All you have to do is listen to the radio for a few minutes to get the sense that love is central to our human experience. Whether you listen to country western, rock, or pop music, singers always croon about the love they feel, the love they lost, or the love they hope will come about. I think of songs like “Always and Forever,” “When Will I Be Loved?” “Endless Love,” and “All You Need is Love,” but there are thousands more. If you’ve ever listened to a favorite love song over and over after a break up, you know what I’m talking about! Love is powerful.
The other day I heard the song, “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner, and it got me thinking. There are people who come and go through my offices every day that would love to know the answer to that question, because love is really what it’s all about. It’s why we’re here, it’s what motivates us to get up every morning, it’s the thing that we crave for ourselves and those around us.
Since love is so important, it is no surprise that there are hundreds of biblical references for what love does and what it is made to do. Depending on the version you use, the average use of the word “love” in the Bible is 588.7 times! And that doesn’t even include variations of the word, such as “loving” or “loved.” But you get the point. Love is central to our human experience, and it is first and foremost on God’s mind when He created us.
Love is the most paramount, the most important, the most salient, the most enduring thing on this earth. Yet the hardest part for us as humans is to know how to love and love well. Loving well must be preceded by knowing what love actually is. Is it this idyllic, sentimental, and often sexual thing that the world shows us, or is it something more? Unfortunately, as you already know, the world falls very short of knowing how to love well. On the contrary, the world is marketing it, replacing it, selling it, exploiting it, and misrepresenting it.
What really is this thing called love?
The bottom line is that we can only know what true love is when we go to the one who IS love. God is love (1 John 4:8). Because He is all truth, we can find and actually experience true love only through him.
And who better to tell us how to love and love well than the One Who Is Love?
We can read in His Word that love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). In the preceding verses, we learn that love is patient, love is kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and 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.
That’s the kind of love that we need to practice on both ourselves and those around us.
We can see this kind of love demonstrated by the love of a parent, or a friend that sticks closer than a brother, a spouse that loves for richer for poorer and in sickness or health. That is the kind of love that mirrors the love of God, that causes growth, the kind of love that truly endures.
What else does the Bible say about love?
Our love as Christians is to be both a response to God’s love and a reflection of His love. We see this admonition in the entire Chapter of Roman 12, where he talks about being a living sacrifice (12:1-2), humble service in the Body of Christ (12:3-8), and love in action (12:9-21). These scriptures remind us to be sincere in our love, to be devoted to one another, to honor others above ourselves, to be joyful in hope and patient in affliction, to help those in need.
The Bible uses three different Greek words for love: agape, eros, and phileo.
Stay with me here—I know you’ve probably heard about these three types of love before, but I think the following explanation and/or application may be a different than what you’ve heard.
The essence of agape love is self-sacrifice. Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. God does not merely love; He is love itself. Yet God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. God loves because He is love, He loves without condition or expectation simply because He is love, it’s like breathing for Him. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, and His love is displayed most clearly at the cross, where Christ died for the unlovely and unworthy. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves. In the same way, we are to love others sacrificially, we are to love because “love” lives in us, we are to be love to those around us because we have in us the One who is true love.
Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us, or even hate us, as the Jews did the Samaritans. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will. But this type of love does not come naturally to humans. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love—that agape—can only come from its true Source. Because of God’s love toward us, we are now able to love one another.
The second Greek word for love is phileo. This word speaks more of the warm affection shared between family or friends and can be more associated w
ith the emotions or the heart. We feel love for our friends and family, a love that motivates us to want to treat them kindly and help them succeed.
The final Greek word for love, or eros, is where we get the English word erotic. Eros is the word used to express sexual love or the feelings of arousal that are shared between people who are physically attracted to one another.
All three types of love—agape, phileo, and eros—should part of the perfect godly expression of love for our spouse. All three work together to help us grow and make true love deposits, just like a bank, into each other’s lives. We will obviously not love everyone with eros; we can, but we should, we need to, and we must love others with agape and phileo love because it’s a commandment.
