If you are asking this question you probably already looked at a dictionary definition and were unhappy with what you found. If you Google “love” you will find more than thirty-eight million definitions! So this is how Merriam –Webster defines love:
1 a: (1) Strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) Attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) Affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b: An assurance of affection
2 Warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
3 a: The object of attachment, devotion, or admiration
b: (1) A beloved person: darling – often used as a term of endearment (2) British – used as an informal term of address
4 a: Unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1): the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2): brotherly concern for others b: a person’s adoration of God
I am sure that you (like me) related to these definitions, and that as you read through this list you related them to your own personal experiences. With all that said we still don’t have much of a definition. Is love just a feeling? Can we call it an emotion? Is it consistent? How can I “love” someone one minute and utterly have distain for that same someone shortly after and for no tangible reason? How do married people who have “fallen in love” fall out of love and get divorced? I can use the word “love” as in “I love my spouse,” or “I love my car,” or “I love chocolate” and each of these statements have completely different significance? In pursuit of a more tangible definition let us take a look at what the bible has to say on the subject.
The bible was written in two languages; Hebrew and Greek. Hebrew (like English) has only one word for “love:” Ahav (Ah-hav). The Greek language, however, uses three words for “love.” They are “eros” (eh-ros), “philia” (fee-lee-ah), and “agape” (ah-gah-peh). Eros is the root for the English word “erogenous.” It is easy to see then that it is sexual passion, and is therefore, fleshly and frankly brainless. Philia, which sounds very much like “Philadelphia,” is brotherly love (as in “the city of brotherly love”). This definition includes the life-long commitment we have with family members and special friends. Agape is unconditional love, meaning that there is literally nothing a person can do to me or against me that would cause me to stop loving them. In our common lives the love that is known from a parent to a child is most often of this nature. We would like to think that this kind of love would also be known between all marrying/married couples, and although it is often their confession (and 1 Corinthians 13 is read at the wedding) most often the individual’s attitude truly is “I’ll love and nurture you as long as you remain faithful to me and do likewise, but if you have an affair you’re gone!” This, at best, is “philia” love, which, in the end, is selfish. In most cases when an affair occurs a multitude of relational breakdowns have occurred. It takes two to make a marriage, and in most cases it takes two to break a marriage. When divorce occurs and both husband and wife blame the other, then no one learns and no one grows. In most cases they will remarry and end up in the same position again because no one has dealt honestly (in reality) over why there was a break down in the relationship. Running away from the problem is NEVER the answer. It’s time to get biblical and exercise true “agape” love and forgiveness.
Biblical love is always “agape.” God loves us with unconditional love. Indeed, “God is love” (agape’). 1 John 4:8
“He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” John 14:21
If we “plug in” agape’ then this statement reads:
‘He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who unconditionally loves me; and he who unconditionally loves me will be unconditionally loved by My Father, and I will unconditionally love him and will disclose Myself to him.’
Jesus further said,
“Just as the Father has (unconditionally) loved me, I also have (unconditionally) loved you; abide in My (unconditional) love.” John 15:9
“Greater (unconditional) love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:13-14
Refuting Pharisees Jesus said:
“I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father. They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.’ But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father. They said to him, we were not born of fornication; we have one father: God. Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would (unconditionally) love me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.” John 8:37-42
The Apostle Peter said:
“Above all, keep fervent in your (unconditional) love for one another, because (unconditional) love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
In like fashion the book Proverbs tells us,
“Hatred stirs up strife, but (unconditional) love covers all transgressions.” Proverbs 10:12
The Apostle John said:
“Beloved, let us (unconditionally) love one another, for (unconditional) love is from God; and everyone who loves (unconditionally) is born of God and knows God. The one who does not (unconditionally) love does not know God, for God is (unconditional) love. By this the (unconditional) love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is (unconditional) love, not that we (unconditionally) love God, but that He (unconditionally) loves us, and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so (unconditionally) loves us, we also ought to (unconditionally) love one another.” 1 John 4:7-11
John also said:
“We have come to know and have believed the (unconditional) love which God has for us. God is (unconditional) love, and the one who abides in (unconditional) love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, (unconditional) love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in (unconditional) love; but perfect (unconditional) love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in (unconditional) love. We (unconditionally) love, because He first (unconditionally) loved us. If someone says, “I (unconditionally) love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not (unconditionally) love his brother whom he has seen, cannot (unconditionally) love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4: 16-20
From that statement we can glean the reality that we should see God’s ultimate creation in each human being alive. We ought to love everyone, even though we may seriously disagree with them or be offended by their self-centeredness and unbiblical thinking. The Father, our Heavenly Father, who created us all and gave us this opportunity for expression (life), also created them. If they are in error we are then in a position to petition Him on their behalf. It is difficult to despise or be angry for very long with anyone for whom you pray.
