How the New Testament defines love

New Testament love is different from the love most people think of when they think of "love". Most English Bible readers think that "love" has the same meaning throughout the NT. Most believe that love simply means "to have great affection for." Actually the New Testament Greek language has 4 different words for "love" and each has a different meaning. Don't worry about the Greek, I will explain them well.

1. eros - Sexual attraction. Strawberry Shortcake love: "I want the shortcake. I want it bad! I will consume it without giving it a thought about how the shortcake feels" Eros doesn't appear in the New Testament, but is mentioned in the Greek Old Testament. Eros can often be selfish in the form of lust. A healthy eros would be a physical attraction between a married couple. But having this love and no others would make a mockery out of true love.

2. storge - Family love. We don't love Aunt Minnie because of her eros (physical attraction), but because she is our Aunt Minnie, a part of our family, even though she is blind, deaf, and senile. Storge appears 3 times in the NT, twice in its negative form (astorge - "without family love"), and once combined with phila ("be devoted"). A mother who has her baby and throws it in the trash can is showing astorge. I storge a Christian because he/she is a member of my spiritual family. But what if said Christian renounces Christianity? Could I still love him/her if storge was the only form of love I had?

3. phila - Friendship love. It is warm feelings and affection. It is liking someone. Philia is emotional, spontaneous, and instinctive. The weakness of this love is that in order to show it, it has to be shared. Your phila for me is damaged if I don't show phila for you. I call the weakness of phila "bowling partner" love: "I love you if you keep bowling strikes, but start throwing gutter balls and I'll find a new bowling partner." Many couples make this the main love in their marriage, and the marriage doesn't survive the gutter balls of life. I phila my friends, I have feelings for them, but that isn't enough to truly love them, especially if they don't show affection to me.

4. agape - A desire to do what is best for another. This Greek word is rarely used in other Greek writings and used in a colorless way. The New Testament gives agape a wonderful new meaning. Agape does involve a desire and a devotion, but doesn't depend of affection received from another in order to exist. Its purpose is to treat his fellow man with esteem and respect, even when rebuking someone who has done wrong. Christ said if we love (agape) Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). We are commanded to display agape with all of our heart, soul and mind to God and to show agape to our neighbor as we would do for ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). We are told by Paul to walk in the way of agape (Ephesians 3:16-19). Agape is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:8-10). John stated that agape expresses itself in word and deed and that without agape, we don't know God, who is the very definition of agape (1 John 3:16-19, 4:8). Agape is the word used as love in John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 13. In 1 Corinthians 13, it says that "love bears all things." The Greek word for "bear" can also mean "cover," as in agape throwing a cover of silence over the faults of others. I can even agape my enemies, I can desire and act for what is best for them, regardless of their feelings for me. Agape is an act of the will. I truly agape people, and I will do what is best for them, even if they had no eros, storge, phila, or agape for me. What people don't realize is that while eros, storge, and phila come naturally to humans, agape is not, for it is divine. Agape has to be learned, from God's Word. The Bible is not just a rulebook, but it is the dictionary of agape, whether agape defines how we worship God or how we interact to one another. If we master agape as defined in the Bible, we need nothing else to be more like God, for God IS agape (1 John 4:8)

Did God send His Son because he eros us? No, that involves more passion than love, and there was nothing physically attractive about us.

Did He do it because he storge us? No, that's too narrow in scope, only dealing with kinship loyalty, and we renounced our relationship to God through our sin.

Did God do it out of phila? No, because while it involves closeness and affection, it only involves those near and dear. We weren't near and dear friends to God, we were sinners. If God showed phila, He couldn't have included everybody.

God DID show agape because God had a desire to do what is best for us, even sacrificing His Son while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Nothing can separate us from the agape love of God (Romans 8:35-39).

Another example of the kinds of love is the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The Samaritan had no physical attraction for the wounded Jew. (eros).

The Jews and Samaritans were groups that hated each other, so there was no family love (storge).

The Samaritan was not a friend with anything to share, so there was no philia.

So what motivated the Samaritan to help the wounded Jew? The Samaritan saw a fellow human being and had a desire to do what is best for him. So the Samaritan said, "Therefore I will love him." That's agape.

Eros - Based on the glands. "I love you because I am attracted to you."

Storge - based on genetic ties. "I'm love you because we are kin to each other"

Phila - based on emotions. "I really like you, I love you because I enjoy being with you."

Agape - based on a decision, an act of the will. "I love you", not "I love you if....", not "I love you because....", just simply "I love you."

Here is an exercise in agape love: Think of a person with whom you have difficulty with, or with whom you find yourself in conflict often. It might be your boss, a fellow employee, a relative, a child, a parent, or your spouse, or even a pastor or preacher. Now place that person's name in the blanks of 1 Co 13:4-8a below and SPEAK THIS ALOUD:

"I am patient with _______, I am kind to _______. I do not envy _______, I do not boast about myself over _______, I am not proud and better than _______. I am not rude to _______, I am not self-seeking in my relationship with _______, I am not easily angered by _______, and I keep no record of _______'s wrongs done to me. I do not side with evil when _______ sins, but I rejoice when the truth is done by _______. I always protect _______, I always trust and believe the best of _______, I always have hope that God has something good for _______, and I always persevere in my relationship with _______. I never fail to love _______."

As you spoke these words aloud, your inner man rejoiced as the inner part of you began to get the upper hand in your heart and mind towards this person. At the same time, your mind was challenged by this high standard and may have brought to your attention where you need to ask God's forgiveness for your attitudes and behaviour and where you need to make adjustments. And you are also able to handle making these adjustments because earlier in this lesson you confessed the version of 1 Co 13:4-8a that brought you assurance of how much God loves you. Thus you are now able to pass along God's Love to someone else because you are doing so from a position of being secure about God's Love for yourself.

To live life to the fullest, we need all of the four kinds of love. But agape is the basis of our relationship with God, the happy and lasting and God-pleasing marriage, a happy and God-pleasing home, and the secret of lasting human relationships.

How do you "love"?