NEW TESTAMENT LOVE
Jesus Christ said in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
It is only appropriate in light of the stated purposes of this Web site that its initial etymology study is on the word “love” as used in the New Testament. Of all the themes that grace the pages of its separate books, the one conveyed by this one word is by far the most overwhelming, the most inspiring, the most compelling and the most challenging.
There are two Greek words used within the New Testament that are translated “love.” A transliteration of the Greek words will be used to designate them. Each one will be listed in its noun and verb forms prior to explaining and illustrating its meaning. They will be listed in reverse order as to their importance, that is, the lesser will come first and the greater last. The number in parentheses immediately following each transliteration is its corresponding assigned number in James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.
Phileo (5368), the verb form, is essentially used to denote “tender affection” or the type of love that usually exists between family members, such as between a parent and a child, between a man and a wife and between brothers and sisters. It is a love contingent upon the relationship of the two parties, i.e., the one that loves and the one who is loved. It is a love that would be expected in such a circumstance. It is the highest form of love that can emanate from man; although, God may also employ this type of love. It is a spontaneous natural affection or fondness in which emotion plays a more prominent role than will. The object of devotion inspires it, that is, it is fueled from without and is somewhat dependant upon reciprocity (a return of such love). It is used in contrast to the other Greek word for love in a conversation between Jesus Christ and the Apostle Peter, which is reflected in John 21:15-17. The Greek word (agapao) for love in Jesus’ first two questions (expressed as “truly love”) is different from that in His third question and in all of Peter’s answers, wherein the Greek word phileo is used.
God never requires man to phileo love Him, but the word is used as a warning in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him . . . .” This application refers to unbelievers. Without being transformed into a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the unbeliever is incapable of loving the Lord in any capacity.
Phileo is combined in other word configurations throughout the Bible to form nouns. Some of these are (1) philanthropia (5363), which denotes “love for man” (phileo and anthropos, “man”); hence, “kindness” (Acts 28:2, Titus 3:4); (2) philotheos (5377), which denotes “a lover of God” (2 Timothy 3:4); (3) philoxenos (5382), which denotes “loving strangers” and/or “lover of hospitality” (Titus 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Peter 4:9); (4) philagathos (5358), which denotes “loving that which is good” and/or “a lover of good” (Titus 1:8); (5) philarguros (5366), which denotes “loving money,” “lover of money” or “covetous” (Luke 16:14; 2 Timothy 3:2); (6) philautos (5367), which denotes “loving oneself” (2 Timothy 3:2); and (7) philedonos (5369), which denotes “loving pleasure” and/or “lovers of pleasure” (2 Timothy 3:4).
Agape (26), the noun form and agapao (25), the verb form, is the Greek word for the highest form and expression of love. This love can only emanate from God; although, it may be channeled through children of God. It is not a love of complacency or affection, that is, any excellency in its object does not draw it out. It is totally selfless and self-instigating, that is, it is an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself. It refers to love in which the entire personality, including the will, is involved. It is unconditional and depends only on the one extending the love, irrespective of the nature or actions of the recipient of the love.
Agape love can only be known from the actions it generates. The supreme example of this love is seen in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, who God gave for all mankind. 1 John 4:9,10, “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
Agape love had its perfect expression among men in the person of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:4, “But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 5:2, “and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Agape love is the fruit of God the Holy Spirit in the child of God. Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love . . . .” It expresses itself in obedience to God’s direction and commandments. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (also see John 14:21,23; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3).
Now review John 13:34 at the beginning of this study and compare it with 2 John 6, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.” To the unbeliever this may sound like “doubletalk.” It isn’t! Briefly, we need to understand that obedience to God’s law without the love of Christ being in and powering us is nothing more than legalism, is self-defeating and quite impossible. But with Christ’s love flowing through us, it becomes obtainable, a joy and is very pleasing to God. True obedience and love go hand-in-hand. To love is to keep His commands; to keep His commands is to love. One cannot exist without the other. It is a formula best expressed by the geometric pattern of a circle.
The qualities and value of agape love are best expressed in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. . .And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
That says it all! Those who have ears let them hear.