If there’s a word in the English language that is so overused it has lost it’s meaning, it would have to be the word, Love.
You can love your work, love coffee, love your dog, love your friends, love your wife and family, love waking up to the sunrise, love sleeping in, make love, find or lose love, love a holiday, love a movie, love music, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum. Like I said…overused!
If we really want to know the answer to the question: what is this thing called love, the Bible provides a great insight.
Someone once told me that in the Hebrew language there are six words translated as “love” in English, but don’t quote me on that. Unfortunately, my less than extensive knowledge of Hebrew runs out at “Shalom!”
However, I do know for a fact that there are three words in biblical Greek that are translated as love in the English language. Understanding these three provides an insight into understanding love and how we can apply love as Christians.
The first of the Greek words is “Eros.” This is the word that is the root for words like “erotic” and it refers specifically to sexual love. When people speak about the amorous aspects of love and “making love” this is the word they would use in Greek.
This love relates specifically to the sexual love between a man and wife. It is the culmination of their being together and adds to the other aspects of love they would show one another.
But the sexual act without the other aspects of love is not love. Animals have sex without love, and when people do likewise they are acting on base instincts and are no better than animals.
So Eros by itself is a poor kind of love.
Philo (pronounced “fee-lo”)
The second Greek word for love is “Philo” which is the love of friends. It is the affection and feeling we have for others. It is the love of sharing and community between people of like minds.
This is the love we show to friends and family. It is the kind of love that should exist in the church between brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a love that exists in relationships.
If we think back to the husband and wife, this love should exist between the partners before the “Eros” love, as “Eros” consummates the affection between the marriage partners.
When we look deeper and begin to consider the love of God, we come to the third type of love.
Agape (pronounced “ah-garp-ay”)
The third Greek word for love is “Agape” and this is an active love.
When the Bible talks about the love of God, it is speaking of the “agape” love. The band DC Talk had a song out some years ago titled “Love is a Verb,” and it is a good description of the “agape” love because it is an active thing.
1 Corinthians chapter 13, verses 4 to 7 shows us this “agape” love most clearly.
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
All of these descriptions of love are things we can “DO.” They are action orientated and relate to the way we interact with others.
Applying love to your situation
Recently I discussed this love with a Christian who had been sexually and violently abused as a child by another family member. They struggled to understand how to love this person after such abuse.
God tells us to “Love your enemies,” and it is by applying “agape” love that we are able to do this. “Agape” is how we “love” the abusers and others who do hateful things towards us.
We do not have to show our enemies affection. But we can be kind, patient and not abusive back to them. We do not have to show them “philo” love, but we can show them “agape” love, as God loves both them and us.
When we understand the types of love we can and should feel towards different groups of people; husband/wife, family/friends and strangers/enemies, then we can approach all people with love appropriate to the situation. Some should receive all three types of love, but others maybe only one or two.
Understanding love in this way will help us walk in the love of God as He wishes all His children to do.
John Lemmon since retiring from work now spends his time teaching, preaching and writing about the word of God, online and offline, answering God's call on him to “Speak to my people.” John is the author of a number of Christian eBooks, which can be downloaded for free on his website at http://freegiftfromgod.com/my-ebooks/. You can connect with John on Twitter (@JohnBLemmon) or on his website: http://freegiftfromgod.com/