Recently, I have been feeling very blessed. I have such a lot of lovely friends. This post is really to pay tribute to those who love me. Thank you for being there for me, always, through both the good times and the bad. You all mean so much to me - more than I'm capable of expressing. My prayer is that, with God's help, I might be the same to you. But what do I mean by love?

Love is one of those things that the English language doesn’t express very well. We have one word, love, which describes a series of different feelings, thoughts and actions, all of which get lumped in together - it’s very confusing, and open to misinterpretation. Lots of words for rain, but only one for love; surely that tells us something about the British psyche! New Testament Greek, on the other hand, has four, which is much more like it.

John, in his gospel, quoted Jesus as saying:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:9-17

In his first letter, John says:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:16-21

Paul said:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, 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. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

The word used in the passages above (and in most places in the New Testament) is αγάπη (agapé), which refers to "love: esp. brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God." (H. G. Liddell; Robert Scott (October 2010). An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon). CS Lewis, in his ‘The Four Loves’ (1960), describes it as being the love that brings forth caring regardless of the circumstance. Lewis recognises this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. I'm not sure I agree with the latter - I don't think Christians have a monopoly on loving others in a sacrificial way.

The other New Testament Greek words for love are: 

στοργή (storgé) - fondness through familiarity (a brotherly love), especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance;

φιλία (philia) - is the love between friends. Friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity.

ἔρως (eros) - is 'being in love' or 'loving' someone - usually in the erotic, sexual sense, though it should probably be differentiated from a more objectifying lust.

But I'm still not sure that the four words really 'work' - I don't really think that love can really be compartmentalised precisely into only those four types. I think, for example, that my love for my friends is probably a mixture of philliaagapé and storgé, rather than being just one kind. It's really very complex, once you start to think about it!

Copyright © Phil Hendry, 2022