God is love. So often quoted, said with casual certainty, this three-word statement is so much more. Biblical love, God’s love, goes beyond human understanding of the word.
Men and women use the word interchangeably to mean “like,” or “desire.” One might say “I love music,” treating music as an object of affection. Or they say “I love food,” when talking about a delicious meal.
But the word “love” most always is devalued when people use it to describe attraction, or preference. The word “love” becomes a figure of speech, a hollow, meaningless term of endearment.
What does Love in the Bible mean?
Biblical “love” is entirely different, because in order to understand love in the Bible, one must see the world the way God sees the world. Because we are human, that’s very difficult, if not impossible, but we are able to grasp a portion of its full meaning.
Imagine love as a deep, unshakable, never-ending, absolute and consuming desire for something. God desires our love and companionship. Then imagine that He will spare nothing to achieve a perfect relationship, even when we turn away and mock Him.
In John 3:16, Jesus tells Rabbi Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
“Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Greek words for LOVE
The New Testament highlights three of the Greek words for love, Eros, Philos and Agape. Eros, from which we get the word erotic, is a physical or emotional attraction. Therefore, it is the kind of love a man and woman have in marriage.
Philos is “brotherly” love. We regard Philadelphia as the city of brotherly love. It suggests comradeship, friendship, loyalty.
Agape is an absolute and unquestioning love, the kind of love that God has for people. The late psychotherapist Carl Rogers termed it “unconditional positive regard” in his writings.
Love in the Bible: Jesus questions Peter about LOVE
In the Gospel of John, Jesus has three questions for Peter after dinner. Peter was the disciple who had rejected Jesus three times during the trial after Jesus was arrested. But it was Peter who Jesus selected to lead the new church. The conversation begins in John 21:15:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love (eros) me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love (philos) me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him:
“Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.””
Three meanings for LOVE are clarified
You can see that there are three different meanings to His questions. First He asks, are you attracted to me and my message? Then He follows with are we friends/brothers? Finally He finishes with do you love me above all things, all others?
We are commanded to love God in Deuteronomy 6:5:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
LOVE God with ALL of your heart
Jesus would offer an updated version in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
For more on God is LOVE, below is an excellent sermon: Understanding God’s Love by Tony Evans.