Jesus told us that love is the most important commandment:
‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31)
The Apostle Paul reiterated this when he wrote:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1Corinthians 13:1-3)
There is nothing more important than love, and we are supposed to love everyone – not just those that are loveable:
But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)
Love is the evidence that we truly know God:
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1John 4:8)
So, then, what exactly is love? It’s a word we use all the time, but do we know what it really means?
Webster says that love is “a deep and tender feeling of affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons.”
But what does the Bible mean by the word “love”?
Unfortunately, our English versions of the Bible translate four different Greek words for love into just that one word, although there are vastly different meanings.
Here are the four Greek words for love:
Phileo: brotherly or friend love
Strong’s Greek Dictionary: fraternal affection: – brotherly love (kindness), love of the brethren
Storge: love of family
Strong’s Greek Dictionary: cherishing one’s kindred, especially prents or children; fondness of natural relatives
Eros: romantic or sensual love
Strong’s Greek Dictionary: to show warm affection in intimate friendship, characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration
Agape: unconditional love
Strong’s Greek Dictionary: to love (in a social or moral sense)
Holman Bible Dictionary: Unselfish, loyal, and benevolent concern
In the preceding verses , the Greek word for love is agape
This kind of unconditional love does not come naturally out of a heart of flesh, only out of the new heart believers receive from God
For God so loved [agape] the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love [agape] one another; as I have loved [agape] you. (John 13:34)
Much of the meaning of Jesus asking Peter three times if Peter loved Jesus is lost due to the English translation not differentiating between agape and phileo love. Here’s how John 21:15-17 really goes:
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [agape] Me more than these?” Peter said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileo] You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
Jesus said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [agape] Me?” Peter said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileo] You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [phileo] Me?” Peter was grieved because Jesus said to him the third time, “Do you love [phileo] Me?” And Peter said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love [phileo] You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
The first two times Jesus asked if Peter loved Him, He used the Greek word agape, meaning unconditional, benevolent love, which is a higher love than phileo brotherly love
Jesus was teaching that agape love is all-encompassing by telling Peter to feed and tend His sheep, regardless of whether he approved of them or not
Peter, thinking that phileo love was most important, answered using that word.
The third time, Jesus let him off the hook by gently reverting back to phileo love, which they both had for one another. But again Jesus adds the commandment to feed His sheep.
Jesus also commands us to love one another with agape love. Unconditional means that there is nothing that should stand between us loving everyone, regardless of whether we approve of them or not, because this is how Jesus loves us:
By this we know [agape] love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1John 3:16)
Nothing can separate us from God’s agape love, and nothing should separate others from our agape love:
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the [agape] love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Click on Page 2 below to continue this study about agape love