When you hear the word love what do you think of? The feelings you have for your spouse? Your children or family? Your friends? Maybe you think about your favorite food that you love or some activity that you are really interested in (e.g., I love baseball). Some use this word to describe their respect for their country. In the English language, the word love can apply to all of these things and many others. So, when the word love is used, you have to consider the context to understand what is meant.
In the New Testament we quickly learn the importance of love in the life of a Christian. But what does the word mean? How important is love to the Christian? What impact does love have in the believer's life? In this article we will begin a series of articles that will address these questions and many others.
WHAT IS LOVE?
What is love? In the Greek language, there are four different words that are translated love in English. Two of them are found throughout the New Testament. Determining which Greek word is used is needed to determine the true meaning of the context.
The first word translated love is agape. This word is exclusive to Christianity. W.E. Vine describes this word as "the characteristic word of Christianity." (Love). Thayer defines the word as "1. Affection, good-will, love, benevolence:" (from Thayer's Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 2000 by Biblesoft). A good practical definition of this word is, Caring enough to sacrifice for what is best. This type of love involves proper behavior toward others. At times it is against natural inclinations (i.e. - loving your enemies and neighbors). Agape love is involved in every relationship the Christian has.
The other Greek word translated love in the Bible is phileo. This word indicates tender affections according to W.E. Vine. Thayer defines it as, "1. To love; to be friendly to one" (IBID). It is a word that describes the feelings one will have toward his friends and those he cares about. Christians develop this type of love in certain relationships associated with their Christianity (i.e. - God, Jesus and his brethren).
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOVE
Love (agape) is very important to the Christian. It is the foundation of everything he does. 1 Corinthians 13 describes this love. In the first 3 verses, Paul describes just how important love is. He states, "1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Note how important Paul says it is that we have Christian love. He states that if we have great eloquence in our speech but there is no love, than to God it is just noise. If we have a great knowledge and understanding of God's word, and if we have the greatest of faith in Him, if love is missing, it will amount to nothing. And even if we surrender our lives and our possessions for some reason other than godly love, it will be of no profit to you. Paul writes this in the midst of a discussion about brethren arguing over spiritual gifts that some possessed and others did not (1 Corinthians 12-14). His point is this: It doesn't matter what we say, do or have. If we lack the proper motive, namely Christian love, God will not accept it. Yes love is important.
When Jesus was asked, "What is the great commandment of the law?", "37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 22:37-40. Note how both of these commandments involve Christian love. Also observe how Jesus said ALL the Law and Prophets hang on them. This verse shows how important Jesus though love was. In his letter to the Romans, Paul elaborated on this. He said, " 8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:8-10
The importance of love is also seen in its association with God. Consider 1 John 4:7-11. It reads, "7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. " From this text we note that love originates with God, and that He is in fact the manifestation of love. The ultimate example of this is seen in His sending His son, Jesus, to die upon a cross so that our sins could be forgiven. It is in this that God so loved the world (John 3:16). John concluded this passage by exhorting us to love one another just as God loved us.
1 Corinthians 13:13 states that love is greater than even faith and hope. Colossians 3:14 states, "But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. " 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, "Let all that you do be done with love. " All of these verses address love as something that ought to be important to the Christian.
Finally, we consider the words of our Lord on the night He would be betrayed. He was speaking to His apostles and gave them the following command, " A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) In this text Jesus states that Christian love will testify to the world that we are His disciples, and that is very important.
Many other passages could be stated that show the importance of love. In upcoming articles, we will note some of these as we thoroughly examine this subject. In our next article, we will notice love in the various relationships in the life of a Christian.