Real Love

Published by DonDavidson on

Most of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, the language of business, commerce, and government in the eastern Roman Empire.

Greek has four words that can be translated as our English word, “love”: eros, storge, phileô, and agape. Eros refers to sexual love—the mutual attraction between the sexes. Storge means familial love, such as that between a parent and child. Eros and storge are never used in the Bible, although the opposite of storgeastorges, meaning the lack of such familial love—does appear in Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3.

The original Greek translated as the English word “love” is always one of two Greek words. About 15% of the time it is the Greek word phileô, or a form of that word. Phileô refers to the love between brothers or close friends, such as David and Jonathan. Phileô is where the city of Philadelphia got its name: phileô (brotherly love) and delphi (city)—thus, Philadelphia, “city of brotherly love.”

But about 85% of the time the word “love” in your New Testament is a translation of the Greek word agape (or a form of that word, such as agapaô). This refers to selfless and self-sacrificing love that desires only the best for the person being loved, regardless of whether that person merits or deserves such love. This is love that seeks nothing but the highest good for the other person. This kind of love does not demand or expect anything in return, and it is not conditional on the other person returning such love.

In short, this is the kind of love that God has for us, and it is the kind of love that God wants us to have toward him and others.

Agape love is unique because it is not an emotion or a feeling—it is a deliberate choice. When you agape-love someone, you treat them with kindness and respect, and you seek what is best for them, regardless of how you feel about them. You might feel nothing for them, or you might even detest them—but you try to do what is best for them anyway.

In Mark 12:28-34, when Jesus talks about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself, he uses the verb form of this word agape.

The best example we have of agape-love is when Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for us.

This is the kind of love that the Samaritan showed for the Jewish man who had been beaten and robbed along the road to Jericho (Luke 10:30-37).

There’s a reason Jesus put a Samaritan in that parable. The Samaritans were the descendants of people the Assyrians had moved into the region of Samaria after conquering the kingdom of Israel and deporting most of the Israelites who were living there. To the extent that the Samaritans worshiped Yahweh, they treated him as one of many gods—like they were covering all of their bases.

So the Samaritans were not Jewish in either race or religion. The Jews despised them and would have nothing to do with them, and I suspect the feeling was mutual. Yet the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable treated the Jewish man with extreme kindness—simply because that was what the Jewish man needed.

And that is how we are to “love” others—by treating them with kindness, respect, and consideration, regardless of how we feel about them.

Here is how C.S. Lewis put it in the book, Mere Christianity, when he was talking about fighting against the Nazis in World War II:

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves—to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.

Loving God has very little to do with feelings or emotion, and everything to do with obedience and faith. If you don’t feel like doing the things God wants you to do, do them anyway out of faith and obedience.

The funny thing is, if we do what God wants us to do, regardless of how we feel, the feelings often eventually follow.

When I was a baby Christian, I started reading the Bible 10 minutes a day. At first it was a chore. But before long I grew to resent the 10-minute limitation. So I expanded it to 15 minutes, and then 20, and then 30. And I added commentaries to help me understand God’s word. The feelings of enjoyment were not there at first, but they grew over time.

If we act with kindness toward someone we dislike, we will learn to dislike them less. We may even grow to like them—and they may eventually reciprocate, although nothing is certain.

This is real love—love like Jesus displayed on the cross. Love that is chosen. Love that is deliberate. Love that is selfless. Love that acts without regard for whether the object of that love deserves it.

That is the love God has for us. That is the love we are to display in return.


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