In his book “Absolute Surrender,” Andrew Murray tells us,
“When man sinned, why was it that he sinned? Selfishness Triumphed – he sought self instead of God. And just look! Adam at once begins to accuse the woman of having led him astray. Love to God had gone; love to man was lost. Look again: of the first two children of Adam, the one becomes a murderer of his brother. Does that not teach us that sin had robbed the world of love? Ah! What a proof the history of the world has been of love having been lost! There may have been beautiful examples of love even among the heathen, but only as a little remnant of what was lost. One of the worst things sin did for man was to make him selfish, for selfishness cannot love. The Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven as the Son of God’s love. ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’ (John 3:16). God’s Son came to show what love is, and He lived a life of love here on earth in fellowship with His disciples, in compassion over the poor and miserable, in love even to His enemies. And, He died the death of love. And when He went back to heaven, whom did He send down? The Spirit of love, to come and banish selfishness and envy and pride, and bring the love of God into the hearts of men. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love.’ And what was the preparation for the promise of the Holy Spirit? You know that promise as found in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. But remember what precedes in the thirteenth chapter. Before Christ promised the Holy Spirit, He gave a new commandment, and about that new commandment He said wonderful things. One thing was: ‘Even as I have loved you, so love ye one another.’ To them His dying love was to be the only law of their conduct and fellowship with each other. What a message to those fishermen, to those men full of pride and selfishness! ‘Learn to love each other,’ said Christ, ‘as I have loved you.’ And by the grace of God they did it. When Pentecost came, they were of one heart and one soul. Christ did it for them.”
Jesus communicates “tough” unconditional love.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
“Truce makers” are not peacemakers. Agreeing to just not kill each other is not peace. Peacemaking requires truth (reality), humility, transparency, forgiveness, unconditional love and “chutzpah” (guts, spine), which means address the issue and deal with the difficulty.
Jesus also said,
“if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:23-24
In paraphrase, He said, ‘I’m not interested in your gift/presentation/offering if you haven’t settled a difficulty with another person. Go away and deal with the problem first and then bring your offering.’
“A new commandment I give to you, that you (unconditionally) love one another, as I have (unconditionally) loved you, that you also (unconditionally) love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have (unconditional) love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Notice that Jesus implies by this statement that it’s not the T-shirt you wear or the sign in front of the church that communicates who the real believers are. People will know that your commitment to Jesus is real by the love congregation members have for one another. This is a love (commitment) that goes vastly beyond the world’s definition of love.
In this we all can see that there is nothing you can do to cause him to stop loving you. Does that mean there is no one in hell? It does not. The choice is always our own. If we reject his unconditional love throughout our entire life we will be rejected in the end. A reality many do not want to hear is actually attached to what we refer to as “the Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus was teaching His disciples to pray (it should be called the Disciple’s Prayer) and said to them when you pray, pray this way (follow this pattern):
“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts (sins) as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Then Jesus goes on to say,
“For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15
We are, as His disciples, required to love, not with “eros,” not with “philia,” but with “agape’” love, and to forgive with that same love. The topic of forgiveness has to be included here because if we do not forgive then we have not loved unconditionally. So, for example, if your spouse has had an affair and rather than leaving you has decided to confess and wants to reconcile your marriage; forgive and reconcile, recognizing that a time for healing will be required and a lot of questions will have to be answered. The longest distance on earth is the fourteen inches between your head and your heart. Pray daily (or more) that God cause the forgiveness you have chosen with your mind to become a reality in your heart. It may take more than a year. Recognize that we will never return to being that which enabled this breakdown to occur. For your mate who had the affair, they have to do all they can to reassure that they understand your suffering, are willing to have counseling and implement changes that will make your relationship stronger than ever.
We often hear the cliché statement “forgive and forget” (not a biblical statement). What, exactly, does that mean? If you forget did you learn anything? How can you forget what someone did and come away from the experience better defined and with greater understanding? Let me suggest that we never forget, but simply choose to NEVER bring it up again. Too often individuals say ‘I forgive you,’ but then as soon as a argument begins to break out that same issue is immediately brought into the discussion and hammered on over and over again. In such a case forgiveness was only verbal and never honest and real.
We are challenged to crucify our fleshly desires and to take on the character of God. Listen to this statement made by Jesus:
“…love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons (children) of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (people). Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned.” Luke 6:35-37
While He was going to the cross Jesus demonstrated these very attributes as our example.
“When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” Luke 23:33-34
Put on the character of God every day. Choose to be like Him. If He were like us He would have destroyed the earth and all its inhabitants long ago. Love the unlovable. Forgive the unforgivable. Pardon the unpardonable. Forgive unconditionally. Love unconditionally.
So we still have not defined “love” because although we feel it and recognize it, the truth is it is not of this matrix in which we dwell, but it is of God Himself. God is agape’! The more we are able to worship Him the deeper our expression of love will become, since “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The world tells us that we “fall in love” with “stars in our eyes” on “some enchanted evening!” The bible expresses love that is a choice; a choice to agape’ love, to forgive, to restore and to redeem. If God loves you unconditionally, love in the same way. If God forgave/forgives you, forgive with complete forgiveness. If God has restored you and doesn’t hold your wrongs against you, then restore others also as you have been restored.
You may ask, “Did Jesus say that?” Why yes, yes He did!
“Then Peter came and said to Him; ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’ For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents (one talent equals fifteen years of labor) was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But the slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii (one denarius equals one days wage), and he seized him and began to choke him, saying ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-35
You may be thinking, ‘You don’t know what they did to me.’ You’re right, but I know what they did to Jesus, and He did nothing to deserve what was done to Him; yet He forgave them. Bring it to the cross! Jesus is waiting to take the burden of it from you. Lay it, and all of who you are, at the foot of Jesus’ cross. He will lift you up (Matthew 12:11).
Choose life! Choose love!
This article was written by James F. Wingerter, Minister of Music at Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Florida