LOVE? What is it?

When Jesus was asked for God’s greatest commandment he said,

“‘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

God obviously places a very high value on love. It is the character quality on which we should work the hardest. And yet, what exactly is love?

When the beautiful young bride and the handsome groom come together in marriage on their wedding day, it is usually abundantly apparent to their family and friends present that they are “in love.” If you were asked to define exactly what love is, you would probably have a hard time finding all the right words to define it fully. One of the reasons that love is so hard to define is because there are so many types of love and just one English word to define them all. We say we love our spouse, we love our children, we love the new outfit we just bought, and we love chocolate. The same word “love” is used in each of these instances but with very different meanings for each. The Bible, in its original Greek, used three different words to define love: eros, philia, and agape. We can understand the love God wants us to have for our spouse better by exploring each of these words in better detail.

Eros is a romantic, sensual, or sexual love. In a good marriage, a husband and wife will be physically attracted to one another and love each other romantically. Eros is the root of the word erotic. You can remember this as erotic love.

Philia is a friendship type of love. Friendship means companionship, communication, and cooperation. This is the type of love we have for our friends. This can be remembered by relating it to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

Agape is a total commitment of love. It is unconditional love. God’s love for us is agape love. His love is sacrificial, unconditional, forgiving, and eternal. Agape love keeps on giving, even when the other person becomes unlovable. Agape is not something that just happens. It is not a feeling but an act of the will. It is the total commitment of wanting nothing but the best for the other person. It is selfless, with no thought given to its return. Agape love tells us to “deny ourselves and put others first.”

Our natural human nature is contrary to this. We want to have our needs met. We want to feel good about ourselves and protect our rights. God wants us to put ourselves aside and place God and others first. In our relationship with God, we are to set our hearts on glorifying God in our actions, thoughts, and words, putting aside our own selfish ways. In marriage, He wants us to place our spouse first. In doing this, we are glorifying God.

In thinking about God’s greatest commandment and how it relates to your marriage, here are three questions to contemplate:

  • Which type of love (philia, eros, or agape) is most present in your marriage?
  • Which type of love (philia, eros, or agape) needs the most growth in your marriage?
  • Think of at least one action step you are going to take to begin to express this aspect of love more fully in your marriage.