A definition of love

Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2024

By Dean Kelly

Minister, Highland Home Church of Christ

Define “love.” I will give you a minute to think. OK, do you give up? 

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I have never heard anyone give an adequate definition of love. Yet love is a foundational stone of what Christianity is. God is love (1 John 4:8). Love for one another is the defining characteristic that shows our discipleship (John 13:35).

“Love” is so complicated that the Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, has four major words to define it. 

  • Storge – empathetic love; 
  • Philia – friendship love; 
  • Eros – romantic love; and 
  • Agape – the purest, God-like love. 

Agape is the most used form of love mentioned in the New Testament. C. S. Lewis defines it as the selfless love that exists regardless of changing circumstances. He argues that the first three loves are natural loves, and they must be subordinate to the love of God, the Agape love.

While the Bible does not actually give a definition of love, it does describe the attributes of true love. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul speaks of its attributes. They can be summarized by the concept that the one who loves places the one loved above himself or herself.

Some misconceptions about love exist. One is that “love” and “truth” are incompatible. If you love your children, you will teach them the truth that it is dangerous to go into the road, and you will punish them if they go toward the road – because of love. Paul withstood Peter to the face because he was to be blamed (Galatians 2:11), but later Peter referred to him as “our beloved brother Paul” (2 Peter 3:15).

It is also false that disagreeing with someone means you don’t love them. How often have you disagreed with someone you love? Paul and Barnabas disagreed strongly over John Mark (Acts 15:39), but they loved each other dearly.

Of course, the epitome of true love is Jesus on the cross (John 3:16). Let us love like that!