It is common place to hear people talk about loving each other. The majority of them seem to think that this is the answer to the majority of our problems, and I would tend to agree with them. After all, as a Christian, I am commanded to love my neighbor — and my enemy! But this is where I believe most people in our society miss the point. They do not understand what the Bible means when it tells us to love each other as ourselves because they do not know about or understand the different types of love mentioned in the bible.
I no longer believe in coincidence, so it is not lost on me that most of the New Testament was originally written in Greek. Greek is the language of philosophy, and philosophy would heavily influence the development of what has become known as ‘Western Civilization.’ Now, I understand that Greek was widely used in the Mediterranean basin during the first Century, but Rome had ruled for more than a Century, and Latin was the official language of Rome. We must also remember that the New Testament was written by Jews who — for the most part — were dealing with Jews in the Gentile nations surrounding Israel. So again, I do not think it is a coincidence that the New testament was originally written in Greek, and when we understand that Greek has many words for ‘love,’ and we understand the difference between those forms of ‘love‘ and what Scripture commands, it begins to become clear why God chose Greek to carry His Word tot he rest of the world.
In our society, we tend to think of ‘love‘ as being something that is all-encompassing: it includes all of the many nuances which the Bible and Greek language separate. This can cause us to misunderstand what Scripture teaches so much that we miss some of the most important lessons in Christ’s Gospel. To illustrate my point, think about your understanding of ‘love’ and what it is as I outline four of the Greek words for ‘love.’ Try to think about how they relate to our society. And think about how we can confuse things by confusing these different forms of ‘love.’ Now, with that said, let’s look at the three most important forms of ‘love‘ in the Greek language are:
Eros — a word referring to an affection of a passionate or sexual nature (this word is not in the New Testament).
Storge — a word referring to natural love, such as that between a parent and child (this word is used twice in the Bible, but in the negative form to denote an absence of: devoid of a natural love or affection).
Phileo — a word referring to brotherly love, such as the type of love between best friends (since phileo includes feeling of warmth and affection, we cannot have a phileo love toward our enemies).
Agape — a word referring to a self-sacrificing or Godly form of love. It does not mean ‘charity’ (as the King James Bible has translated agape to mean). Nor does agape love depend on the person being loved. It is more about the lover than the person being loved. This is why we can have an agape love for our enemies.
Hopefully you can see how bad translations of the original Greek could give us an improper understanding of what the Bible means when it tells us to ‘love’ one another. It is not telling us we need to treat everyone as friends or lovers. Nor is it telling us we must accept the lifestyle of other people. Scripture never tells us we are to embrace ungodly lifestyles, but there are many passages in the Bible commanding believers to separate themselves from people who live ungodly lives — to the point of not marrying such people. Yet, in our society, if we do not embrace different lifestyles, we are seen as ‘intolerant’ or even ‘haters.’
The different understandings of love in Scripture are important to understanding the life God calls us to live. Once you understand that agape is a self-sacrificing love that does not depend on the person being loved, you understand how we can come to love a spouse — even when our marriage has been arranged. We can understand how we can love people Scripture commands us to separate from. We can even understand how we can love our enemies as we love ourselves. But, most important, we can understand that Scripture does not require us to set aside God’s laws in order to love each other. But it does teach us that we cannot hate someone and have an agape love for them. These are exclusive ideas: we cannot agape someone we hate.
The whole key to understanding Christ’s command to love each other is to understand that agape love is more about us and our relationship with Him than it is about other people. Unfortunately, because too few of us understand agape love, we mistakenly believe that we have to accept everything other people do or we don’t love them. Again, Christ said the first and greatest command is to love God with all our heart. He also said, if we love Him, we will obey His commands. So, to love God/Christ means we will obey His commands, but we cannot do that and conform to the world’s notion of loving each other. Once more, agape and worldly love are exclusive ideas. If we have to accept ungodly behavior to love someone according to the world, then we have to disobey God’s commands to separate from ungodly behavior. The solution is found in understanding agape love. It is all about our personal mindset and relationship with God.
I hope this will help those of you who did not know this before you read this post. I hope it will help you understand that we will not be able to resolve our problems by loving people the way the world teaches us to love them. In fact, that is how the majority of our problems were created. God has designed this world to work according to His laws, and when we accept the way people who break those laws live, we do not ‘love‘ them, we harm them. The world actually knows this. If your five year old says you do not love them unless you let them go to the mall all day by themselves, there is a very good chance you could find yourself charged with child endangerment. This is because we know we are responsible for teaching and protecting our children. Well, we are just as responsible for teaching each other about God’s laws and encouraging others to follow them. So, when we look the other way, it is not love but neglect, and that is not agape love. So, please, consider this the next time someone suggests that loving someone is somehow connected to accepting or even tolerating a lifestyle that violates God’s natural laws.