How often do we misuse the word “love?” We love many things in our first-world culture, such as pizza and Netflix. We love our pets or even our jobs. And we hopefully love our family. Are we overflowing with true love or, are we overusing that word? While the word “love” is mentioned in the Bible hundreds of times, the word “charity” is only mentioned a handful of times.
The Greek language has several words for love, each specific to a type of love. Eros refers to passion, philia to friendship, and ludus is playful to name a few. But one Greek word for love appears in the Bible over 600 times and is the deepest, most sacrificial love: agape.
The Greek agape translates to the Latin caritas which means love for all or, more commonly, charity. If we then can associate agape with charity, then we can understand the translation of each mention of the word “love” more clearly.
St. Paul talks about love famously in 1 Corinthians 13. He’s not talking about eros or philia; he’s talking about agape. He says, “love is patient, love is kind,” (v. 4) because agape is about sacrifice and giving for others. When we love in this way, we are giving and we are selfless.
When we think of charity in our world, at least from a secular perspective, we think of clothing donations, a couple coins in a basket, or maybe some of your time to help others. The true, deeper charity St. Paul is talking about is a way of living, not a momentary action.
Sure, we can get rid of old stuff we no longer need. We won’t even miss it. We can donate a few extra dollars to a cause if we can afford it. Agape isn’t about what’s left over or convenient. Agape is selfless and puts humanity, others, before ourselves. If we truly do that, we’re giving our tithe before seeing what’s leftover for vacation. We’re answering the call for winter coats and hats without saving an abundance for ourselves. This way of living is about loving our neighbors unconditionally, and it may always not be convenient.
If you’re shoveling your driveway and see your neighbor’s still snowy, do you do theirs too? Ever donate based on need and not based on what’s extra?
The generous boy
There’s an adorable story that illustrates this. (Bear in mind, it’s quite old.) There was a young boy who went out for ice cream one day by himself. He asked the waitress how much for a sundae. She said it was fifty cents. He asked how much for plain ice cream. She said thirty five cents. He ordered plain ice cream and enjoyed his treat. When she came to clean up, she noticed he left her fifty cents. You see, he had enough for a sundae but he wanted to leave her a tip.
Charity doesn’t have to come from an abundance. Charity comes from the heart. When we love with agape, we love like Christ. It’s not a task to check off to look good. It’s not a mood or a style. Charity, true charity, is a way of living. If we love like Christ, we will love with agape.
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