The Meaning of Love
The Bible says that God is love. Yet, how can a conscious being be simply described as love? God's perfected love is unconditional and unfathomable.
It seems like everyone thinks they know about true love. Yet, the divorce rate remains extremely high. In the movies, love usually appears to be about physical attraction and often about love at first sight. In today’s society, love is possibly the most overused word in popular culture. We say we love our material possessions, our smartphones, our new cars and our favorite TV shows. At present, the word love has become quite trivial.
In reality, the true meaning of love is much more complex than most would realize. For a relationship between two individuals, love can be used in many forms depending on who, how and why two people know each other.
Love is an extremely important topic in the Bible. Love is so critical, it deserves special status among all the countless commandments and Biblical laws.
The Greatest of All
Scholars claim there are 613 different commandments and laws found throughout the Bible. And when the disciples asked Jesus as to which commandment was the most important, He said there were two... These two commandments both involve the concept of unconditional love. They are so vital to Christianity, one could envision an equation to sum up Christ’s statement:
The equation of love is: 2>611
In other words, two commandments about love are greater than all the rest.
My equation analogy derives from a few important verses located in the book of Matthew. This is when Jesus provided an answer to a disciple who was inquiring about the greatest commandment in Jewish law, the Torah.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And 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.
This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
- Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)
Jesus spoke about love on many occasions during His ministry. Without love, everything else in life and the Bible is relegated! Everything we do, say, hope for and think about, has no sincere meaning or purpose without love.
Jesus also once said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” - John 14:15 (ESV)
In John 14 Jesus is implying that love should motivate us to follow God’s many laws and commandments. Like parents who inspire their children, if there is one good reason for them to obey their parents, it’s because they love each other. The relationship must be mutual. Honest love garners respect and respect brings obedience.
The Apostle Paul’s Testimony on Love
Possibly the most vivid statement on love was delivered by the Apostle Paul. Found in 1st Corinthians, Paul makes what I consider the most poetic statement found in the Bible.
Personally, it is my favorite chapter! If one wants to understand love in a Biblical context, this is the most profound description there is:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NIV)
The Bible is loaded with great verses that show examples of love. The most important verse that gives hope to mankind would have to be John 3:16. Without God’s eternal love for the human race, there is no eternal salvation. Our lives have no eternal purpose.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
- John 3:16 (ESV)
God’s grace is incalculable! John 3:16 offers hope to all of mankind. This verse should easily inspire everyone, no matter how tough life can be. Our hardships and sufferings are temporary affairs.
For those who have faith in Christ as the one who willingly gave His life on the cross to erase the wages of our sin, there is eternal peace of mind.
Simply put, God is love!
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” - 1 John 4:8 (ESV)
Truly understanding God and how it relates to love is beyond our human comprehension. In truth, God is both love and light. This reality has multiple meanings as it relates virtue and a universe where physical matter is made of light energy.
"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." - 1 John 1:5 (ESV)
God is compared to light as it relates to the truth and how this translates with the purity and integrity of our love towards others.
"We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."
- 1 John 4:19-21 (ESV)
Our Heavenly Father should be considered the ultimate definition of love. We refer to Him as our Father because we can have a personal relationship with the omnipotent creator of the universe. Nothing else in life can compare to this reality when we have eternal salvation by God's grace.
Biblical Forms of Love
When comparing the Biblical descriptions of love with the Greek terminology of the New Testament era, the various forms of love become quite clear. The original New Testament manuscripts were all written in Greek. This is because it was easily the most common language in the Eastern Mediterranean region during the early Christian era. There are four primary Greek categories of love associated with the concepts of Biblical love.
1) Agape (Godly) This is the greatest and purest form of love. It is genuine, unconditional and selfless. Agape love is the closest description of God’s eternal love for all of mankind. This is why God is so compassionate and patient with the human race. God's love is so sincere, the best description would simply be what we refer to as grace. We are loved and offered forgiveness until the last possible opportunity. Agape love is infinite in nature.
It has always existed and always will. This is why the Bible says that “God is love.”
2) Storge (Family) The best descriptions for Storge love are empathy and affection. It is similar to the love parents have towards their children. This form of love is often found in unbalanced relationships. These relationships usually involve a sibling, a dependent, a pet or an employee where love is not reliant on the individual's age, status or experience. Like the affection a loyal dog provides to its master, or the care a mother offers an infant, this love is also unconditional and very common. And because Storge love is not based on a return investment, it can go unnoticed, at times ubiquitous and easily taken for granted.
3) Philia (Brotherly) Camaraderie and friendship are two of the best descriptions of Philia. It is the inspiration for the naming of the famed city of Philadelphia, nicknamed as the city of brotherly love. Some of the features of Philia are loyalty, the sharing of emotions (good and bad), and a sense of common sacrifice.
4) Eros (Erotic) Known as romantic love, it includes emotions like passion, sensuality and sexual desire. An amazing gift from God when used properly, Eros has become the most exploited version of love in Western society. Whether used by an advertising agency, a movie producer or an attention seeking individual, Eros can be easily manipulated for economic gain, higher media ratings or simple self-gratification.
Greek culture also identifies other forms of love. A few of these may be subcategories of the previous four forms of love. Some are derivatives of love that are mixed with human emotion. They can be categorized as:
Philautia (Self-Love) This includes self-serving emotions like vanity, selfishness and ego. Loving one’s self is the first step in learning to love others. But Philautia love becomes misguided when the needs or cares of others are removed from the equation. This leads to narcissism and self-gratification.
Xenia (Guest Friendship) Associated with being a good host, this form of love is related to acts of hospitality and generosity. The courtesy of hospitality towards a guest can be expressed in both material benefits (gifts, food, shelter), as well as non-material ones (favors, comfort, civility).
Mania (Obsessive Love) Similar to madness, this is a highly emotional and unbalanced form of Eros love. Compared to an addiction, the emotions that can be provoked are stalking behaviors, codependency, extreme jealousy, and the potential for violence.
Ludus (Playful Love) Often compared to the early stages of Eros love, it can be described best with traits of teasing, flirtation or dancing with a stranger. It can also be described as puppy love, as it is associated with youthfulness.
Pragma (Committed Love) If Eros is about finding or enjoying love, then Pragma is about protecting those you love. Patience, tolerance, and compromise are important elements.
If you live your daily lives with a joy for life and compassion for your neighbors, you will be blessed. God loves a cheerful heart!
“All the days of the afflicted are evil,
but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.”
- Proverbs 15:15 ESV
“Let all that you do be done in love.” - 1 Corinthians 16:14 (ESV)
The Bible is the ultimate source to understanding the many characteristics of love. If your emotions and motivations with love are not compatible with Scriptures, then they are most likely not honest forms of love. Avoiding the misguided messages and corrupting images in our popular culture is a wise decision. We should read the Bible, pray and talk to God, since the many commandments are all rooted in sincere love. Biblical love inspires faith, promotes hope and dispels all fear.
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (ESV)
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
- 1 John 4:18 (ESV)
Fear is often a roadblock to understanding love and finding inner peace. Overcoming fear can also open one’s heart and mind so the individual can make the decision that God wants. Sometimes we need courage for action and at other times when to be patient.
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