What is real love about according to the Bible?
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often used for love is hesed, it refers to a covenant of love that is promised or owed (Hosea 1:1). Sometimes, it refers to being merciful (Psalm 23:6).
Throughout the centuries, Jewish commentators have stressed that it is God’s love for Israel. It basically means because God promised to love you, you must (as in He commands it) respond in kind to others around you in His covenant (other Jews). It is a replicable relationship formed by God’s covenant with us; thus, we respond to others as God has chosen to deal with us. Even in the Old Testament, this love could not be forced or compelled even though it was commanded; rather, it was freely and gracefully given. That is how God deals with us—freely and graciously. It is a love, not based on feelings, but a choice, as in marriage, to say I do and follow through with I will—not only if I feel like it!
This is what it means to Christians under grace: because God loves me even though I do not deserve it, I can respond to His love in appreciation by loving others He has chosen to love. That is, He loves us so we are to love others, even though we do not have to.
In the Greek, there are four words that we translate as love, two of which are found in the New Testament. The four words are agape, phileo, eros, and stergo.
The first is phileo, which means to have a brotherly love for others. It implies a deep-rooted affection. It is from the Greek, which means brotherly love, and is where we get our word for the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia (Matthew 19:19b). This word implies that we go beyond superficial relationships and strive for the deep ones, without being shallow or pretentious (Matthew 5:44).
The second word for love in the Bible is agape. This word was used in classic Greek literature to refer to someone who was generously favored by a god. It conveys the idea of a person giving all of his or her love, or favor, to someone else other than one’s self. It is a love of self sacrifice and response (John 21:15). It is a love that is not earned; rather, it is given freely. It also refers to parents giving all of their love to their child. In the New Testament, agape love is used to make a similar point, as God gives each of us all of His love.
Agape is also the most common word used both as a noun and a verb in the New Testament. The greatest example of agape love is what our Lord Jesus Christ did when He died for our sins. God showed His love by taking our place, and the wrath and punishment for our sins. He paid that price through His sinless life, and His sacrifice on our behalf. Consequently, God’s agape love rescued us from the punishment that we deserved. We deserved punishment, yet, we received His favor without earning it.
There are two other types of love in the Greek that are not found in the Bible.
The third one is eros, which usually refers to sex, and the love between a husband and wife. It is more than just sexual ecstasy because, in classic Greek, it also includes embraces, yearning, and caring. But, in passages such as Ephesians 5:25 where we are called to love our spouse romantically, the word used is not eros, rather, agape! So, as a Christian, we are to have a deeper love than what we see in the media and society, one that is not based on eroticism. Eros has noun and verb forms that we find in the New Testament for lust, such as epithumeo (1 John 2:16).
The forth love that is popular in evangelical circles is stergo, and, this is not in the Scriptures either. It normally refers to the love between parents and children, or the love between people and their leader who has responsibility over them, from parents to civic authorities. What we learn from these Greek words agape, and phileo, used in the Bible, is their emphases of real, authentic love, without pretensions or expectations (1 John 4:7-11).
These last two words imply strings attached, expectations needed to make them work. They refer to lust, which is a pretender to love, which is the reason they are not used for love in God’s most precious Word. They refer to a connection that must already be there, such as a parent and child. The parent does not love another’s child as they do their own.
We may know all about love as Christians from books and sermons, yet still half of us get divorced. Thus, we may know about it beyond knowledge and insight; but, we are not being wise with it. We are not applying real love into our lives, connections and marriages! Let us look to God’s Word and ask ourselves am I applying this and if not why and how can I?
Christian love is the turning of our backs to self-concerns, and facing forward to our relationships with family, friends, and neighbors. It is the surrender of our will to His. Because, if love does not take us beyond our self-interests, then what we have is lust, and not love! Then, as the passage says, we are just noise that has no reason or purpose.
Out of true love, God the Father gave us His Son, and the Son gave us His life as a replacement for ours. The Son sent the Spirit to save us, and we should be literally overwhelmed—consumed with extreme joy and gratitude by what God has done for us. Then, that can turn and spill onto others around us. If not, then read Romans 1:21!
They key to all of this? Be willing to apply love and respect the other person and stay committed to these precepts of love!
Ephesians 5:33 states, However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. God’s Word gives us the plan; we have to be willing (the hard part) and capable (what we already have at our means) to carry it out. Love and respect traverses genders and crosses lives and must cross yours by His Cross to others too!
Questions to Ponder
Remember we do not deserve His love and grace, yet it is given to us anyway.
Read Romans 5:8;; 1 John 4:7-21 (if time, 1 Corinthians 14:1a; Colossians 1:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:8) then discuss this section and answer these questions:
What do these passages teach us about love?
- Is there something that one or more of these passages are saying to you, perhaps something that needs your attention?
- How do you feel that love is not based on feelings, rather a choice? How does that work?
- Have you considered that the definitions of the love languages in the Bible is how God deals with us—freely and graciously
- What role does love play in relationships, in general? What about in your relationships?
- Do you believe you can find God’s real purpose and plan for your life?
- Do you have confidence that there is a Divine plan for you? If not, where do you place your hope and trust?
- What can you do to make sure you do not forget, so that these passages stay with you, always?
- Is your attitude and relationship with Christ employing and empowering you, or, is it your Will and determination?
- What will your life look like with these love ‘attitudes’ working and infusing all that you are and do in your life? What would your workplace look like? What about church, marriage, friends, family…?
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:25
Consider this: Without the right attitude and perspective on life, without glorifying God, and following His Will, you will not find the real quality love relationship for your life! You will be taking a gamble with what is priceless and precious, that you get it right.
© 2013 R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org