Greek, the language of the New Testament, has three words for love. One word is eros, the romantic aspect of love. Our word erotic originates from this Greek word. Another word for love is phileo, the idea of brotherly love. The city Philadelphia is named after this type of love. Agape is the third word for love. It describes an unconditional type of love, a love that is divine in origin and nature.
I have contemplated the nature of love for many years, reading biblical and secular sources. My conclusion is that love is complicated, difficult to define, and complex in nature. I can hear the laughter already; "You've studied the concept of love and all you can say is that it is complicated?" Ok, I admit I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but let me add a few more insights. Yes, love is a complex thing, but it's not impossible to understand. Perhaps the greatest misconception about love is that it is primarily an emotion. People say things like, "I fell in love" or "The love bug has bitten me." There is a mysterious element to this emotional aspect oflove. People say things like, "I can't help who I fell in love with." Many view emotional love as similar to getting struck by a lightning bolt or by Cupid's arrow; it just happened and "I had no choice in the matter."
There is no denying that emotional love is real, but I would argue that our emotions are the shallowest part of our nature. God does not do His deepest work in our most shallow part. True love must go beyond emotions! To what? To a higher form of love, one that is spiritual in nature; that is, agape. Our duty is to love as God loves, and God-like love goes beyond feelings and emotions to attitudes and actions. True love is action oriented; it is doing what is best for the person loved. Therefore, to love God is to do your best for Him, i.e., obedience. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). To love your neighbor is to do what is best for him, even if he asks you to do something else. A husband who enables his wife's alcoholism may be doing what she wants, but not what she needs. He is not loving her, but he is helping her down the path to self-destruction. Parents who allow their grown children to live at home with no job or plan for self-improvement are in reality hurting their children, not helping them. As difficult as it may seem, what is best for a child may be painful in the short-term, but profitable in the long-term. Again, love is doing what is best for the person you love.
So, husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands. Children, love your parents; parents, love your children. Christians, love your God and love your neighbors, remembering that love in its highest form is doing, not feeling. "Brethen, let us not love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18).
Ron Lowery is pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Zachary. Visit their website at www.galileebc.com.