It is always amazing to see how miss-translation from one language into another causes all manner of miscommunication and misunderstanding. Consider the word “love” as applied to interpersonal relationships.
Authors have written a myriad of books and ministers have preached endless sermons claiming that four Greek words represent four different kinds of love. Why? Because that is what they have been taught and that is the conclusion drawn by the Bible translators.
Actually, some have said that as many as 6-7 Greek words should be translated as “love.” Nevertheless, four Greek words are more than enough to examine here. Of the four, only two actually appear in Scripture, but it helps to present the context of all four. Only one is actually love. Consider each separately; then examine the context:
- Eros (not in Scripture)—an intense, hormone-driven attraction, sometimes called romance, ultimately manifested by sexual intimacy. Physical intimacy is God’s incredibly awesome gift to the couple who has already developed a soul-deep bond of love and committed that bond to a lifetime of protection within the covenant of marriage. It is intended to “seal the deal” and provide for cohesive families and a sustainable culture. However, it is NOT love.
- Storge (not in Scripture)—a natural affection between and among family members. It is wonderful to experience such affection, but the feelings can peak and wane like a roller coaster, depending on short-term and long-term circumstances. However, it is NOT love.
- Phileo (found in Scripture)—a brotherly affection for others. It is also wonderful to experience such affection, but the feelings and attachments can rise and fall like a roller coaster, depending on short-term and long-term circumstances. However, it is NOT love.
- Agape (found in Scripture)—the very nature of God. Scripture unequivocally defines love. “God is love.” [1 John 4:16 KJV] God is the origin and originator of love. All love comes from God, whether or not He gets credit for it. It is the only real love. God’s love is the action of putting others before self. Love cannot exist without giving. “For God so loved…that He gave His…Son (the most valuable gift of all)…” [John 3:16 KJV]
Love characterizes all interpersonal relationships—God/man; man/woman; parent/child; boss/employee; teacher/student; or friend/friend. “…if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another…If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” [1John 4:11, 12 KJV]
Love and the relationships that it binds can only exist to the extent that there is regular mutual giving. In the absence of giving, relationships will weaken and eventually break. The exception of course is marriage that may become lifeless in the absence of giving, but must not be broken.
Unfortunately, the various Greek words typically translated as “love” can be misleading and elicit compromise. For example, George emerges from where he just heard a brilliant sermon on the four different kinds of love. He muses to himself, “I can understand and relate to eros, phileo, and storge. But that unconditional agape? I just don’t know. After all Jesus said, “love your enemies.” [Matthew 5:44 KJV] I don’t know if I can do that. There was only One who could unconditionally love His enemies. Well, I guess I have a lifetime to grow into it.”
George walks away comfortable with three different kinds of attractions that are not love, conceding that the only real love is seemingly out of reach. He quickly returns to life as usual; nothing has changed.
Yet God is telling us in Scripture that unless any relationship is characterized by agape, manifested in unconditional giving, there is no love in the relationship. There is no love, because the three attractions are all self-serving to some extent. They are all tied to conditions. The end result is that George ceases to grow and mature or does so at a snail’s pace.
Growth and maturity are produced by agape love. There is no substitute. The affections masquerading as love tend to be fruitless over the long-term. Their self-serving nature becomes a barrier to the growth of real godly love.
What does it take to wake up the body of believers?
What does it take to wake up the clergy?