The Para-Myth of Love

Myth. The word inspires images of unicorns and dragons, gods and heroes. We define myth as antithetical to fact, stories that may have a point, but no basis in truth. This is a cultural definition, not an ancient one. At it’s core, the word, regardless of culture, refers to a story. In our culture, that story is always false. But for the ancients, these stories inspired people, and taught them important lessons.

Today, we don’t use the word that way. We think in terms of false stories that people believe, and, most often, to their detriment. False stories or beliefs on which people base their lives can be dangerous. Because of this danger, we avoid myths, or try to. So, you may be surprised that this word is used, in a compound form, several times in the Christian Scriptures. Here’s my favorite:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.

Philippians 2:1-2 NASB

Did you spot it, the mythic reference? You may not, most people don’t. I missed it for years, and then one day I realized that the word I was drifting past contained the word, myth. The word in Greek is paramuthion, and can be found in the Strong’s Concordance at G3890. It’s made up of the Greek preposition “para”, referring to something alongside another. We get our word, parallel from it, two things laid alongside each other.

What is alongside here is a myth. And this myth comes from love, agape love. The context clearly implies that this “para-myth” of love is what is supposed to happen, so it can’t be a myth in the sense we think of myths. It’s not a false story, but a true story. And this story is what we’re supposed to gain from love. It’s a story to inspire and teach us. But what is it?

There are options for the content of this story. An obvious one is the content of Jesus’ life and ministry. From His life we learn what love truly is, how love is defined by our Creator. That is probably the best option for the content of this particular story. But I believe there are others as well.

Remember that Paul is about to use the life of Jesus, in a shortened form, to inspire the Philippians to regard each other in unified humility (Philippians 2:5-11). But I believe that part of unified humility is to follow in Jesus’ pattern in the stories we tell each other. Think about the sheer volume of reversals Jesus brings about in those He meets. A leper is touchable, an adulterous woman escapes judgement, the lame walk, the dead are raised, the hungry are fed, and fishermen become theologians. Life stories are retold, changed, becoming something completely different.

When was the last time, you sat with the downcast, the depressed, or the mourner, and told them a new story? We do it, actually, we do it a lot of the time. But more often than not, we do it clumsily. We want them to stop bringing us down with them, so, we give them some other way to look at their circumstances that will cheer them up so they can refocus on us. Or, at least they may stop depressing us.

Jesus told a different set of stories than we do. To Martha, the woman who lost her brother, Lazarus, Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, and that whoever believes in Him will never die, and those that die will live again. She is encouraged to go get her sister, Mary. To Mary, Jesus tells a different story. He simply weeps with her, then raises her brother to life. For Martha, it could be a story about Himself, but for Mary it had to be tears. For both, it included an act of power.

If we can come alongside each other, and tell different stories from the love of our Savior passing through us into them, then completely fill up joy by being like-minded, together-souled, and of the same love. It doesn’t begin with these para-myths of love. But it includes them. Let’s not forget them. Jesus tells a different love-story to His human creatures, one they can’t even imagine.

He’s given you one, and He has one for the others around you as well. So, pass along the love-story He has for someone else. Tell them the story Jesus has for them, but from beside them, holding their hands. Do not tell the story from above them, or from in front of them, behind them, or below them. Sit with them in their pain, sorrow, frustration, or despair. And tell them the love story Jesus has for their lives.