For around 7 years before coming to Montana, I was a vegetarian. I did not eat meat. When I moved to Montana, into a cattle ranching community, it just made a lot less sense to be a vegetarian. So, I now eat meat. If I were to tell people that I am still a vegetarian, it wouldn’t be accurate. I cannot truthfully say: “I am a vegetarian that eats meat with almost every meal.” The fact that I now eat meat makes me not vegetarian. The label implies certain things about my personal practices. This may seem like an obvious point, but it is important to understand that if I am going to accurately make statements about myself or my beliefs, they must reflect my reality.
“I love my wife and children.” When I say this, it can mean several things. The most basic meaning of the word “love” in this context is associated with an emotional affinity. I feel emotionally connected to my wife and children. The larger meaning of the word refers to selfless service and care. It is larger than a simple feeling. It is important to note something about the difference between the two. Love that is simply a feeling carries with it a degree of selfishness. The feeling of infatuation that is commonly associated with the simple emotion of love is pleasant. People enjoy feeling it. “You make me feel good.” The greek word for this type of love is eros. It is not a bad thing, it is just different from the deeper definition of love I referred to earlier.
Selfless love, which in greek is agape, refers to love that is primarily concerned about the object of love. The New Testament depicts agape love as an action type word. It is exemplified in Jesus’ death on the cross. According to the Bible, this act of self-sacrifice was Jesus’ taking punishment for the sins we commit. It goes so far as to say that we are God’s enemies before He redeems us through the cross. This means that agape love is so selfless that it would willingly give up everything for the object of that love, even if the object of love doesn’t return the affection at the moment. Agape love is selfless giving. It is more than feelings, though feelings can and do accompany agape love. They just don’t define it. Ultimately, this is the love that God intended to exist between spouses and for parents to have toward their children. Unfortunately, this also often goes against the dominant cultural attitude of “I should be happy no matter what” and “if it feels good, I should do it.”
When I say that I love my wife, I mean more than simply that I feel a certain way. I mean that I am committed to selflessly serve and care for her. It means that I am committed to a lifestyle that God intended for spouses to assume as a part of marriage. I am not perfect in this effort, but I strive to live that way. This is what God calls all spouses to strive for. If I claim I love my family, but pursue my own interests first and foremost, I am like the guy who claims to be a vegetarian, but eats meat every meal.