Everyone at some point in their lives has read or heard of the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 passage on love being patient and kind, not envious or boastful, etc. It is often included in wedding vows, movies, and is a prominent topic of church sermons. But what is love, really? I am endeavoring to dig into this word and its implications for living life successfully a little deeper. I wish I could cover all the things the Bible says about love, but there is simply not enough time or room here. So I guess for now you will just have to be content with this small sampling, and eagerly await the publication of my book. To begin, take a look on your own at just a few places in the Bible that love is mentioned:
*Note: If you don’t have a Bible, biblegateway.com is a great online resource to look up any verse in the Bible, and multiple translations are available to choose from. My favorite is ESV*
- John 15:12-17
- Romans 12:9
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
- Ephesians 5:1-2
- Colossians 3:14
- 1 Peter 4:8
- 1 John 3:16
- 2 John 1:6
These are only a small sampling of all the Bible has to say about love. But I want to take a closer look at what love looks like in a practical way by going over the definitions of love and its meanings in Greek.
So what is love, exactly? Since I am an English major, I love definitions. My natural inclination was to look it up in my Merrian-Webster Collegiate dictionary, which says that love is:
- (n) A strong affection for one another arising out of kinship or personal ties; attraction based on desire; tenderness felt by lovers.
- (n) Unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern for the good of another person
- (v) To hold dear, cherish
- (v) To feel passion, to caress, to feel affection or experience desire, etc…
But these are all very broad definitions, because the English language has only one word for all types of love! Greek, the original language of the New Testament, however, has at least 4 words for love: Eros, Storge, Phileo, and Agape. Over and over in the New Testament Phileo and Agape are used, which makes me think they are pretty important. Let’s take a look at their definitions as well.
- PHILEO (verb): This is brotherly love in a sense of kinsmanship with those who you are not blood-related because love is from God (Romans 12:10, 1 John 4:7, 20-21). This is the “friendship” kind of love (Titus 3:15). However, like Jesus describes how the Pharisees love being noticed for their loud prayers in Matthew 6:5 (23:6) it can turn into a selfish love.
- AGAPE (noun/verb): This is God’s kind of love! It is His nature, unconditional love. The interesting thing is that it is a conscious decision, a choice. As Christians, Christ calls us to love others with this kind of love, even our enemies, as Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-44 (Love God, Love yourself, Love others). Jesus commands us to love one another (Luke 10:27, John 15:12, 17) and exhorts us to “abide in love” so that our joy may be full and complete (John 15:9b-11). Yet since we are imperfect humans, we often don’t do this very well. The only reason we can love at all is because God first loved us because He is love (1 John 4:7-8, 10, 19). The truth of God’s love for us is proved by Jesus’ sacrifice, death and resurrection to pay the greatest price for our freedom from sin (John 15:13). That is HUGE!! Christ is the ultimate example of the unconditional agape kind of love. And God calls us as Christians to imitate Him (Ephesians 5:1-2) and to be known as Christ-followers by others because of our love for one another and those outside the body of Christ (John 13:34-35).
The 5 Love Language:
(definitions ©TheFiveLoveLanguages by Gary Chapman)
#1: Words of Affirmation
Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
#2: Quality Time
For those whose love language is spoken with Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
#3: Receiving Gifts
Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.
#4: Acts of Service
Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
#5: Physical Touch
This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.
Paul writes out in various letters in the New Testament that each of us has received different spiritual gifts which we can uniquely use to further the kingdom of God and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 1 Peter 4:10-11). Similarly, there are various ways to express love with which each of us is uniquely gifted. There is an official love languages quiz from the book by Gary Chapman that is available on the book’s website (5lovelanguages.com). However, my theory is that some people may have a different dominant love language for receiving love versus giving love to others. So I took the model of the online quiz and rewrote the two different versions of it to test my theory. The first quiz is to determine in which love language you most like to receive love, and the second is in which language you most like to give love. Remember, this is not by any means an all-inclusive test, and your results can vary due to various factors such as your current relationship with God, your self-esteem, your position in life right now, your perceptions of what love should be or look like, and even your past experiences with love or the lack of love. Keep this in mind and know that loving is a life-long process; we will never love perfectly like God does, but we can always strive to learn to love better. That is the point of the quizzes.
What is your highest scoring (dominant) love language?
Do you agree with the results? Why or why not?
Do you agree that love is the most important thing in the world? Why or why not?
Some questions about love for you to ponder on your own:
- How can you follow the commandment to “be imitators of God” as Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1? How can you model your love for God, yourself, and others after the example of Christ’s love?
- Do you agree with 1 Corinthians 13:13 that when faith, hope and love remain, the greatest of them is love alone? Why or why not?
- Why are these different types of expression of love important and relevant within the body of Christ?
- How can you show agape love through these love languages to those not part of the body of Christ (non-christians)?
- What are some settings in your personal, professional or public life where you need to grow in or practice agape love?