If I am to love effectively, and deeply as God loves, I MUST begin accepting God’s love toward myself so that I have it to give to others. Because the love from God is sustainable, I can continue to love well; furthermore it is authentic, which enables me to love others authentically and with wisdom because God knows better how they need to be loved than I do.
How do I love God, myself, and His people?
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Think about your heart as a home. That’s where you live, that’s where God lives with you. We are born with the need for love; in fact, without it, we will die. The term for this is “failure to thrive,” when babies who are not seen or cared for and not shown love, they fail to thrive even if all of their physical needs are met perfectly. Everyone around us is born with that same need for love.
Because we’re made in the image of God, we have an inborn capacity to love. We need to take this inborn capacity to love and use that desire to receive true love from God then recycle it to others. We don’t create it—we get this from God.
I like to talk to my clients about emotional bank accounts, which other people can withdraw from or deposit into as we walk through life. One of the things we get from God is continual emotional deposits. It’s like a recurring deposit that we don’t even have to think about. The more I deposit into other people, the more God fills my emotional bank account back up with love so that it can continue to be withdrawn.
But I need to be monitoring my emotional bank account and realize that I control the deposits and withdrawals, not other people. First and foremost, I have to be practicing receiving God’s love, otherwise I will have nothing to give. We also need to be wisely managing on our account. The way I imagine this is through one of those trial subscriptions that cost only $2.99 for the trial, then hit you with a $49.99 charge after the trial ends. You’ve been there, right? (I can’t be the only one!) We have to be aware of those small withdrawals that can turn into big ones if we’re not paying attention. That’s what happens when we don’t manage our own bank account.
How do you like it when you deposit something and they attach a fee to it? No one likes that.
We need to ask ourselves, “How can I make deposits of love to those in my life?” I want to continue to deposit love into that friend’s life so that when they go out into the world and have hardship, they have those reserves to draw from. I do this with my friends, my spouse, and my children. We also need to evaluate our own internal homes and know if we are prepared for the outside world that may hurt us or abuse us or worse. We, too, need that reserve of love to manage the world outside of us that offers very little love.
How do I love God, myself, and His people?
I care about what God cares about, and I care for what God cares for.
If those last two sentences are all you take from this blog, that’s enough.
They are that important.
Love is feeling and intention put into action. I need to honor my master, to care for what he cares for, to care about what he cares about. That means all people, and that also means me! The correct order for love is receiving love from the One who is love, experiencing that love, loving Him back, and as I learn what love is, and how God loves, then I am able to care for me and to love others well.
Notice I said “care for me.” This is so important, so don’t miss it. If I allow for abuse in my inner home, in my internal world, how am I prepared for the world of abuse and heartache outside of me? Caring for myself is an act of love, it is sacrificial. I don’t know about you, but I know it’s sacrificial to me because I just don’t want to do it.
The next step from sacrificial love is phileo love, and He wants me to be friends with myself. I accept myself as a friend. I’m with myself 24/7 and don’t want to be my own enemy.
We are so valuable to God, and through Him we have tremendous and inexhaustible resources. Again, I need to honor my master, to care for what he cares for, and to care about what he cares about. That means all people, and that means me.
Yet love sometimes hurts. True love, the kind that drove Christ to die on the cross for us, will hurt at times. Love hurt him, scarred him, wounded him, and marred him. However, the hurt that is true always produces fruit and growth. Hurt resulting from dysfunction, foolishness, selfishness, and narcissism only injures and harms. True love, real love, always produces fruit and growth, even if there is hurt, because love never fails.
In order to discover to true nature of love, we need to go to the source of that love and fill up our inner homes with His deposits of love. Then and only then are we capable of filling up the love deposits of others.
Only then we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Only then can we care about what God cares about and care for what God cares for.
Only then will we be true reflections of God’s love.
Only then will we be able to know love and to love well.
And that’s the kind of love I want to know.