God is love.
Love is a choice.
Love will find a way.
I love (insert object)
We sure use “love” a lot, but do we really know what it means? Very few words are as loaded as this word, so it deserves some scrutiny. Let’s look at the English word, “love”. Love has been around since long before there was a U.S.A., or English became the global language of commerce. Mom’s and Dad’s loved each other intimately and passionately. Moms and Dads have children, and love, kiss, hug and raise the children. The Bible’s King David loved Jonathan. Of course, God so loved the world. What a great way to start a blog about love! Let’s look at the all-time most famous saying about love… in context:
John 3:12-18 (NRSV)
12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Gulp! If you read that, love is actually very profound. God loves you and me so much that He sent His own Son to die in our place for our sins. No greater sacrifice could occur in the name of love. What tremendous love to have for another – to lay down your own life for them. What a big choice! True love requires great sacrifice. And true love occurs between a man and his ice cream cone.
Huh?? I meant to throw you on that last sentence, because we are using English. English is not very well equipped to be describing that attractive, warm super-enjoyable feeling. I enjoy ice cream a lot, but in truth would I marry it or die for it? And if you love a friend dearly, would you really lay down your life for them? What kind of over-the-top love is that last one?
I wanted to illustrate that in 2015 we’re throwing the word “love” around and meaning a whole lot of very different things. 2000-years-ago, when Jesus uttered the Word’s captured by the gospel writers, there were 4 common (koine) Greek words that were used to communicate the thought that in English we use the singular word “love”. The Bible uses 3 of the 4, and the one that 2015 English to express the most common idea of “love” is not even used in the Bible.
“It’s all Greek to me!” is our funny American way of saying “I don’t understand it”. To make things easier for you to get a handle on, I spent a little time making graphics for each of the four types of love described in Biblical Greek. We’ll take each in order of its Biblical importance, as deemed by its usage in the Bible.
The Origin of all is God, and love is certainly His greatest concern. Jesus emphasized the importance of love in a passage Christians call “The Greatest Commandment”, where Christ summarizes the Law of Moses found in Exodus. Jesus is challenged by Temple authorities:
Matthew 22:34-40 (NRSV)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 This is the greatest and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The Lord uses an imperative verb tense in the Greek, which says a lot about the first type of “love” we will look at. When people say “Agapé is God’s love” they actually disempower the word tremendously. The imperative assumes it is directed at “you” and you are being commanded to do something. Agape’ is unmerited love, and is as present as the presence of God. He is omnipresent, so His love is everywhere as well. When Jesus uses agape in this context, it means for you to take the love given to you by God and give it right back to Him, as well as loving your neighbor. The “as yourself” is applied for emphasis. All love glorifies God, comes from God, and is a gift given by God for us to give away freely. Shouldn’t we choose to do this most amazing verb? Agape’ is the best of the good stuff.
The second most common word for “love” is phileo (verb form, also see noun ‘philos’), which in biblical times would have literally meant brotherly love. In my somewhat educated opinion, had it not been a strict patriarchal society, they would be liberating the meaning into a gender-neutral context for sisterhood as well. One of my favorite ways of demonstrating the importance of phileo is to connect the dots to an American city. Greek for brothers is adelphoi, so phileo-adelphoi is brotherly love, used in our Philadelphia. Imagine deeply connected ponds of friendship where you would sacrifice for your sister or brother, and you have a general idea of phileo. Immediacy of family was not necessary. You see adaptations of this love in English words like philanthropy, philology, etc.
Biblically, the least used word is storgé. Storgé is a little bit tricky in English, because it parses out an elevated meaning of love that occurs between members of an immediate family. Family may have other types of love simultaneously, but storgé refers to the long-term and sacrificial bond of affection. Most commonly, storgé is used to invoke an image of the bond between a parent and child. If you’ve seen a dad kissing and fawning over his baby girl, or mom hugging her son’s hurt away, you’ve seen storgé. The word gets a little tricky, in that a husband and wife share storgé in the context of their long-term devotion and sacrificial bond. However, this is only part of the love that is contemplated between husbands and wives.
Before we get to the fourth Greek word for love, we really should bring an Old Testament Hebrew context to the concept of intimate physical relations. In a euphemistic context in English today, we occasionally hear of two people who have had sex as having been “known in the biblical sense.” That is a bit misleading and only part of the story. In Genesis 4:1, Adam was (Heb. “yada”) to his wife, Eve, and they conceived Cain. Depending on the English translation you get, Adam “knew”, or he “lay”, “had relations” or “had sexual relations” with his wife, Eve and she became pregnant. The concept of divine love is also present in this usage of yada. The same word is used by God’s “chosen” in Genesis 18:19 when Abraham is “yada” by God, referring to God’s covenant with Abraham. Yada is commonly means the English use of “know”.
It is a bit surprising that the fourth word in koine Greek is not even used in the Bible. Eros describes the intimate and sexual love designed by God to be shared by husbands and wives. The Old Testament “Song of Solomon” is the only book in the Bible that expands upon the intimate relations between a wife and husband in a romantic context. This is the intimate marital love is contained in the Hebrew mindset, as conveyed in Song of Solomon, and would be the understanding of Eros in the First Century, when the New Testament was written. Eros was only legitimately considered in the covenantal context of marriage, and it is also derivative of agapé. All love comes from God.
So let’s drink deeply from the bottomless well of love that God gives us. We get this most powerful force so we can enjoy the supernatural influence of our Creator in ourselves and each other. We are uniquely and wonderfully made. God knew you before you were born, knows everything you’ve done, good and bad, and loves you no matter what.
It makes we want to celebrate Him all the more!
1 Corinthians 13:1-8a (ESV)
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant
5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends….
A commenter made comments on this article that are uncredited and false. While his comments were untrue, it called to my attention the fact that my bibliography did not transfer over in the MS Word product that I composed this article on. Normally, citing the Holy Bible is unneeded in an academic setting, but I thought the readers should see the source to check behind me if necessary. Below you will find the Bible software I used, as well as the 3 academic resources used to research this article.
Douglas, Carson, Bruce, Grudem, Hoehner. “Love.” In The Popular Encyclopeadia of Apologetics, by Ed and Ergun Caner Hindson, 331-336. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
Elwell, Walter. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 2001.
Perschbacher, Wesley J. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990.