One word that has so many different connotations, mixed messages, and meanings that it leaves so many people feeling, well, unloved.
This is something that has been in my heart (no pun intended) for a while, and I have been thinking about it a lot – that is, the question, “What is true love?” And, to dive a little deeper, why does this word leave so many people feeling hurt, saddened, or broken-hearted?
Earlier this year, Riley wrote a post on “knowing how to love” in which he explored practically, and makes a bold claim in regards to, how to know if you’re loving and being loved. He mentioned the different meanings of “love” in Greek and asked someone to write those out. This is similar to that post, but less “how to love” and more “what is love” – including these other words for love.
What Dose “Love” Even Mean?
To start off, lets take a look at one of the most common resources for defining pretty much any word. You got it, it’s the dictionary. According to dictionary.com, “love” is defined as:
- A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
- A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
- Sexual passion or desire.
- A person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
- Used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like: (“Would you like to see a movie, love?”)
With these definitions, I think it’s pretty easy to say that it sounds like a pretty intense or passionate word but can also be used quite widely and vaguely.
This brings up another question: Is “love” thrown around too much, and if so, why?
A few examples: “I love me some Starbucks Caramel Mocha Frappe” and “I love my family, my friends, and my dog.”
I know many of my friends would say that they love their spouses, but I think there’s a pretty big difference between a love for a coffee drink and that of another person you want to spend the rest of your life with.
Why one word for such a big difference?
This brings up the big question on this topic:
What is genuine love?
Multiple Words For Love From The Greeks
Greeks had a much better way of dealing with this concept of “love” by having multiple words for it. If you look at the word in Greek, you can find four different words for it: Storge, Philia, Éros, and Agápe.
Storge (στοργή storgē) literally means “affection” in modern and ancient Greek. It’s more designed to use as a natural affection, such as a parent’s love for their offspring. It can also be used as a word for putting up with something, or just having mere acceptance of something.
Philia (φιλία philía) is a word for affectionate regard or that of a friendship. Aristotle coined it as a dispassionate and virtuous love. This includes loyalty to friends, family, and a community. This is the most likely meant type of love when people say they love an object, activity or food.
Éros (ἔρως érōs) is more of a sensual desire, or passionate love. However, it does not have to be used in connotation with a sexual desire. To be put quite simply, it is a deeper love than that of “philia”, or a friendship, and is more commonly used as a sense of attraction, or a sense of infatuation. Many philosophers are still arguing on the true meaning of éros, and whether it should, or actually does pertain to an erotic nature of love.
The last type of love is Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē). Agápe literally means “love.”
This is what we’d most likely call true love, or an unconditional love, meaning no matter what someone has done, how they look, or what situations may have been stirred up, they are still loved with this most genuine, sacrificial love.
This is a love that means you would literally be willing to give your life up for them and lose anything and everything for them.
What God Says About What Love Is
Now that we have a better idea of some different meanings of “love”, lets see what God, through his scriptures, has to say.
I’m willing to bet some of you instantly thought of 1 Corinthians 13. That makes sense because of how it lays out the characteristics of love.
So what is love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a says,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Wow! That’s a lot of characteristics thrown into one word!
Here’s a challenge for you: next time you want to say you love someone, think about this first before you say it:
- Are you patient and kind to them?
- Are you jealous or proud to be above them?
- Are you saying it to be manipulative?
- Are you irritated with them – even slightly?
- Are you rightfully honoring them for their behavior or attitude?
- And most of all, is this a temporary feeling, or a permanent feeling?
If it’s temporary, how can it be love? This literally says that it has to be the same feeling of love from the time that you feel it, clear down to twenty years from now. Think about that. Will you still be close to the one you say that to?
I know that some of you may disagree with this thinking, but look at 1 John 4:19. It says, “We love because he first loved us.”
Now here’s the part where I am aware that I may, if I haven’t already, make you disconcerted.
If you look at this chapter in further detail, it even says in the sub-titles of your Bible, “God Is Love.” I’d encourage you to read 1 John 4:7-21 (which is written out fully in Riley’s post I mentioned earlier).
It starts out by saying, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” This tells me that if anyone truly loves another person, they have a real relationship with Jesus Christ.
It continues in verse 8 with, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” This states that if anyone doesn’t love, then they do not know God, because He is love. They are one and the same!
This chapter shows us so much about how and why we can love!
This is because God sent His only son, Jesus, to die for you, me, and everyone else, so that we can have a relationship with Him, and experience His love!
It gives us a command that we ought to love one another and explains that since God lives in us as believers, then His love has perfected ours, and we are actually capable of truly loving someone because God lives in us when we give our hearts to Him.
Verse 18 has a lot of power in it: Basically if you are fearful of anything (other than a healthy fear of God), then you cannot love.
However, in contrast, true love casts out fear. If you truly love someone, neither you as the lover nor the one receiving the love fears any consequences of that love. You don’t fear what they may do to you, or what may happen to you.
Besides, if Christ lives in you, there’s no reason to fear. Romans 8:31 says, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
The chapter concludes by stating that if we hate anyone, then we truly do not love God and we have not seen God, and thus we do not truly have a relationship with Him.
I know those are hard words to swallow, but it’s true.
This all helps us hone in on the meaning of love – a sacrificial, unconditional, service and disposition towards another person. Just like God has been with us.
Again my challenge for you is to truly think about this all the next time you want to say to someone, “I love you.”
Truly think about what it means.
In the end, love costs. It cost God’s son on a cross. It may cost our own lives. Yet remember what Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Truly loving is worth it. So, let’s continue to try to truly love for what it really is.
What are your thoughts on “love” and how you would define it? Would you add to, or disagree with, anything here? Do you think you do well at this? Have you ever tended to use the word too flippantly?