We cannot really live without love. I am privileged: I love people and I am loved by people. I hope that you can say that too. But sometimes it suddenly strikes me how scant my love. And sometimes I wonder how to express love. And sometimes I respond awkwardly to love others direct to me. I also find myself pondering the nature of love.
As Christian believers, we may realize that we cannot think of love without being affected by the New Testament’s use of the word ‘love’. The original Greek, from which our English versions are derived, uses the word “agape”(aga-pay). It uses it a lot – 259 times, both as a noun and a verb derivative!
Studying those occurrences in context gives us a fair idea what agape means. It is foremost selfless. It is understood best in noting that agape always comes in the context of giving. Love seeks to bless, to heal, to help, to enrich, to comfort, to aid, to relieve, to console, and to save. Agape comes unconditional: it seeks both the lovable and the unlovable.
The Bible pictures Jesus as the source of agape. He is agape. He loved and saved sinners who were totally unlovable. He loved the unworthy. That’s why you and I may count ourselves among the saved. We are saved by grace, so we can love by grace. Believers are members of the Body of Christ. Thus they share in the Savior’s love. They dispense the Savior’s love to others. That’s why, actually, there can be no gruff and surly Christians.
And like all virtues, love can be made to grow by putting it in practice. We can make it a point to note and observe where agape is needed. We must be the bearers of agape. Families must be havens of agape. Churches must be communities of agape. And all the while, we draw from the agape of Christ. Remember, this strong Christian love will not manifest itself automatically, even amongst seasoned believers. Love’s expressions must be cultivated in the way of prayer, spiritual observance, and obedience. To love is to respond to one of faith’s great callings.
For completeness’ sake I must mention three other Greek words for ‘love’ each with different shades of meaning:
- ‘Philos’: it depicts the delight people take in each other when they share common interest and goals. As a noun and a verb, it is found 54 times in the New Testament.
- ‘Eros’: it is a sort of love associated with desire and possession; it is especially found in today’s romance and movies. Though in itself not ignoble, it often is of dubious moral value.
- ‘Stergo’: it is a less colorful word; it denotes quiet affection and care between people who depend on each other, especially when in a common cause.
(Eros and Stergo are not found in the New Testament)