What is Love?

William R. John
Indianapolis, Indiana

The title question may seem simple enough, but when one realizes that the word "love" in the English language can be used to represent everything from fornication to the deepest love of God, the answer is not so easy. Perhaps we are somewhat handicapped as a result of our language because there is a distinct difference in the type of love in the world today, but we usually use only one word to express all types.

Love "Eros"

The Greeks had basically three words that we translate as "love." They are "eros" which stands for carnal love, "phileo" which represents love between a man and his fellow man, and "agape" which is a sacrificial and self-giving love. "Eros" is an emotion rather than a responsible dedication. Although never found in the New Testament, "eros" well classifies the sins of fornication and adultery. An unwashed, long-haired youth who marries a girl and then takes her to the park to sleep at night instead of working to provide a home also comes under this classification. The rich person who, instead of loving people and using his money to help them, loves the money and uses the people to help himself represents "eros." This type of love can sometimes be present in a young person toward the opposite sex and is sometimes termed as infatuation. In reality, "eros" is a love for oneself and for what he desires.

Love "Phileo"

"Phileo" is outward love which shows service to our fellowman. It "is never used in a command to men to love God" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). However, Paul warns, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed" (1 Corinthians 16:22). This shows a necessity of serving Jesus outwardly. "Phileo" is an unselfish love ready to serve. This type of love is displayed by the Christians' reaction to those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and in prison (See Matthew 25). Christ uses "phileo" in John 12: 25 when he states, "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life." We are not to love this life to such an extent that we forget our real purpose for living. For example, we can help our fellowman physically thereby showing our love toward him, but if this takes preeminence and blots out the spiritual aspects in our lives, then we can not expect eternal life. "Phileo" must be kept in the proper perspective.

Love "Agape"

"Agape" expresses the very nature of God. This word is best described in I John 4:8 when it declares "God is love." This type of love is shown in God's love for His Son in John 17:26; "And I have declared unto them they name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may he in them, and I in them." Ephesians 5:1-2 presents Christ's "agape" for His followers; "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love as Christ has also loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savior." Romans 13:8-10, Ephesians 5:22-25, and many other scriptures emphasize the translation of the word "agape" and in each place, we see a love that sacrifices and a love that gives expecting nothing in return. We see a love produced from a desire to simply please the recipient. If man would love God in the deepest manner possible, he must do it in the way Christ directs in John 14:15 when He says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." My friend, what type of love do you have?


October 8, 1970