A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a friend, for a parent or child, and so forth; warm fondness or liking for another; also, the benevolent affection of God for his creatures or the reverent affection due from them to God; also, the kindly affection properly expressed by God’s creatures toward one another; that strong or passionate affection for a person of the opposite sex that constitutes the emotional incentive to conjugal union. One of the synonyms for love is “devotion.”
Aside from those meanings, the Scriptures speak also of love guided by principle, as love of righteousness or even love for one’s enemies, for whom a person may not have affection. This facet or expression of love is an unselfish devotion to righteousness and a sincere concern for the lasting welfare of others, along with an active expression of this for their good.
The verb ʼa·hevʹ or ʼa·havʹ (“love”) and the noun ʼa·havahʹ (“love”) are the words primarily used in Hebrew to denote love in the foregoing senses, the context determining the sense and degree meant.
The Christian Greek Scriptures mainly employ forms of the words a·gaʹpe, phi·liʹa, and two words drawn from stor·geʹ (eʹros, love between the sexes, not being used). A·gaʹpe appears more frequently than the other terms.
Of the noun a·gaʹpe and the verb a·ga·paʹo, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says: “Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son, I John 4:9, 10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Rom. 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself, cp. Deut. 7:7, 8.”
Regarding the verb phi·leʹo, Vine comments: “[It] is to be distinguished from agapao in this, that phileo more nearly represents tender affection. . . . Again, to love (phileo) life, from an undue desire to preserve it, forgetful of the real object of living, meets with the Lord’s reproof, John 12:25. On the contrary, to love life (agapao) as used in I Pet. 3:10, is to consult the true interests of living. Here the word phileo would be quite inappropriate.”
James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, in its Greek dictionary (1890, pp. 75, 76), remarks under phi·leʹo: “To be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), i.e. have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while [a·ga·paʹo] is wider, embracing espec. the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety . . . ).”
A·gaʹpe, therefore, carries the meaning of love guided, or governed, by principle. It may or may not include affection and fondness. That a·gaʹpe may include affection and warmth is evident in many passages. At John 3:35, Jesus said: “The Father loves [a·ga·paiʹ] the Son.” At John 5:20, he said: “The Father has affection for [phi·leiʹ] the Son.” Certainly God’s love for Jesus Christ is coupled with much affection. Also Jesus explained: “He that loves [a·ga·ponʹ] me will be loved [a·ga·pe·theʹse·tai] by my Father, and I will love [a·ga·peʹso] him.” (Joh 14:21) This love of the Father and of the Son is accompanied by tender affection for such loving persons. Jehovah’s worshipers must love him and his Son, as well as one another, in the same way.
So, although distinguished by respect for principle, a·gaʹpe is not unfeeling; otherwise it would not differ from cold justice. But it is not ruled by feeling or sentiment; it never ignores principle. Christians rightly show a·gaʹpe toward others for whom they may feel no affection or fondness, doing so for the welfare of those persons. (Ga 6:10) Yet, though not feeling affection, they do feel compassion and sincere concern for such fellow humans, to the limits and in the way that righteous principles allow and direct.
However, while a·gaʹpe refers to love governed by principle, there are good and bad principles. A wrong kind of a·gaʹpe could be expressed, guided by bad principles. For example, Jesus said: “If you love [a·ga·paʹte] those loving you, of what credit is it to you? For even the sinners love those loving them. And if you do good to those doing good to you, really of what credit is it to you? Even the sinners do the same. Also, if you lend without interest to those from whom you hope to receive, of what credit is it to you? Even sinners lend without interest to sinners that they may get back as much.” (Lu 6:32-34) The principle upon which such ones operate is: ‘Do good to me and I will do good to you.’
The apostle Paul said of one who had worked alongside him: “Demas has forsaken me because he loved [a·ga·peʹsas] the present system of things.” (2Ti 4:10) Demas apparently loved the world on the principle that love of it will bring material benefits. Jesus says: “Men have loved [e·gaʹpe·san] the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked. For he that practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, in order that his works may not be reproved.” (Joh 3:19, 20) Because it is a truth or principle that darkness helps cover their wicked deeds, they love it.
Jesus commanded: “Love [a·ga·paʹte] your enemies.” (Mt 5:44) God himself established the principle, as the apostle Paul states: “God recommends his own love [a·gaʹpen] to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if, when we were enemies, we became reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, now that we have become reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Ro 5:8-10) An outstanding instance of such love is God’s dealing with Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul. (Ac 9:1-16; 1Ti 1:15) Loving our enemies, therefore, should be governed by the principle established by God and should be exercised in obedience to his commandments, whether or not such love is accompanied by any warmth or affection.
