Talking about love without first knowing what it is would be like trying to operate an electronic device for the first time without reading its manual. Two things are likely to happen which are these: it is either one ends up destroying the device or one does not actually get to optimize the function of the device. Therefore, it is important for us to be able to define love in order for us to better appreciate what love is and so be able to enjoy and demonstrate it accurately. According to the Merriam-Webster English dictionary, love is a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties. Love is also defined as an attraction based on sexual desire. Looking at the world around us, these definitions of love seem to be very accurate. A mother says to her daughter, “I love you” because of the strong affection she has for her which is borne out their relationship as mother and daughter. A man tells his wife “I love you” for equally the same reason and also because he feels sexually attracted to her too. Going further in our quest to understand the meaning of love, we look at the Greek language. The Greek language been one of the world’s most ancient languages is far richer in depth than the English language. In the Greek lexicon, there are four words which are translated as love in the English language. These words are Storge, Eros, Phileo and Agape.
This word “storge” is a natural affection or obligation. It is the kind of love which is based and founded on one’s own personality. It is that feeling, that affection within a person whose object is on something that he feels good about or something close to him. You can see this love as a natural soulish feeling in people or even animals. It is that affection which parents to their offspring and which the offspring also bear to their parents. An example of where this word was used in the bible is in 2Tim 3:3 where Paul said that in the last days, there will be perilous times which among, other things, will make men to be without natural affection. The phrase “without natural affection” is from the Greek word “astorgos” which also means to be inhuman, unloving. Anyone without this kind of love can be seen to be worse than brutes.
Eros is a passionate kind of love. It is that overpowering passion that grips and controls the mind. It is an erotic love. It is that emotional feeling of love which is based on what we know as body chemistry. One thing to be noted about Eros love is that, it is selfish. It always gears towards the satisfaction of one’s self. Even though the object of Eros is always another, it actually has self in mind. It is the kind of love that loves because… The basis of this type of love is some quality in the other person which is pleasing and alluring. If the object of this kind of love ceases to possess that quality, this love would cease to exist because the reason for it is gone. Eros is the kind of love which always seeks to receive. Even if it gives, it is to the end that it may receive something in return. Eros can be considered as a conditional type of love. This is because being loved is dependent on being attractive in some way to the other person. Amazingly, there is no scriptural reference for this kind of love. Probably this is because God does not want us exhibiting this kind of love. However, I believe it is alright for this kind of love to be present to some degree in a marriage relationship in order for there to be physical intimacy. The downside to this kind of love being present in a marriage relationship is when it is the only kind of love in the relationship. If this is the case, divorce would always be the end result of such a marriage. This is not to say that all divorce cases are based on the fact that the only kind of love in the relationship was Eros. Certainly not! Eros is a kind of love which is prone to perversion. The only safe place for there to be Eros and godliness at the same time is in a marriage relationship. However, even in a marriage relationship, much care must be taken in this area. The perversion of Eros is majorly sexual in nature. The sexual perversion of Eros shows itself in:
Fornication: sexual relationship between unmarried people or one who is not married and another who is married (1Cor 5:1, 1Cor 7:2, Jud 1:7).
Adultery: sexual relationship between one who is married and another who is not his/her spouse (Ex 20:14, Lev. 20:10, Mk 7:21-23, Prov 6:24).
Homosexuality: unnatural affection between two male and females it is against nature (Deut 23:17-18, Rom 1:26-28).
Phileo means friendship or companionship. It is a companionable kind of love. When you think Phileo, think of liking, affection or fondness. It is also the kind of love that gives and respond to kindness and appreciation. It is the love that seeks the good of the collective. It is always thinking of our happiness as opposed to Eros which thinks of my happiness. Kenneth Wuest speaks of Phileo as the kind of love that is “called out of one’s heart as a response to the pleasure one takes in a person or object.” This kind of love is however not resilient in the face of crisis. This word was used 26 times in the New Testament. It is a healthy kind of love which should exist among believers (Tit 3:15, Jn 11:3, Jn 20:2)
This is the highest and most honourable word for love in the Greek lexicon. Agape is that kind of love that is borne out of one’s heart because of the value placed on the object of this love. It is love based on esteem and value. It is also called the God-kind of love because it is the kind of love which is based not on merit or the worth of its object but on the God-given nature of the giver. This love is unconditional, unselfish and resilient even in the face of crisis. It will keep on loving even when the one being loved is unlovable, unkind, unresponsive, and unworthy. It seeks only the good of others without even thinking about itself. It is a consuming passion for the well-being of others. Its highest form of expression is in the giver being able to die for the recipient (1Jn 3:16). The word “agape” was used in the New Testament about 142 times. It is the kind of love that should natural spring out of our hearts because the Holy Spirit has released “agape” into us (Rom 5:5). This is the love that motivated Jesus to come down from heaven to die for us (Jn 3:16). With all these said, it is possible to begin to view love as a mere concept or at best a virtue. Looking in the natural, that would be correct and accurate. However, we cannot look to the natural for the understanding of things. In order for us to correctly know anything, we must ask God. God has given us his word in order for us to be able to accurately define things. 2Tim 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The scripture is profitable for doctrine… Doctrine means learning; it means teaching. So the word of God is profitable for learning what love is. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1Jn 4:7-8) Love is not a concept neither is it a mere virtue. Love is a person. God is love. To want to define love outside of the person of God is to be totally inaccurate and erroneous about the subject matter. Love can only be seen as a virtue that springs out of the person of God. The reason why God loves is because He is love. Know this: there is no love outside of God. Every form of love outside of God is really not love. It is a false love. The scriptures are clear on this: “Let God be true and all men be liars (Rom 3:4).” The only true form of love which is borne out of God’s nature is agape. God is agape. Understand that there are only a few known occurrences of the word “agape” outside of the bible. In other words, this word was not used very often in extra-biblical writings. This is so because humans are naturally selfish and self-serving. It is impossible for a man to have and demonstrate agape-love except he has been born of God. The other forms of love are those that spring out of man which include storge and eros. These forms of love, even though they have their place in human society, do not exist in God and that’s why we see that they are majorly self-serving. Phileo is a form of love which can and should be expressed by believers. However, phileo must always be expressed with agape being the foundation if not, it will fail in the presence of crisis. True love which is the God-kind of love (agape) never fails (1Cor 13:8). With all these said, I guess the question should be who is love and not what is love. This is because love is a person and that person is God. Therefore, if we now want to define love as a concept, the correct way to define love would be to say that love is the sum total of all the divine perfection, attributes and power of God.
© 2015 Dr. Daniel J. GRACE