What Is Love? - Meaning & Biblical Understanding of the Word
- Meg Bucher Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2018 12 Sep
Definitions of Love in the Bible & Dictionary
“Live a life of love.” - Ephesians 5:2
“I’m not afraid anymore,” Kevin declared as he bounded triumphantly into the frostbit air with his newfound courage in the movie “Home Alone.” “Did you hear me? …I’m not afraid anymore!” In an instant, he found himself face-to-face with an entirely different fear than the one he had prepared to face, and took off screaming into his house.
How are we supposed to live out the words Paul penned to the Ephesians when there is a new fear, anxiety, pain, or problem lurking around every corner of our lives?
“There is no fear in love.” - 1 John 4:18 NIV
“Since we are His children, we must walk in His unconditional love. Love is more than just words; it requires action. God’s unconditional love should characterize our lives. As people who have His love living within us, we need to represent Christ’s authentic kindness and forgiveness to others.” -Dr. Charles Stanley, Life Prinicples Bible Notes
According to Merriam-Webster, similar to what C.S. Lewis noted in The Four Loves, the word "love" has multiple meanings in different contexts as outlined below:
(1): strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
maternal love for a child
(2): attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers
After all these years, they are still very much in love.
(3): affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
love for his old schoolmates
What is love?
The word love occurs 686 times in the New International Version of the Bible, 425 in the Old Testament, and 261 in the New Testament. (Bible Gateway) “Peace” occurs 249 times, “hope” 180, and “friend” 170. The Old Testament was originally penned in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. In those languages there are multiple words for love, depending on the kind of love the author was referring to. C.S. Lewis broke it down into four categories in his book, “The Four Loves.” Here are four words for love:
1. storgē: Jack Zavada writes,
"Storge (Pronounced: STOR-jay) is a term for love in the Bible that you may not be familiar with. This Greek word describes family love, the affectionate bond that develops naturally between parents and children, and brothers and sisters. Many examples of family love are found in Scripture, such as the mutual protection among Noah and his wife, the love of Jacob for his sons, and the strong love the sisters Martha and Mary had for their brother Lazarus."
2. philos: Philos is the love between friends. “A friend loves at all times.” - Proverbs 17:17
The friendship of David and Jonathan epitomized this kind of love. Jonathan reached great lengths to help protect David from his own father. For these two friends, their faith in God and trust in His will over their agenda drove them to a deep friendship. Though Jesus had hundreds of disciples, he held twelve closer than the rest. Of that twelve, three were intently close to Him. Of those three, John was Jesus’ closest friend.
In the story of Lazarus: “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him.’” - John 11:35-36
3. eros: Eros love is a physical, romantic love, much like what we see at the end of most Hallmark movies. Song of Songs is filled with this type of love:
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth- for your love is more delightful than wine.” - Song of Songs 1:2 NIV
“Take me away with you- let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.” - Song of Songs 1:4 NIV
4. agape: Agape love is selfless and unconditional. Strong’s defines it as “brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence.” When we love with this kind of love, we are seeking to give of ourselves. The most extravagant example of this love is the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us, and the willingness of God to give His one and only Son on our behalf. He’s seeks nothing from us. Nothing we have to give God would provide Him any gains. He simply loves us. “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greater of these is love.” - 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NASB)
What does Jesus have to say about love?
“The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength …Love your neighbor as yourself.” - Mark 12: 29-31 NIV
Jesus emphatically proclaimed love as the most important command to obey. The four Gospel accounts reveal an up close and personal journey of Christ’s life on earth. His life fulfilled the Old Testament, and his legacy continues to prepare us for the future by connecting those truths to New Testament teachings. If we want to learn what love is, Scripture has all of the answers.
How do we love?
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I know live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” - Galatians 2:20 NASB
The Greek word for live and lives in the above verse is zao. It means “to enjoy real life …living water, having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul.” (Strongs) It goes on to further define this type of life as “fresh, strong, efficient, active, and powerful.” God’s agape love, fleshed out for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is alive and active in all those who believe in Him. We love by letting it flow back out of and through us to others.
How is the world's definition of love different from Scripture's?
Both dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster define love first and foremost as an affectionate feeling toward someone. The problem with defining love mainly as a feeling is that feelings are fickle.
C. S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.”
Avoiding or running at the first painful feeling love brings leaves us to live our lives alone, a fate we simply weren’t created to embrace. “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him.’” - Genesis 2:18 NIV
In the New Testament, Jesus continued to expound upon the principles of love vs. loneliness. The Message paraphrase of Matthew 19:11-21 reminds us that marriage is not the remedy for loneliness, nor are all called to be married. Yet, media channels tell us we need a life partner to find true love.
The dictionary definition of love gives us a solid solution, an affection, a romance, and a stability that comes from another person. The Biblical definition of love is sacrificial, a love that gives first and expects nothing in return. Biblical love grants believers a peace that surpasses all understanding, which comes only from Christ.
How can we choose to love when we don’t feel like it?
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” - John 15:13
Loving others goes far beyond just being a good person because true love still operates when we don’t feel like it. The grace we’ve been given provides the strength we need to pass it on.
Jesus didn’t want to go through the pain of the cross, but “the love Jesus has for the Father defines His allegiance.” He cried in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; yet, He obeyed the Father in His duty to save the entirety of the human race.
In life there will be quarrels, fights, animosity, manipulation, justification, entitlement, and a slew of other tempting options to embrace. In faith, we choose daily to surrender our inclinations so that His love can move through us. It’s not something we do but that He does through us.
“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” - C.S. Lewis, “God in the Dock.”
How should Christians talk about love?
Faith is an individual journey with God, and we aren’t always privy to the details. What we don’t know, is exactly who we’ll see on the other side. We don’t know everybody’s story.
We do know that Christ is Love. Christians should model His kindness, forgiveness, and inclusionary grace. Regarding every human being as the creation of God that they are and treating them with the unconditional love of Christ.
“By His very character, God is love, and to know Him is to extend His love to those around us. However, we must also be careful to walk in His truth, acknowledging that: “Jesus Christ the righteous…is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2)." Dr. Charles Stanley, Life Principles Bible Notes
“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” - John 13:35
Just months before the 9/11 tragedy hit American soil, Billy Graham preached,
“As we see a war-torn world-a world that is sick, pained confused and bewildered- we believe the this is the hour for the church to speak out. This is the hour for the church to show for the love and grace of God. This is the hour for the old to hear Christ saying through the church, ‘I am the way, the truth , and the life.’ (John 3:16)”
Powerful Bible Verses about love:
“What is love?” Here are some rich Scriptural truths to help answer this everlasting question with insurmountable truth. (For a more exhaustive list, click here.)
- “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:16
- “Let all that you do be done in love.” - 1 Corinthians 16:14
- “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” - John 13:34-35
- “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us.” - 1 John 4:18-19
- “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” - 2 Corinthians 5:14
- “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…” - Nehemiah 9:17
- “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.” - Psalm 36:5-6
- “His banner over me is love.” - Song of Songs 2:4
- “The earth is filled with your love, O Lord…” - Psalm 119:64
- “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” - Psalm 63:3
Meg writes about everyday life within the love of Christ on her blog, https://sunnyand80.org. She is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, blogger, and preparing to release her first book, “Friends with Everyone.” She resides in Northern Ohio with her husband of eleven years, two daughters, and their Golden-doodle.
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