WHAT IS LOVE?
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans )
I. GREEK WORDS FOR LOVE
The expression, "The Greeks had a word for it," is true with reference to love. In English we have only one word to express all kinds of love; Greek has no fewer than four.
First, there is the noun "eros" and the verb "eran." Eran is passionate love which desires the other for itself. In every age, the Greeks sang glowing hymns to sensually joyous and demonic Eros, “the god who is compelled by none but compels all.” This god played a great role in the cult, and became in philosophy from the time of Plato the epitome of the uttermost fulfillment and elevation of life. Neither Eros nor Eran ever occurs in the New Testament, but occasionally in the Septuagint. Their absence is significant.
It is in part explained from the fact that, by the corrupt use of the world, they had become so steeped in sensual passion, and carried such an atmosphere of unholiness about them, that the truth of God abstained from the defiling contact with them; yea, devise a new word rather than betake itself to one of these. Belonging in the same family of words with eros is erotic, which the dictionary defines as "pertaining to, or concerned with sexual love." This being the case, it is not difficult to see why the Holy Spirit never used this family of words. They simply do not express the true idea of love.
Next, there is the verb "phileo" and the noun "philia." These words may be the highest words in secular Greek to describe love. They involve warm interest, tender relationships, and friendship. Phileo occurs several times in the New Testament (John ; 20:2; Matt. ). Philia occurs but once in James 4:4 (cf. John ). According to biblical authorities, phileo is never used in a command to men to love God, probably because it represents affection more than anything else, and God wants more than affection from men.
The use of phileo in a conversation between Peter and Christ is significant. Three times the Lord asked Peter if he loved Him. The first time Jesus used the word “agape” (John -17). Three times Peter said, "Yes, Lord; You know that I have affection for You." Although phileo springs from the motive of the highest veneration, we are looking for more than affection as we try to properly express ourselves to God. "Philia was a lovely word, but it was a word of warmth, and closeness, and affection; it could only properly be used of the near and the dear, and Christianity needed a much more inclusive word than that" (Barclay, p. 20).
Third, there is the noun "storge" and the verb "stergein." Their absence in the Greek New Testament is conspicuous. Scholars say "family affection" is as close as the New Testament gets to these two words. It means kindly-affectioned.
Last, there is "agape." There is no higher word for love in the Greek New Testament. One scholar said, "For it should not be forgotten that agape is a word born within the bosom of revealed religion: it occurs in the Septuagint...there is no trace of it in any heathen writer whatever, and as little in Philo or Josephus." Agape conveys what God wants us to be, and what He wants us to do. Lexicons define it as an unselfish love, ready to serve; a love that values and esteems; a love that sacrifices self for another, even to the extent of death. Agape loves without being loved. It seeks man's highest good. Christ had it. Stephen had it. To be a child of God you must have it too!
II. TRUE LOVE VERSUS FALSE LOVE
The existence of that which is true implies the existence of that which is false. Therefore, we must learn to differentiate. Not everything called love is love. Lust is sometimes mistaken for love, but about the only thing love and lust have in common is that they are both four-letter words.
What then is the meaning of agape? This Christian love has supremely to do with the will. It is not merely an emotional experience which comes to us, unbidden and unsought; it is a deliberate principle of the mind, and a deliberate conquest and achievement of the will. It is the power to love the unlovable, to love people whom we do not like. The supreme passage for the interpretation of the meaning of agape is Matthew 5:43-48. Here Jesus teaches His people to: “Love your enemies.” No one ever naturally loved his enemies. To love one's enemies is a conquest of all our natural inclinations and emotions.
At this point, it would be well to consider two things: (1) we must learn to love the soul of the most despicable wretch on earth; (2) we must love a brotherhood in which there are brethren whose manner of life and disposition make it very difficult to practice love's demands. Why are we bidden to love these and even our enemies? Answer: We love ALL others in order to be like God (Matt. ). Love is mentioned nine times in the thirteen verses in 1 Corinthians 13, and in each occurrence the word is translated from the word agape. This is significant because it not only shows that agape is the highest word for love in the Greek text, it shows, in a manner of speaking, that we are nothing, absolutely nothing without it. The highest goal in the life of the Christian, in personal development, is the possession and exercise of agape, because love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8).
III. HOW IS LOVE DEVELOPED?
First, there is forgiveness. God forgave us because He loved us (John ). We must forgive others for the same reason. Love grows in the heart of one who forgives. He who cannot forgive is in danger (Matt. -15), for he has not learned to love (cf. 1 John -21).
Next, love can be developed through service
Finally, we develop love by imitating Christ (1 John 2:6). Following Jesus expands our capacity to love (1 Pet. ). The longer Paul followed Christ, the more he loved Him (Phil. -21; cf. 1 Cor. 11:1). The same approach will work for us.
IV. THE STRENGTH OF LOVE
Fear is a tool of the devil and the present enemy of humanity (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7). Fear cannot be conquered by physical strength or violence. The only antidote for fear is love. One of the greatest, most powerful passages in the entire Bible is First John 4:18: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears is not made perfect in love." We do not fear the experience of life or death when we walk with the Lord. David said, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Ps. 23:4).
The doctrine of Divine love permeates the Sacred