What does the word “love” mean in the Bible? 

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The Meaning of the Word Love 

The word “love” that we use today in the English language means so many different thing, that the true meaning of word love is not clear. However, the Greek language had three words to explain the ideas we try to say. These words are: agapan, philein, and eran.

Agapē  

The noun form, agapē, is used almost exclusively to the Bible. The agapē of the New Testament is love in its purest and truest form, the love, which there is no greater—love that prompts a person to sacrifice himself for others (John 15:13).  This love means reverence for God and respect for men. It is a divine concept of thought and action that transforms the character, rules the passions, controls the emotions, and purifies the feelings. 

Philein  

This kind of love, generally, describes affectionate, emotional love which is based on feelings. Because it is based on feelings, it is subject to change as the feelings change. This is the type of love that is shared between family members.

Eran  

This kind of love describes intense sensual “love,” that is based mainly on the physical senses. Certain forms of infatuation may be listed under this kind of “love.” Eran is not used in the New Testament.  

In the New Testament the word agapē when compared with philein, describes love from the viewpoint of respect and esteem. It adds principle to feeling in such a way that principle controls the feelings. It uses the higher abilities of the mind and intelligence. Whereas philein is prone to make us “love” only those who “love” us, agapan gives love even to those who do not love us. Agapan is selfless, whereas eran is purely selfish, and even philein may, at times, be aroused by selfishness. 

Love to God 

Jesus taught, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31 also Luke 10:27). 

To love God is to dedicate to His service a person’s whole being, the feelings, the physical powers, and the mind. This kind of “love” is “the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10), the kind of “love” in which a person will by the grace of Christ, “keep” the “commandments” of Christ (John 14:15; 15:9, 10). In fact, the purpose of the plan of salvation is to help us to keep “the law” that “the righteousness of the law” becomes “fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3, 4). He who truly “knows” God will keep “his commandments” because the “love” of God is “perfected” in him (1 John 2:4–6; Matthew 5:48). 

Love to Fellowmen 

Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). 

To the Jews a “neighbor” was a fellow Israelite. Even the Samaritans were regarded as strangers. In the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37), Jesus canceled this idea and declared the brotherhood of all people. Christian love seeks the good of all humans regardless of race or religion. 

Hatred or disrespect for others is the natural fruit of a sinful heart. The Jews thought of themselves, as sons of Abraham (John 8:33; Matthew 3:9), better than other races (Luke 18:11), so they disdained the Gentiles. So, it was as if Jesus said, “The law says to love your neighbor; I say, love even your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). He then added why we should love our enemies—because God does so (Matthew 5: 45–48) and because we are His creation (Matthew 5:45; 1 John 3:1, 2). 

The word for “love,” stands for the love or respect in contrast with philein, which describes the love of emotion (filial love), which is shared between members of the family (Matthew 5:43). Christ’s command would not be possible if it urged men to philein their enemies, for they could not feel toward them the same feeling of affection that they feel toward the families, nor is that expected. Philein is voluntary and is nowhere commanded in the New Testament.

On the other hand, Agapan can be and is a command, for it is ruled by the will. To agapan our worst enemies is to deal with them with respect and consider them as God considers them. We are also to pray for those that persecute us.” The test of love for God is love for our fellow men (1 John 4:20). 

In His service, 

BibleAsk Team 

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