Understanding Christian Love
Whenever the word love is mentioned, wonderful thoughts flood our minds and feelings fill our hearts yet it is the most misunderstood and misused word. In order to have the proper understanding of love we need to look at what God says about it in His word.
God describes Himself as love. Therefore if God is love, then what is love?
To answer the question we will refer to Scripture. There are several types of words used in the New Testament that talk about love. Part of the confusion that comes about when love is mentioned is because in the English language we only have one word that describes love and that is love! But not so with the Greek language, it has four words that describe love and this makes us understand and appreciate what love is. Fortunately, the New Testament was written in Greek and in some sections different words describing love are used which include:
- Storge– This is a Greek word describing a component of love. It is an affectionate love, the kind that we have towards our relatives and it is the one being referred to in Romans 12:10.
- Phileo– This is another Greek word for love meaning fondness. This is the kind of love we have for our friends and in Scripture it is the kind of love Peter said to have for Jesus; check John 21:15-16.
- Agape– This is yet another Greek word that describes love. Agape love is the love of God. This love is the highest of all the loves for its supremacy. It is a love that is sacrificial in nature and it is described in detail in 1 Corinthians 13.
- Eros– last but not least is the Greek word for love known as Eros. This love is sexual in itself. We normally use the word erotic in English when we are describing the sexual desire. This kind of love is not found in the New Testament.
Having known the different kinds of love there are, it is important that we also understand the nature & character of love.
Love in 1 Corinthians 13 is described to be greater than tongues, prophecy, knowledge, mountain moving faith & sacrifice. By having & practicing love, one is spiritually mature.
Love in itself has attributes laid out in the 13th chapter of Corinthians including patience, kindness, benevolence. It also describes what love is not. Love is not envious neither does it show off, it is not rude, self-seeking but it thinks of others’ well-being. Love is also cool and it does not keep a record of wrongs. Now this is an area most of us have a problem with, we have an ‘Occurrence book’ as it is at the police station. God exhorts us to forgive the wrong done to us because we are recipients of His mercy & grace.
The Bible exhorts us to show love regardless of the treatment we receive from others. The thing about love is that it is complete in itself and that is who God is. He does not need something or someone to make Him whole that is why He is able to love without reservations or conditions. God’s love is unconditional.
Unfortunately in our relationships even with those that are closely knit to us, there tends to be a kind of conditions. Though it may not be said, it is implied. One such example we can all identify with is the love that is based on performance e.g. some of us only feel we are truly loved when we do well in school, attain a goal/target at work, cook nice meals for our families and the list could go on and on. However, this is not the love we are to have or model for others to see. The love we are to have is the love of God and the only way we can have His love is when we humbly accept it. We are loved not because we are perfect but simply because God is love and so we love because we are loved.
Knowing the nature of love, we also need to know its identity i.e. love is eternal. 1 Corinthians 13 puts it categorically, whereas spiritual gifts are transitory love is not. It is critical for us as believers to note that in as much as spiritual gifts are good they are not the reason for everything, love is the reason. Remember it is because of love that we are saved and not because we are so gifted spiritually.
We need to know in our spiritual highs that love is a sign of maturity and in being mature we are able to love people that are totally different from us and put their interests before our own. When we are loving, we best demonstrate God’s character.
In exercising our spiritual gifts we should do it in a spirit of love for one another. Love is deemed to be the greatest virtue because when put together with hope & faith it towers above them. With love you can be hopeful and have faith but not the other way round.
Lastly, when we love we prove that we truly love God. It is not enough to just say that you are a Christian, or to attend church or to even serve in ministry! However when we show love the Bible says that we are born of God & we know God but if we don’t we don’t know God for God is love.
Written by: Victoria Kamau