One of the things that I notice when I sift through the Christian blogosphere is how often the topic of love comes up. No matter what denomination or creed a Christian belongs to they will talk about God’s love. They don’t necessarily agree about who God loves but they will all agree that love is something that God possesses. They also agree that Christians should act in love because God wants us to.
For some reason I think about things like what is love? Is our love the same as God’s? Does God love me the same as that stinker down the street? It seems to me that the Apostles would have answered those questions differently than I would. The problem is that to understand what the Bible teaches about love we have to understand what the authors meant by it (it turns out that there is not just one word used for love in the scriptures).
I think that modern concepts of love have been influenced by psychology (Freud radically changed how we think about love). I did a web search to see what I could find out about love as defined by popular culture. The quote I am about to provide is a bit far out on the fringe as far as I’m concerned but I don’t think it is rare either:
Love at the very essence is an emotion. There are many kinds of definition to what love and emotion is. But Emotion in the purest form is simply Energy In Motion (E-Motion). Feeling is Perception of Emotion. You may not be conscious of an emotion but it still runs by itself in your subconscious. Love is the highest level of energy that exists. God always move out of love because God is love. Love is the purest motive force. Love is God in Motion.
There is more at that site if you are interested (WARNING: The web site seems to be selling a newsletter and I in no way endorse their product.) Is there any way that a definition of love like that could have been written at any time other than the last century? I don’t think so. It seems to me that many Christians would think of God’s love in just that way.
Bill Wenstrom at his Wenstrom Bible Ministries site has made a lot of good work available. Some of that work is a word study on the Koine Greek word agape, which is one of the biblical words for love (link here). If you want to know how God loves you, it is worth your time to familiarize yourself with how the Bible uses these words.
On the first page Pastor Wenstrom provides these definitions:
Classical Greek has 4 verbs that denote “to love”:
a. Erao (verb), “to love passionately, to desire, to yearn”
b. Stergo (verb), “to affectionately love parents or children”
c. Phileo (verb), “to personally love friends or family members”
d. Agapao (verb), “to be satisfied with, to honor, to receive, to greet, to prefer”
The two verbs for love that are most common in the New Testament are Phileo and Agapao. I am not an expert on this but I do understand that the different uses of these words in the NT are intentional and are meant to convey something.
When John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world” it really says that “God so agapao loved the world.” How many Christians understand that God agapao loves the world and that he does not phileo love anyone until they believe the Gospel and are saved?
Christians are commanded throughout scripture to agapao love people. We are to agapao other believers and unbelievers alike. Knowing what agapao means is necessary for the Christian to follow God’s commands for the Christian way of life. The problem is that if you ask believers for a definition of Christian love, the definition they provide will, at best, be a definition for phileo and not agapao.
If we learn to agapao love those around us then we will be much more Christ like. Here is an extended quote from Bill Wenstrom that lays out what agapao is:
207. 1 Cor 13:1-4, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.”
a. “Is patient” is the verb makrothumeo (makroqumevw).
b. If the believer lives according to God’s love, he will be “patient” in the sense that he will endure provocation, annoyance, misfortune, pain without complaint, loss of temper, and will possess the ability and willingness to suppress restlessness and annoyance in waiting for God.
c. “Is kind” is the verb chresteuomai (xrhsteuvomai).
d. If the believer lives according to God’s love, he will be “kind” in the sense that he will exercise a sympathetic attitude towards others and will possess a willingness to do good to others and be helpful and considerate towards others.
e. “Is not jealous” is composed of the emphatic negative particle ouk (ou)jk) and the verb zeloo (zhlovw).
f. The believer who lives according to God’s love will not be “jealous” of others in the sense that he will not become resentful, intolerant and suspicious of another’s success, possessions or relationships.
g. “Is not arrogant” is composed of the emphatic negative particle ouk (ou)jk) and the verb phusioo (fusiovw).
h. The believer who lives according to God’s love will not be “arrogant” or “proud” meaning that he will not have an exaggerated belief in his own importance and will not think or act as if he is superior to others.
208. 1 Cor. 13:5, “does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.”
a. “Does not act unbecomingly” is the emphatic negative particle ouk (ou)k), “not” and the verb aschemoneo (a)sxhmonevw), which means “to behave indecently, dishonorably, disgracefully.”
b. The believer who operates in the love of God will do nothing, which would cause shame or disgrace and will be tactful and courteous.
c. “It does not seek its own” means that the God’s love is “unselfish” and thus is not concerned with one’s own interests, and concerns and is not without concern for others.
d. God’s love considers others more important than oneself (Phlp. 2:3).
e. Phil 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
f. “Is not provoked” means that God’s love is not “touchy” in the sense that it does not get exasperated with others or easily offended by others and is not provoked to anger and the loss of temper by the actions of others.
g. “Does not take into account a wrong suffered” meaning that if we live according to God’s love we will not keep a record of wrongs that others have committed against us in the past and therefore it denotes the concept of not holding grudges and not possessing an unforgiving spirit.
h. 1 Cor. 13:6, “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.”
i. “Does not rejoice in unrighteousness,” means that if we live according to God’s love we will not rejoice in those things (whether moral or immoral) in the cosmic system of Satan, which reject God’s Word.
j. “Rejoices with the truth,” means that the believer who lives according to the love of God will rejoice in the Word of God being taught regardless of who the communicator is.
209. 1 Cor. 13:7, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
a. “Bears” is the verb stego (stevgw), which originally meant “to cover over,’ and then, “to contain as a vessel.”
b. From this latter meaning two metaphorical uses of the word are derived, either of which may be here adopted: (a) that love hides or is silent about the faults of others; (b) that love bears without resentment injuries inflicted by others.
c. Therefore, there are two major dimensions to love’s consistent capacity to “hold up” rather than “fold up.”
d. First, love bears up silently; that is, love covers sin with a cloak of silence.
e. 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
f. Love always bears up, no matter how great the persecution, suffering, or adversity.
g. Job’s wife “tempted” him to sin by urging him to “curse God and die,” thus bringing his suffering to a conclusion.
h. Love never caves in or collapses under duress and always holds up.
i. “Believes all things,” means that if we live according to the love of God we will trust in God’s care for us no matter how terrible the adversity we are going through or the circumstances surrounding us.
j. “Hopes all things” means that if we live according to the love of God we will have “confidence” in God because of our eternal relationship with Him, no matter how terrible the adversity we are facing or the circumstances surrounding us.
k. “Endures all things,” means that God’s love will persevere and endure adversity without complaining.
This is the love God shows toward the world and it is the love we Christians are expected to show!