Saturday, January 15, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?

In the Name of Love

We have spoken before about "love" and how true love is not what many think it is. 

We know from Scripture that God is love. God's illustration of love is that He sacrificed Himself for us...even unto His death (John 3:16).  This is the standard of love that He calls us to walk in as believers in Christ.  He calls us to a life of selflessness, which is synonymous with the expression of God's love (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).  We may think that our actions or words are motivated by sincere love, but if our own desires, needs, hurts, or wants are at the center of it, then we deceive ourselves.

If we let the world define "love" for us, then we will think that love can motivate us to do even what God forbids.  According to popular culture, "love" can justify fornication, adultery, pedophilia, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, gossip, anger, unforgiveness, revenge, and a host of other sins. Many crimes against God and man are done in the name of love.

We - and especially our young people - need to understand that not all "love" is the same and not everything we think to be love actually is.

In Pastor Zac Poonen's book entitled,"Sex, Love, and Marriage: The Christian Approach" he says the following:
The New Testament was originally written in Greek and that language has four words for "love" - agape, philia, storge and eros. Of these, storge is used almost exclusively to refer to the love of parents for their children and of children for their parents. Since we are dealing here with love between the sexes, we shall ignore storge and consider only the other three words. Agape, philia and eros refer to three levels of love - which could correspond to man's spirit, soul and body.

Beginning at the lowest level, eros refers to the love of physical passion. It has been defined as "the hot and unendurable desire" and has primary reference to the union of the body of one with that of the other. It is a love based on something physical in one person that can satisfy the craving of another. It is a love that always seeks to receive.

The next word is philia. This is the commonest word for "love" in Greek, and refers to affectionate regard and the love of friendship. The idea is of cherishing. It has primary reference in marriage to the union of the soul of one with that of the other. It is a love based usually on similarity of intellectual and emotional outlook. It means more than physical love but it can still be self-centered, for its satisfaction often comes from the feeling that one is wanted, or that one is a benefactor or a protector of that other needy person.

The third word - which speaks of the highest level of love - is agape. This is the love of God imparted to us by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). This word has primary reference in marriage to the union of the spirit of one with that of the other. It is a self-giving love - the love of Calvary's cross.

William Barclay in `More New Testament Words', says, "Agape is unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill. It is not simply a wave of emotion; it is a deliberate conviction of the mind issuing in a deliberate policy of the life; it is a deliberate achievement and conquest and victory of the will. It takes all of man to achieve this love; it takes not only his heart; it takes his mind and his will as well. It is impossible for a man to have this love unless the Spirit takes possession of him and sheds abroad the love of God in his heart."

A Greek lexicon referring to agape says, "It chooses its object with decision and self-denying compassion. This is love in its fullest and highest form. It has its source in God. The verb-form stands for kindliness towards its object and has reference to the tendency of the will."

...In the married life of a believer, all these loves should exist - but in the proper order - agape first, philia next and eros third. This is in accordance with the teaching of 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which puts spirit first, soul next and body third. This was the order that God intended should exist in man when He created him.

In fallen man however this order is reversed, and therefore even his concept of love is perverted. An attraction of the carnal mind and body of one to the carnal mind and body of another is what this world calls "love". It is just philia and eros - and alas, sometimes eros alone. Yet in God's eyes, nothing is worthy of being called "love" unless it has the agape constituent in it.

The love of God motivates us to deny ourselves for the benefit of others. Anything we do which puts our needs or desires first is therefore not being done under inspiration of the love of God.

If we donate money to a charity, but do so because we want to be seen as generous, then that is not love.  If we volunteer to help the homeless because we want others to witness our sacrifice, then that is not love.  If love leads us to disobey God - or entices others to do the same - then that is not the love of God.

God doesn't just look at what we do or say, He looks at the heart. A true revelation of God's love will keep us from a lot of heartache and error when it comes to the things of the Lord.

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." I John 3:16


  1. Amen to this. I think I will check out Zac's book on Marriage. There's always something new I learn from his teachings.

    Real love takes a denial of ourselves and the Holy Spirit working in us. As always, Jesus gives us a measuring stick to see if we are operating in true love. 1 Cor 13.1-7:

    * Love is patient with others
    * Love is kind to others
    * Love doesn't envy others
    * Love doesn't boast
    * Love isn't proud
    * Love doesn't disrespect others
    * Love isn't SELFISH
    * Love isn't easily angered
    * Love doesn't keep a record of wrongs
    * Love doesn't delight in evil
    * Love rejoices in the truth
    * Love always protects
    * Love always trusts
    * Love always hopes
    * Love always perseveres

  2. Hello sis
    please check out good study by Robin Calamaio on love in the bible:

    Agape in the scriptures is not just used to refer to the way God loves - and is not an exclusive love by God but has also been used to describe how man loves sin e.g. john 3:19, the greek translation men loved darkness rather than light' is agape.

    Also phileo is used in scripture to describe the relationship btwn Christ and the Father (john 5:20)and also how we should love God 'if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be accursed' (1 cor 16:22)
    and finally how Christ loves us 'those whom I love I reprove and discipline' - Rev 3:19.
    so phileo is not exclusive to a friendship type of love.

