Large white number 4 on blue background
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How 4 Words in a Super Bowl Ad Surprised me more than Jason Mamoa Revealing his Skinny Self

Twitter and the rest of the social media sphere have been abuzz about the half time show and Jason Momoa's unsettling and hilarious commercial for Rocket Mortgage.

Personally, I loved Bill Murray's nostalgic reprisal of his role from the film Groundhog Day in this zany Jeep commercial.

But this one from New York Life Insurance really caught me by surprise:

To be honest, the commercial is moving and hits all the right emotional cylinders, but the tone of it was meh. It wasn't even my favorite ad this year…yet, it surprised me. Its substance and profound statements on love seemed odd within the commercial lineup.

How Many Words for Love!?

In English, our word for "love" can carry a ton of connotations…

I love coffee ice cream.

Darling, I love you.

I loved that half-time show!

I just loved how that loser cut me off!

We do have variants of the word love, but it seems we lack the nuance of other languages. The commercial, interestingly, features four different Greek words for love:

  1. Philia: a brotherly love. Think friendship.
  2. Storge: a tender love. Think feelings between family members, siblings, parents, and spouses.
  3. Eros: a passionate love. Think desire.
  4. Agape: an admirable love. Think charity and selflessness.

The latter half of the commercial zooms in on agape, depicting younger adults caring for the elderly and parents caring for their children. Agape, according to the commercial, "takes courage, sacrifice, strength."

The sixty-second spot is aptly titled "Love Takes Action, and it shows humanity's desire to give of itself to others. That in of itself is pretty beautiful and deep for a Super Bowl commercial! But there's much more to the story behind agape than the short ad could tell.


Outward Charity

The word agape has a cool history. Ceslas Spicq, a French Biblical scholar, wrote three volumes (yes, three!) on agape, tracing its usage throughout the whole of the New Testament. In his Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, he offers this beautiful description of agape, or what he also calls "charity":

Unlike other loves, which can remain hidden in the heart, it is essential to charity to manifest itself, to demonstrate itself, to provide proofs, to put itself on display; so much so that in the [New Testament] it would almost always be necessary to translate agape as "demonstration of love." (pg. 12)

So, the commercial nailed the title "Love Takes Action." Agape love is about demonstration from the heart.

Spicq saw something special in the Bible's use of agape though. He notes how eros often "brings endless suffering and disaster" while agape "is accompanied by contentment." Eros focuses on one's own desires, while agape is an outward act of charity.

Have you ever felt that pang of guilt when you splurged on yourself, later realizing you had forgotten someone important? How do you feel though when you genuinely give of yourself, offer your time, or sacrifice for someone? It's always harder, but in the end, we do feel deeper contentment than when we only satisfy ourselves.

The Movement of Love

Hands reaching out for each other.
Photo by Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash

There's not a whole lot I could say that is original about agape, so allow me to lean on Spicq again.

He notes an interesting difference between phileo and agape. Usually, two friends are "equals" when they have a phileo type of affection for each other. They have things in common and often come from similar walks of life.

On the other hand, agape "links persons of different conditions: with rulers, benefactors, and fathers; it is a…generous love, full of thoughtfulness and concern," according to Spicq. In other words, agape crosses boundaries, overlooking class and societal separation.

In the New Testament, the word agape most often describes the love of God. One of our most beloved verses attests to this:

For God so loved [agape] the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Here we see the movement of love in the Bible. That the transcendent, immortal God of creation loved us in such way, He offered up Jesus on our behalf. There's no amount of ego-stroking, wealth, or power that could ever raise my status even close to the greatness of God, let alone equality with Him.

That is agape love.

God's actions demonstrate His generous affection for humanity, and that His love transcends boundaries. The closest analogy for this would be if the President of the United States—or some other powerful dignitary—offering up his or her life for the sake of a poor criminal. Even then, the analogy falls short, as God did this for all of humanity for all time.

Later in the New Testament, John further defines agape:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

1 John 4:10-11

Jesus, who is the King of Kings, offered up His life, sacrificed His status, and subjected Himself to pain and death to both satisfy the justice and the agape of God. And He extends this charity to us, so we can extend it to others.


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This article was updated on November 26, 2020

Jordan Hopkins

Jordan is a freelance content writer and educator. He is passionate about serving others and amplifying their narratives through quality writing. You can find him hanging with his family, fishing, playing guitar, and grinding the best beans for his morning coffee.