–phileo–agape progression of most dating relationships is not only ineffective . . . it’s unbiblical.
All relationships, dating and otherwise, should begin with a love that seeks the highest good for the other person . . . agape love. In our Biblical Counseling Keys on The Delights & Dangers of Dating, I use two graphic illustrations.
The World’s Progression for Dating—“Outside In”
The world’s progression starts—and often ends—with eros (passion), without moving to deeper levels.
God’s Progression for Dating—“Inside Out”
God’s plan for dating relationships is just the opposite, progressing from the inside out—from agape love to phileo and then, possibly, to eros. Following this progression helps keep a couple from being consumed by erotic emotion.
Helping the “Carolyns” in Your World
Carolyn and I talked at length that night about the real meaning of love and the need to back out of her bond with her boyfriend. I readily acknowledged that taking this difficult route would be painful. But, in reality, Carolyn would face pain either way—whether she left the relationship or didn’t. Only by departing, however, could she (later) experience God’s lasting inner peace and position herself for His guidance in relationships that would be healthy and pleasing in His sight.
If a country were populated solely with America’s single adults, it would be the world’s 14th largest nation.3 This explains why we all have “Carolyns” in our lives—single friends and family members looking for love, but in all the wrong places. To minister to this great need, we’ve created a number of indispensable resources. In addition to our Biblical Counseling Keys on Dating, I’ve written and taught extensively on Singleness, Premarital Counseling, and Sexual Integrity, with in-depth audio and print resources available for each topic. (To hear one segment on our Dating topic called “What Is the Difference between Lust and Love?,” listen to the audio below; it’s taken from our Heart of the Matter series on Sexual Integrity.)
Sometimes, when guidance is needed, nothing can take the place of a wise, compassionate, and godly person. That is why we staff our wonderful Hope Care Center 17 hours a day, 5 days a week, to share God’s Truth for Today’s Problems and pray for each person who calls us at 1-800-488-HOPE (4673) or writes to us at [email protected].
Of course, we well understand that people don’t have the luxury of scheduling a crisis—or a sleepless night—which is why we are asking God to bring in the needed funds to help us staff our Care Center 24/7. Would you take a moment now and ask the Lord if He would have you partner with us in this effort? When you partner with Hope For The Heart, you can have the joy of knowing that you are helping provide biblical hope and practical help to each and every seeking heart He sends our way . . . and there have been more than 500,000!
With utmost sincerity, I thank you for being such an important part of our ministry family. Your prayers and partnership enable us to minister around the world and in your community. Because of friends like you, we are making a difference in the lives of millions . . . one heart at a time.
Yours in the Lord’s hope,
If you’re on Facebook, I invite you to connect with me at www.Facebook.com/June.Hunt.Hope. And if you’re not, take it from me: You’re never too old to start! See you there!