God. The apostle John writes: “God is love.” (1Jo 4:8) He is the very personification of love, which is his dominant quality. The converse is not true, however, that ‘love (the abstract quality) is God.’ He reveals himself in the Bible as a Person and figuratively speaks of his “eyes,” “hands,” “heart,” “soul,” and so forth. He also has other attributes, among them justice, power, and wisdom. (De 32:4; Job 36:22; Re 7:12) Moreover, he has the capacity to hate, a quality the very opposite of love. His love of righteousness requires his hatred of wickedness. (De 12:31; Pr 6:16) Love includes the feeling and expression of warm personal affection, which only a person can have, or which can be extended toward a person. Certainly God’s Son Jesus Christ is not an abstract quality; he spoke of being with his Father, working with him, pleasing him, and hearing him, as well as of angels beholding the face of his Father, things impossible with a mere abstract quality.
Evidence of his love. The evidence that Jehovah the Creator and God of the universe is love is abundant. This can be seen in the physical creation itself. With what remarkable care it has been made for the health, pleasure, and welfare of man! Man is made not just to exist but to enjoy eating, to delight in viewing the color and beauty of creation, to enjoy animals as well as the company of his fellowmen, and to find pleasure in the countless other delights of living. (Ps 139:14, 17, 18) But Jehovah has displayed his love even more by making man in his image and likeness (Ge 1:26, 27), with the capacity for love and for spirituality, and by revealing himself to man through his Word and his holy spirit.
Jehovah’s love toward mankind is that of a Father toward his children. (Mt 5:45) He spares nothing that is for their good, no matter what it costs him; his love transcends anything that we can feel or express. (Eph 2:4-7; Isa 55:8; Ro 11:33) His greatest manifestation of love, the most loving thing that a parent can do, he did for mankind. That was the giving of the life of his own faithful, only-begotten Son. (Joh 3:16) As the apostle John writes: “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.” (1Jo 4:19) He is, accordingly, the Source of love. John’s fellow apostle, Paul, writes: “For hardly will anyone die for a righteous man; indeed, for the good man, perhaps, someone even dares to die. But God recommends his own love to us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God’s everlasting love. Jehovah’s love for his faithful servants is everlasting; it does not fail or diminish, no matter in what circumstances, high or low, his servants may be, or what things, great or small, may come against them. The apostle Paul exclaimed: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things now here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God’s sovereignty based on love. Jehovah glories in the fact that his sovereignty and the support of it by his creatures is based primarily on love. He desires only those who love his sovereignty because of his fine qualities and because it is righteous, who prefer his sovereignty to any other. (1Co 2:9) They choose to serve under his sovereignty rather than try to be independent
Jehovah God allowed the Devil to live and to put his servants, even his only-begotten Son, to the test, to the point of death. God foretold the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. (Isa 53) How could he do this, staking his word on his Son? Because of love. Jehovah knew his Son and knew the love his Son had for Him and for righteousness. (Heb 1:9) He knew his Son most intimately and thoroughly. (Mt 11:27) He had full trust and confidence in the Son’s faithfulness. More than that, “love . . . is a perfect bond of union.” (Col 3:14) It is the most powerful bond in the universe, perfect love bonding the Son and the Father together unbreakably. For like reasons, God could trust his organization of servants, knowing that love would hold most of them immovably to him under test and that his organization of creatures would never secede in toto.
Jesus Christ. Because for untold ages Jesus associated most closely with his Father, the Source of love, and knew Him most intimately and thoroughly, he could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (Joh 14:9; Mt 11:27) Therefore Jesus’ love is complete, perfect. (Eph 3:19) He told his disciples: “No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.” (Joh 15:13) He had told them: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Joh 13:34) This commandment was new, in that the Law, under which Jesus and his disciples were at that time, commanded a person: “You must love your fellow [or neighbor] as yourself.” (Le 19:18; Mt 22:39) It called for love of others as of oneself but not for a self-sacrificing love that went even to the point of giving one’s own life in behalf of another. Jesus’ life and death exemplified the love this new commandment called for. In addition to doing good when the occasion arises, the follower of Christ is to take the initiative, under Christ’s direction, to help others spiritually and otherwise. He is to work actively for their good. The preaching and teaching of the good news to others, some of whom may be enemies, is one of the greatest expressions of love, for it can result in everlasting life to them. The Christian must ‘impart not only the good news of God but also his own soul’ in helping and working with those who accept the good news. (1Th 2:8) And he should be ready to surrender his soul (life) in behalf of them.
