Tucked amidst all the crazy ads Sunday night — like Planters killing off Mr. Peanut only to resurrect him as an adorable infant nut à la Baby Yoda — was a lesson inspired by the writings of the late armchair theologian C.S. Lewis.
During the Super Bowl, New York Life, the third-largest life insurance company in the United States, debuted a one-minute commercial, “Love Takes Action,” guiding viewers through the four definitions of love.
Using Lewis’ writing as a guide, the ad’s narrator, “Avengers” star Tessa Thompson, described Philia as “affection that grows from friendship,” Storgē as the love “you have for a grandparent or a brother,” Eros as “the uncontrollable urge to say ‘I love you,’ and lastly, agápē, which is “love as an action.”
“The fourth kind of love is different,” Thompson said. “It’s the most admirable. It’s called ‘Agápē’ — love as an action. It takes courage, sacrifice, strength.”
Lewis described the first three loves — Philia, Storgē, and Eros — as “the natural loves” and Agápē as “the love of God.”
It is the presence, or absence, of the former loves that can, if not held in the correct balance, pull us away from Agápē, our duty to selflessly love God and those around us, putting them first.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” Lewis explained. “Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one — not even an animal. Wrap it carefully ’round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Of course, the New York Life commercial was, after all, a pitch: an advertisement hoping to convince viewers to make a purchase. But the lesson it provided is, nevertheless, an important one.
Agápē is a greater love than all those that remain.
In a private letter dated Feb. 19, 1954, Lewis wrote this:
Charity means love. It is called Agápē in the [New Testament] to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storgē (family affection) and Philia (friendship). So there are four kinds of ‘love’, all good in their proper place, but Agápē is the best, because it is the kind God has for us and is good in all circumstances. … I can practice Agápē to God, angels, man [and] beast, to the good [and] the bad, the old [and] the young, the far and the near.
This kind of love — Agápē — is best defined, though, by Jesus himself, who sacrificed his life on a hill called Calvary to pay for the sins of those he created in his own image.
Speaking to his disciplines in John 15:13, he said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And in Matthew 22:37, after the Pharisees asked him to share with them the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”