This series is obviously themed in a way that intentionally discusses what love is. As this will be the case for many articles to come, I figured that it would be useful to consider some things we know about how the scripture uses the word love. I am hardly a scholar, so I will not return to the original languages very often. Specifically, since 1 Corinthians 13 is in the New Testament, these thoughts below will focus on the uses of love in the New Testament alone.
Fact #1 – The three Greek words: It is often repeated that there are three Greek words for love. This is not completely true, as there are actually four Greek terms which would typically be translated as “love.”
Agape – My Greek New Testament defines this word as, “primarily of Christian love, concern, interest.” Typically this term is referred to as God’s love.
Eros – This is the love often defined as the romantic or erotic love. The Greek does not relate this term with lust, however, which would shock many people today, as our culture seems to think romance and lust go hand in hand.
Phileo – The Greek New Testament defines this word as, ” love, to have deep feelings for, like.” Typically this is referred to as Brotherly love, which is where the city Philadelphia gets its nickname.
Storge – Often neglected by teachers, Storge is considered to be a term for Familial love, or devotion, making it similar in some ways to Phileo
Fact #2 – Love in the New Testament: In the New Testament, only two of these four terms were used in the original Greek, Agape and Phileo. Agape appears the most, with upwards of four times as many uses in the New Testament than Phileo. Eros, the word for “Romantic” love, is not used at all, not even in passages regarding marriage or divorce. If you will recall, when Paul calls men to love their wives in Ephesians 5, he used the word Agape, God’s love. When Jesus challenges Peter, asking whether or not he loves Him, Jesus is seeking God’s kind of love, Agape.
Fact #3 – The First Appearance: The first time I found the word love in the New Testament was in Matthew 5:43-44.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” ESV
This word for love, yet again, comes from the word Agape. Even though many of us would think we only have to go as far as liking our neighbors, or the Phileo kind of love, that is not the command Christ gave. In fact, in Matthew 5:45 in order to be like sons of the Lord, we need to love our neighbors in this Agape way. This means that the first time the New Testament uses the word love, it is preparing us for living life as those who have been saved!
Fact #4 – The Last Appearance: The last time I found the word love being used in the New Testament was in Revelation 3:19.
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” ESV
This last appearance of love is the word Phileo. As Jesus is revealing to John the warning to the church of Laodicea, He reveals that it is because God cares for us that He reproves and disciplines His people. The church of Laodicea was the lukewarm church that was neither hot nor cold, suggesting they respected God, but that is as far as it went. In other words, their love for God was not the unconditional Agape love described in 1 Corinthians 13, but this Phileo love that is simply, but strongly, fond of the object of such feelings. God responds to their character by saying as He deeply cares for them, He will act to see this church decide who their God will be.
So what do these facts tell us? Firstly, while we commonly think we know enough about love, we can’t rest on the simple understanding we often hear. Secondly, when God prepared His church for living like His Son, He understood that we typically start from a position of affection, but lack of commitment. His plan in sending Christ to die for us was that we would learn through Him what it means to love like God. This is how Paul is able to describe for us the kind of love God has for us in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. The next time I share some thoughts on love, I’ll begin addressing that very chapter.
Written by Timothy Hegerich
There is truth in our world, and it lies within the word of the One who created the world. It is my prayer that my thoughts and writings echo this truth and inspire you to seek it for your life today!