    This may be why we can find the meaning of love in the context with which it appears in scripture. Especially as similar to the english language the word love is used interchangeably to mean different things for different people.
    I hope the study by Robin, blesses you as it did me. I was so reliant on my misunderstanding of agape, phileo, eros - even though i had come under conviction several times by the Holy Spirit to study love properly in scripture. But God was merciful to me and He has been leading me in understanding daily.
    May we all be like the Bereans and search the scriptures and see if these things be true.
    But basically agape and phileo cannot take on the meanings as claimed by theologians and well known pastors based on the greek words.
    But of course the love as described and demonstrated within the context of scripture which is consistently sacrificial and summarised in 1 cor 13 can only be achieved through the Holy Spirit.
    I hope this information is useful to you.
    God bless!!

  3. Hi Esther,

    Thanks for your post. I should probably provide some clarity here. :-)

    The entire context of Pastor Poonen's exert above is about love between men and women specifically, not man and God. Nor was he providing a generic exposition on the meanings of love, but again is it relates to marriage. Now my article is broader than that, so I apologize if that was confusing.

    In scanning the referenced article, I don't see a conflict between what Poonen writes (regarding love between a man and a woman) and what Robin Calamaio writes about love in general.

    Pastor Poonen does not define agape as unconditional divine love. They seem to agree that the expression of agape is primarily a matter of the will and not emotion-based.

    There is also agreement on phileo, which both say addresses the concept of cherishing or having affection for another. Bro. Poonen doesn't say that phileo means "brotherly or human" love.

    By no means am I attempting to defend Pastor Poonen. I don't think he needs it and such is not my place. But I do want to clear up any confusion I may have caused in broadening the context of his writing by inserting it into my own.

    Like you, I can also say that God has been dealing with me too about "love", understanding it more and being transformed by it more. So thank you again for forwarding Robin's article. While I have not read it all yet, I am sure it will be helpful.

    God bless you sister as always & thanks again for sharing!

  4. I must respectfully disagree. For example if i feel love in my heart to help someone, (we are talking about phileo here) And i do go to the homeless shelter to help out out of emotionally driven love that i feel in my heart. Not to be seen but because i care. Then according to your writings then that love is unworthy because it is phileo and emotionally derived...

    Well that is obviously just wrong to suggest something like that.

  5. Hi Dan,

    I am not sure how you get that understanding. Perhaps you have not understood the article.

    What was stated is that God examines the motivation of the heart, and not merely the acts of man. Therefore, selfish motivations for "good" acts do not qualify as loving acts.

    One can be emotionally led to help at a homeless shelter, but if that is not what God commanded, then one is still outside of God's will. Following God is not the same thing as following your emotions, for the heart is deceitfully wicked.

    I think it is also important to understand the correlation presented between eros, phlieo, and agape as it relates to the body, soul, and spirit of man.

    Man is to be ruled by his spirit, not his soul. A soulish man (carnal, fleshly) can not receive the things of God. If one is determining what is Godly by their emotions, then one is not being led by the Spirit because God may often tell you to do things that are at odds with how you "feel". God is not looking for "good works" but obedience, which is a matter of the will.

    We do not find God's will be following our emotions, but by being led by His Spirit. This is why all love must first be grounded in agape. That isn't to say that emotion is bad or that we should be emotionless. It is simply to say that our emotions must be ruled by our will for us to walk out the way of the cross.

    Thanks for your comments.

  6. Hello sis
    Thank you for the reply.
    And for elaborating that the article was primarily in the context of marriage.
    The point of the link was that 'agape' is not necessarily the love we should be ruled by as it is used interchangeably in the new testament and 'agape' is used to describe how men love darkness.
    Now if 'agape' was exclusive as a God type of love then it couldnt be used to describe a love of sin.
    Likewise the scripture that if anyone does not phileo God let him be accursed - implies phileo as the essential type of love.
    You cannot 'force' an emotion to 'phileo' God, so phileo in the context of scripture must also imply an act of the will.
    Agape is distinguished as being a 'higher' type of love in the article and phileo and eros are similarly given meanings that in the context of scripture are incorrect.
    Just wanted to highlight that agape and phileo as words do not mean what much of the church has been saying it means - but our understanding of love is within the context of scripture.
    When you have time as God will give you grace please try to read article properly.
    The most important thing nevertheless is application and God will help us to walk in love and love as He has loved us in Jesus name!
    God bless and thank you for your service in the ministry, I have indeed been blessed by it!

  7. Hi Esther,

    One thing I felt was missing from Robin's study was that "God is love (agape)." While both God and man may exhibit agape & phileo, God says that He IS explicitly "agape". He may exhibit phileo, jealousy, wrath, and a range of other emotions, but He does not claim to be these things as He does with agape. That is significant.

    We discussed how agape is a matter of the will, not emotion. It is God's will to love (agape) that led Him to the cross.

    Yet, at the same time, we were His enemies when He did so and the objects of His wrath and even hatred (the absence of phileo). So even though God willed to act in love for all (agape), He does not have affection for all nor does He cherish all (phileo).

    I cannot say that because agape never fails it means that God cannot agape all men. I believe that is a false conclusion (John 3:16). Everything God does is a product of agape, even damning folks to Hell. But I agree that agape is the foundation for phileo, and that true reconciliation with the Lord requires phileo between Him and us.

    Yet, none of this is possible without God filling us with His Spirit and shedding His love in our hearts. The love which is needed is that which can only come from Him; a divine agape birthing a divine phileo.

    Thanks again Esther for sharing. It certainly gave me more to ponder with the Lord.

  8. Hi Esther,

    I didn't see your last comment before I posted mine. Guess we were posting at the same time. LOL

    My last post reflect my thoughts after reading all of Robin's study, but if there is something specific about your last post which you want me to respond to, just let me know.

    God Bless!


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