Fourth Sunday of Advent: Sturge

Advent 4: God’s Gift of Love: Storge

Today’s theme: Storge – Natural affection.  Storge (verb) στοργή is natural affection such as between members of a family (parents/children, husband/wife, and siblings). It is rarely found in classical Greek, and then primarily as a description of relationships within the family. It is sometimes used to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations. It is only found in compound uses in the NT (see example below). It is used straight up in Septuagint, but only in the Apocrypha, not the regular biblical text.

Scriptural background:

I want to look at the three compound uses of Storge. The first speaks of how we all should act as Christians and if you think about it, it is the way we were designed by God.

  1. God’s people give honor or natural respect where respect is due: “Love each other with genuine affection [phileostorgoi natural, genuine devotion], and take delight in honoring each other.” Romans 12:10

The last two uses are the same word in the same context, looking at what evil people lack.

  1. That God stops restraining the evil in those who deny Him and gives them over to horribleness in their hearts: “…undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving [astorgous], unforgiving, unmerciful…” Romans 1:31 pointing out the lack of natural affection and genuine devotion. 
  2. People in the last days will be, among many other detestable things: “…unloving [astorgous – without natural affection], unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good…” 2 Timothy 3:3

Quotes to think about

Storge cannot hide itself: “True caring love cannot be found where it does not exist, nor can it be hidden where it truly does.” Anonymous.

True Storge: “The last step in parenteral love involves the release of the beloved; the willing cutting of the cord that would otherwise keep the child in a state of emotional dependence.” Lewis Mumford, American historian and literary critic.

Storge remains: “A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.” Andre Maurois, French author

Relational Expressions of Love: Storge

Definition: Natural affection and sense of protection for the loved one, usually related to family situations of parent/child and child/parent, siblings, and husband/wife. The emphasis is on NATURAL affection. God designed us this way. He designed creation this way. We see it throughout the animal kingdom. But wherever the fall has distorted those who reject God, we see that those lacking this natural affection are truly lost (e.g., Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3).

Biblically: Let’s look again at our first scripture from Romans 12. The primary characteristic of “authentic godly love” (verse 9 – agape) is that it fills Christians with tender devotion (phileostorgoi) to one another person (verse 10).

We can translate philostorgoi, which in common Koine Greek is often shortened to just storgoi, as familial affection, a natural attachment, especially among blood or marriage ties, that unites spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters with innate love, benevolence, and devotion toward one another, even among extended family members brought together by choice or circumstance.

It definitely applies to the “family of God”, those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb as children of God, in which according to Paul in Galatians 3:28 are in undivided unity, not separated by the things that divide the world.

In the Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes storge love as ‘the humblest and most widely diffused of loves’. It starts with the natural affection parents feel toward the developing child in the womb, the overwhelming joy experienced at the first sight of the newborn, enriched by the image of a mother nursing her baby, culminating in the visceral enjoyment we experience at the celebration of new life.

It is a given and part of the created order. I believe that is why the Bible does not emphasize it, but notes instead its lack as a failing brought on by a heart hardened by sin.

Looking Back and Tying it all Together

Remember my four quick definitions of love from their Greek words:

  • Eros – Physical, intimate, possessive and selfish love – wanting/needing

Not biblical but currently, our primary cultural expression, especially in the media and entertainment in which worth or value is taken or possessed, giving value to the possessor.

  • Agape – Godly, sacrificial love – giving

This is the primary biblical, godly expression and definition of love in which worth is given to the worthless – while we were yet sinners and in rebellion he loved/sacrificed for us. I think we all get the essential sacrificial nature of agape by now.

  • Phileo/Philios – Friendship, brotherly love – sharing

These are chosen relationships. We make/choose friends. Remember what Jesus said in John 15:15, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends (philios), for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” Jesus’ choice to make them friends is true agape, giving to them what they did not have, a gift and that gift is friendship. 

I also believe we need to remember the important theological statement made in John 16:27 “For the Father himself loves [phileo] you, because you have loved [phileo] me, and have believed that I came out from God.” That shows that God acts in phileo love. This is important because it means that God responds to us. Remember agape is initiatory in giving. This verse shows us that God responds in phileo BECAUSE as John says,”We have loved Jesus His Son and BELIEVED that he came OUT FROM God (also showing Jesus’ divinity – begotten, not made – out from and out belief in it).

Why is this important? It shows that despite being Almighty and Absolutely Sovereign and not a respecter of persons, God does respond to his creation; to us his children, for it is his children that believe on his Son.

It gives me great solace to know that not only does God agape me, gives me what I do not deserve, my salvation in Christ, but he also philios me with an affectionate, Fatherly love because I have believed. That allows me to relate to him as a true father, one who both sacrifices for me and has affection for me.

That is SO AWESOME and without understanding the distinction between agape and phileo this wonderful truth is lost to us.

Note: Our action in John 16:27 of loving Jesus is in the perfect tense. That shows our love for him is a continuous action not a one-time occurrence. It reflects our redeemed state of being, our new creation in action where phileo has become a natural, ongoing part of who we are.

In closing our review of phileo, I want to make a point about loyalty. When we talked about John 16:27 and God having phileo for us, remember there is an important aspect of this type of love: loyalty. God is not just affectionate, but he is unfailingly loyal to us his children. We can trust him with an everlasting trust.

  • Storge – Natural or familial love (parent/child, husband/wife, siblings) – caring

This is everything we talked about earlier. It is the way God created us to be, naturally caring and loving and after we are saved this is how we should respond to everyone in the family of God.

The Important Interaction: I now want use a set of drawings (Venn diagrams) of the interaction between the three biblical loves. Let’s take a look at their relationships. Where the expression of the three biblical loves intersect, we have a special combined expression of love. These combined expressions exhibit the best of each love’s meanings, while the whole of these intersections is more than the sum of its parts. With each combination, we search for the sweet spot in these Venn diagrams (circles to represent the sets (various aspects) of that love’s expression, with the position and overlap of the circles indicating the similar relationships between those expressions).

Start with Agape
A Venn diagram expressing the boundary conditions of Agape
Add Philieo to Agape

Add Storge to Agape

We can also look at the intersection
of Storge and Phileo
Then the intersection of all three

The Golden Convergence
shows the perfection of
all that love can be

That is our goal, to live as much as possible in the golden intersection of perfect love.

Assignment for Advent Teaching

Self Examination: Think through these various meanings of love and what God expects of us as revealed through His Word. Seek to grow in every type of love of your love and aspire to living in the Golden Convergence so that in loving God and your neighbor you will come to know all that love can become, joy unspeakable and full of Glory.

Remember what Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 16:21. What greater treasure do you have than becoming the loving person God has created you to be?

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