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Super Bowl ad highlights ‘Agape,’ known in Christianity as the greatest love

Zelda Caldwell - published on 02/03/20

In ‘The Four Loves’ C.S. Lewis, described Agape as selfless love, the same as God has for man, and man for God.

It’s been a long time since television ads during the Super Bowl were just ads — and opportunities to make a trip to the kitchen for more chips and guacamole.

We’ve gotten so accustomed to those Monday morning conversations at the office water cooler being as much about the ads as about the game, that we fear missing the commercials almost as much as we fear missing that game-changing play.

But this year advertisers dropped any pretense that Super Bowl LIV was mostly about football as they embraced their role as entertainers in a dizzying exhibition of unrelentingly over-the-top, sometimes hilarious, often ridiculous, celebrity-studded skits.

A commercial calls for Agape 

Amidst all the frenetic zaniness and snarky inside jokes— what was Mr. Clean doing at Mr. Peanut’s funeral? — one ad stood out for its serious theme.

New York Life’s “Love Takes Action” ad takes viewers through the four words for love, as expressed by the ancient Greeks. The “most admirable” kind of love, “Agape,” is “love as an action,” says the narrator over scenes of people caring for others.

The ad’s narrator defines the four kinds of love:

Philia: “The first is ‘PhiliaPhilia is affection that grows from friendship.

Storge: “Next, there’s ‘Storge’ – the kind you have for a grandparent or a brother.

Eros: The third is ‘Eros,’ the uncontrollable urge to say ‘I love you.’

Agape: “The fourth kind of love is different. It’s the most admirable. It’s called ‘Agape’ – love as an action. It takes courage. Sacrifice. Strength.”

The ad ends with the proposition that living a life of Agape is a life well-lived. “For 175 years,” the insurance company’s ad claims, “we’ve been helping people act on their love, so they can look back, or look ahead, and say – ‘we got it right.’”

What is the Christian meaning of Agape?

The New York Life ad takes its inspiration from C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, in which the Christian apologist identified four types of love mentioned in the Bible.

While Philia, Storge, and Eros are based on feelings, Lewis explains, Agape, as it is presented in the New Testament, is a sacrificial love that comes about as an act of will rather than a response to emotions.

As the greatest love of all, Agape represents the selfless love that God has for man and man has for God, and that every Christian should strive for, and is sometimes defined as charity/caritas.

Lewis expanded on the meaning of this Agape/charity love in a private letter before the publication of The Four Loves:

Charity means love. It is called Agape in the N.T. to distinguish it from Eros (sexual love), Storge (family affection) and Philia (friendship). So there are 4 kinds of ‘love’, all good in their proper place, but Agape is the best because it is the kind God has for us and is good in all circumstances… I can practise Agape to God, Angels, Man & Beast, to the good & the bad, the old & the young, the far and the near.”

The Christian meaning of Agape love may best be summed up in Jesus’ words when asked what was the greatest commandment:

Jesus said,“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

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