In 1966 Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote a song titled, “What the World Needs Now is Love” which became a classic and has been sung by several performers including an outstanding rendition by Dionne Warwick which can be viewed here. The lyrics of the first verse are as follows:
What the world needs now is love sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love sweet love
No not just for some but for everyone.
Since that song first came out, and continuing till now, many have looked at deteriorating personal and public relationships and re-emphasized the need for more “love sweet love.”
While most people agree with the sentiment expressed in the Bacharach song, for many it is only a sweet-sounding platitude that has minimal effect on their hearts, minds, and lives. Hopefully, current personal and political circumstances will help provide sufficient motivation for learning more about love and how to beneficially give and receive it.
Love can be confusing because it means different things to different people. The classical Greek civilization recognized several kinds of love including those expressed in the following words and definitions:
- Eros: Sensual, intimate, sexual love.
- Philia: Fraternal, loyal, friendship love.
- Agape: Pure, altruistic, god-like love.
Eros can be exciting, pleasurable, and captivating. Many believe that it is life’s most enjoyable experience. Eros can also be awesome or loathsome, depending on the circumstances. If it is an expression of reciprocal and beneficial interest it can help generate fulfilling relationships. If it is selfish, exploitive, or perverted, it can debase and destroy.
Philia involves many characteristics including the following: Caring, fondness, affection, delight, sharing, loyalty, attraction, respect, kindness, cooperation, helping, devotion, and promoting well-being. If there was sufficient philia it could happily unite the human family and revolutionize the world.
Since agape is the Greek word attributed to the apostle Paul and translated as love, it’s logical to use the biblical explanation: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (NIV 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Often things can be better understood by contrasting them with their opposites.
After explaining agape, Paul prophesied of its latter-day opposite as follows: “You can be certain that in the last days there will be some very hard times. People will love only themselves and money. They will be proud, stuck-up, rude, and disobedient to their parents. They will also be ungrateful, godless, heartless, and hateful. Their words will be cruel, and they will have no self-control or pity. These people will hate everything good. They will be sneaky, reckless, and puffed up with pride.” (CEV 2 Timothy 3:1-4)
The opposite of philia has been recently exhibited in the city named after philia, sometimes called The City of Brotherly Love—Philadelphia. In the building where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, Joe Biden gave a speech that has been characterized as a coming “from Hades, hysterically shrieked out with beating fists…concocted to stoke up fear, discontent and hatred in an already unstable environment…throwing gasoline on an already simmering, divisive country…[trying to] totalitarianize the nation under a one party, dictatorial leadership.” (Alan Bergstein)
The final clarifying contrast does not even rise to the level of classical eros. And I quote: “The drag queen might appear as a comic figure, but he carries an utterly serious message: the deconstruction of sex, the reconstruction of child sexuality, and the subversion of middle-class family life…[and the elevation of] the transsexual, the transvestite, the fetishist, the sadomasochist, the prostitute, the porn star, and the pedophile.” (Christopher Rufo)
As we strive to be more loving during detestable times, may we all remember this final insight from a long-suffering Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (KJV Romans 8:35-39)
Now that we have a clearer view of what love is, and is not—may we all strive for what the world needs now—greater and more enduring joy in the best of eros, philia, and especially, agape.
© Copyright 2022 Gene Van Shaar
Gene Van Shaar has spent a lifetime studying and teaching a wide range of religious and secular topics. He is a master teacher whose lessons and stories have generated both laughter and tears. As a defender of freedom, he has fostered independence by encouraging students and readers to embrace correct principles and resist coercion. Like Thomas Jefferson, he has “sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” He has written many articles and books including My Life and Lessons, The Freedom Saving Series, and the Scriptural Insight Archive.