We can’t touch it, yet we can feel it; is it real?
We can’t see it, but we see the effects of it; what does it look like?
We might say we love our family, parents, husband, wife, kids, boyfriend or girlfriend, and friends; we also might say we love camping, chocolate, music, our jobs, exercise or food.
We use the one word for so many things. English only has one word for love, and this, I believe, leads to the confusion and the lack of a clear understanding. In Greek there are four words that are translated into the word love in English. I believe that exploring this will help us to understand what love is.
The four words are: Agape, Phileo, Storge and Eros. I will like to go over each word.
AgapeThis is the love God has for us. It is the moral love, charity, the love for all. It is the love that makes us care when someone we don’t know falls over.
God is Agape. This is the perfect love that all other love is based on. We fail to achieve this fully.
So what does Agape love look like? In a word, it is selflessness. Self-sacrifice is focusing on what you are losing. Love [agape] is focusing on other people more than one’s self. If you are thinking about what you are giving up, your focus is on yourself and not the other.
The main thing about Agape is that it comes from action, not a warm and fuzzy feeling or emotion. It is the actions which flow from love that we may not enjoy or even suffer for. God so loved [agape] that He gave His Son. This doesn’t feel good, it’s not like it would be enjoyable; it was the loving thing to do. Christ so loved [agape] that He gave his life. He didn’t want to die; He died and suffered for us out of love [agape]. He did what God wanted. Like a mother who is up all night cleaning the vomit from her child: she doesn’t exactly want to do it - no doubt would rather sleep - it’s not something she would enjoy. That is a true act of agape [love], it is action not a feeling.
We can now see agape love is a choice. It is an act of will and not emotion or feeling. This is why God commands us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). He is not telling us to “have warm and fuzzy feelings” for them. He is telling us to obey Him and treat them in love for the sake of their long term profit.
We know that we love (agape) God by the fact 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 some Christians who say that they love [agape] God, but how they conduct themselves and their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God. They mistake their feelings of affection for God, for true agape love. Jesus made it clear when he said: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching…” (John 14:24a).
The “loving” thing to do is not always easy, and true love is not always “mushy sentimental feel good emotion”. There is often a cost to genuine love. For example: punishing criminals to keep people safe is loving but not easy or pleasant; Asking someone to leave because their actions show they persist in flagrant sin is loving, but it is never easy (1 Cor. 5:1-5). It is not to say that agape love cannot have feelings attached with it; ideally the loving thing to do, should also be what we want to do. We are to be known for our love to one another (John 13:35)
PhileoThis refers to friendship, associate, cherish, neighbour and objects.
“To have a special interest in someone or something, frequently with focus on close association; have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” This is also the love that exists after a relationship (romantic, boyfriend/girlfriend) ends.
Due to only having one word for love in English, this phileo love manifests itself in the form of terms of endearment, such as: mate, dude, bud, man, dear, darling, and girl. You may even hear females call each other babe, darling, or gorgeous. It also come across with “I love ice cream”. It would probably be better if it wasn’t translated into the word “love”, but was translated to "cherish" or "respect". Phileo is a love of strong emotion, or a deep friendship. You can agape your enemies, but not phileo them.
The difference between agape and phileo becomes very clear in John 21:15ff, but unfortunately it is lost in almost all English translations. After being raised from the dead, Jesus met Peter. Here is the short version of what they said to each other.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (agape) me more than these [fish?].
Peter: Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo/cherish) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you…love (agape) me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo/cherish) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (phileo/cherish) me?
Peter: [Grieved] “Lord…you know that I love (phileo/cherish) you.”
StorgeThis is the love and affection that just naturally occurs between parents and children, it can exist between siblings, and exists between husbands and wives in a good marriage.
It occurs in Romans 12:10 in the word, philostorgos, which is a compound word made up of philos (the noun form of phileo) and storge. Romans 12:10 is a very important verse, directing us to be very loving and kind to each other.
