Monday, October 8, 2012
Four Kinds of Love Part 1
I found this article on different words in the Bible that are translated as "love." I thought the author made some very good points.
There are four Greek words for love that are important for us to understand. They are agape, phileo, storge, and eros. Three of them appear in the Bible. If we are going to understand the Bible and the biblical world, it is important that we understand what these words mean and how they differ.
The Greek word for sexual love or passionate love is eros, and we get English words such as “erotic.” When eros was used as a proper noun, it referred to the Greek god of love. The Greek word eros does not appear in the biblical text, but it has had such an impact on English and our view of sexual love that it is important to mention.
The Greek word that refers to the love of God, one of the kinds of love we are to have for people, is agape. Agape (ah-gah-pay) is the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12, 16b). The big key to understanding agape is to realize that it can be known from the action it prompts. In fact, we sometimes speak of the “action model” of agape love. People today are accustomed to thinking of love as a feeling, but that is not necessarily the case with agape love. Agape is love because of what it does, not because of how it feels.
God so “loved” (agape) that He gave His Son. It did not feel good to God to do that, but it was the loving thing to do. Christ so loved (agape) that he gave his life. He did not want to die, but he loved, so he did what God required. A mother who loves a sick baby will stay up all night long caring for it, which is not something she wants to do, but is a true act of agape love.
The point is that agape love is not simply an impulse generated from feelings. Rather, agape love is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice. This is why God can command us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Exod. 23:1-5). He is not commanding us to “have a good feeling” for our enemies, but to act in a loving way toward them. Agape love is related to obedience and commitment, and not necessarily feeling and emotion. “Loving” someone is to obey God on another’s behalf, seeking his or her long-term blessing and benefit.
The way to know that we love (agape) God is that we keep His commandments. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me…” (John 14:21a). There are Christians who say they love God, but their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God. These people mistake their feeling of affection for God for true agape love. Jesus made this clear: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching…” (John 14:24a).
Love is the distinctive character of the Christian life in relation to other Christians and to all humanity. The “loving” thing to do may not always be easy, and true love is not “mushy sentimentalism.” There is often a cost to genuine love. For example, punishing criminals to keep society safe is loving but not easy or pleasant, and asking someone to leave your Christian fellowship because he persists in flagrant sin is loving, but never easy (1 Cor. 5:1-5). That is not to say the agape love cannot have feelings attached to it, and the ideal situation occurs when the loving thing to do also is what we want to do. Christians are to be known for their love to one another (John 13:35).