“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;”
Storge is unique; Ask any parent and I am sure they will all tell you this type of love just happens instantly. They probably would not be able to tell you when it happened.
I am not going to go into Eros, but what is true for the other three loves is true for Eros. For more info read Song of Solomon.
What does this mean in practice?In 1 Corinthians 13 it talks about love, the word it uses is agape. We can use this to understand what love should look like. How we should act and to see when people are not being loving.
”Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
“Love does not envy”
Envy is coveting; wanting something you don’t have, whereas jealousy is of something that belongs to you. In Exodus 20 it says that God is jealous. He is jealous of our attention. It belongs to Him, so when we give it to other gods, His jealousy is provoked, or aroused. You are jealous of your husband’s or wife’s attention and envious of someone’s car or boat etc.
This means we need to stop insulting others over the things they have that we are envious of. We need to stop insulting people because we are envious of the confidence they have, that they are better at soccer then us, we think they are better looking than we are. The insulting of each other needs to stop: it’s not loving. Strong people lift others up weak people bring others down, we need to stop being weak.
Love “does not seek its own”
This means saying “if you love me you..” is not love, but emotional manipulation. It is not selfless. It also means we should not worry about who is right or wrong, but be focused on what is right. Even if we are wrong it doesn’t mean the other view is right. We should look past our own feelings and emotions, and ask "What is the truth? What does God want?"
If you are dating, and feel like you need to earn their love, get out. If you are married, get marriage counselling. That is an unhealthy relationship and is likely to be emotionally and mentally manipulative and abusive, and could end up being physically abusive.
Love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth”
This is saying you need to speak the truth in agape (remember this is not always easy to do). If someone is doing something you don’t agree with you need to speak up, in love. If you don’t, you are a silent witness and are just as guilty as if you were doing it. It also means white lies are not loving, and yes, sometimes the truth is uncomfortable to receive and people may feel hurt. The passive aggressive behaviour that is prevalent needs to stop, it is not loving it is cowardly. We need to call people up on it, and speak the truth even if it’s hard to do, out of love.
Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We are commanded to love, which tells us that there is never a good reason not to show or give love to someone; love is never wasted. If love could be wasted, then it could also be earned and would no longer be a gift. We did not deserve Gods love when He sent His son. We did not earn Gods Love, nor did we earn our parent’s love. All love is a gift we don’t deserve. We do not, can not, earn it. Accept the love that people give to you freely, as a precious and beautiful gift. Love is not wasted or earned. It is freely given.
We need to love our self to love othersWe are commanded to agape love all people by God. In Mathew 22:39 it says “You shall Love your neighbour as yourself”. I ask you this: if you hate yourself, can you love your neighbour? And is not hating yourself breaking the 6th commandment (kill)? You must love yourself in order to love others. Have you ever thought “I don’t deserve to be loved” or “I’m not good enough”? You would be right. We are no better than Hitler, Nero, Rahab, Saul, Attila the Hun, Hosea’s wife, or Ted Bundy. Like everyone else we all deserve to spend eternity in hell. It is only through the grace of God, which He gives us in love, that we are saved; not because we are “good enough”.
Proverbs 13 talks about discipline and says “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves [agape] him disciplines him promptly” it uses agape. My point is that if a child does something stupid and you point it out, but fail to do so in love there is a high chance they will grow up believing they are stupid. Parents, do you tell your children they are or did something stupid, dumb, or silly more then you tell them they are loved, or that you love them?
We need to stop being self-absorbed. Stop thinking about how ugly, stupid or useless we are. We are all a zero out of ten. We all fail to keep the commandments. Instead, focus on other people; focus on lifting others up. Stop thinking about how you look, and if people like you. Stop looking at others and wishing you were as good looking, as confident, as talented.
Youth, lift each other up. Call out the hypocrisy and the cowardly behaviour. Defend your fellow youth who are being picked on. Help each other, motivate each other, and challenge each other.
Imagine: "What would the Church be like, if everyone was lifting each other up instead of pulling each other down?"
Yours in agape,
Jared den Harder