How One Acquires Love. Through holy spirit, the first man and woman were created with a measure of this dominant attribute of God, namely love, and with the capacity to extend, enlarge, and enrich that love. Love is a fruit of God’s spirit. (Ga 5:22) Godly love is not a quality that one has without knowing why, as may be the case with certain physical or mental abilities, such as physical beauty, talent in music, or similar inherited qualities. Godly love cannot exist in the person apart from knowledge and service of God or apart from meditation and appreciation. Only by cultivating love can one become an imitator of God, the Source of love. (Ps 77:11; Eph 5:1, 2; Ro 12:2) Adam failed to cultivate love of God; he did not progress toward perfection of love. This is shown by his not being in union with God, bound to God by that perfect bond of union. Adam, nevertheless, even though imperfect and sinful, passed on to his offspring, “in his image,” the ability and capacity to love. (Ge 5:3) Humankind in general expresses love, but it is often a misguided, deteriorated, twisted love.
Love can be misguided. For these reasons, it is evident that a person can have real, properly directed love only by seeking and following God’s spirit and the knowledge that comes from His Word. For example, a parent may have affection for his child. But he may let that love deteriorate or he may be misguided because of sentimentality, giving the child everything and denying him nothing. He may not exercise his parental authority in giving discipline and at times actual chastisement. (Pr 22:15) Such supposed love may actually be family pride, which is selfishness. The Bible says such a person is exercising, not love, but hate, because he is not taking the course that will save his child’s life.
This is not the love that comes from God. Godly love causes one to do what is good and beneficial for the other person. “Love builds up.” (1Co 8:1) Love is not sentimentality. It is firm, strong, directed by godly wisdom, adhering first of all to that which is chaste, right. (Jas 3:17) God demonstrated this with Israel, whom he punished severely for disobedience, for their own everlasting welfare. (De 8:5; Pr 3:12; Heb 12:6) The apostle Paul says to Christians: “It is for discipline you are enduring. God is dealing with you as with sons. For what son is he that a father does not discipline? . . . Furthermore, we used to have fathers who were of our flesh to discipline us, and we used to give them respect. Shall we not much more subject ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live? For they for a few days used to discipline us according to what seemed good to them, but he does so for our profit that we may partake of his holiness. True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”
Knowledge gives love right direction. Love must be directed first to God, above all others. Otherwise it will become misdirected and even lead into the worship of a creature or thing. Knowing God’s purposes is essential, because a person knows then what is best for his own welfare and that of others and will know how to express love in the proper way. Our love for God is to be with our ‘whole heart, mind, soul, and strength.’ (Mt 22:36-38; Mr 12:29, 30) It is to be, not merely an outward expression, but a love that reflects the total inner person. Love involves the emotions. (1Pe 1:22) But if the mind is not equipped with knowledge of what true love is and how it acts, love can be expressed in the wrong direction. (Jer 10:23; 17:9; compare Php 1:9.) The mind must know God and his qualities, his purposes, and how he expresses love. (1Jo 4:7) In harmony with this, and since love is the most important quality, dedication to God is to the person of Jehovah himself (in whom love is the dominant quality) and is not to a work or a cause. Then, love must be carried out with the soul, every fiber of one’s organism; and all one’s strength must be put behind that effort.
Love is expansive. The true love that is a fruit of God’s spirit is expansive. (2Co 6:11-13) It is not stingy, confined, or circumscribed. It must be shared to be complete. A person must first love God (De 6:5), his Son (Eph 6:24), and then the whole association of his Christian brothers throughout the world (1Pe 2:17; 1Jo 2:10; 4:20, 21). He must love his wife; and she, her husband. (Pr 5:18, 19; Ec 9:9; Eph 5:25, 28, 33) Love is to be extended to one’s children. (Tit 2:4) All mankind, even a person’s own enemies, are to be loved, and Christian works are to be exercised toward them. (Mt 5:44; Lu 6:32-36) The Bible, commenting on the fruits of the spirit, of which love is first, says: “Against such things there is no law.” (Ga 5:22, 23) This love has no law that can limit it. It may be practiced at any time or place, to any extent, toward those to whom it is due. In fact, the only debt Christians should be owing one another is love. (Ro 13:8) This love for one another is an identifying mark of true Christians.
How Godly Love Acts. Love, such as God is, is so wonderful that it is hard to define. It is easier to tell how it acts. In the following discussion of this fine quality, its application to Christians will be considered. The apostle Paul, in writing on the subject, first emphasizes how essential it is for a Christian believer and then details how it acts unselfishly: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
“Love is long-suffering and kind.” It puts up with unfavorable conditions and wrong actions of others, doing so with a purpose, namely, to work out the eventual salvation of those doing wrong or of others involved in the circumstances, as well as to vindicate, finally, Jehovah’s sovereignty. (2Pe 3:15) Love is kind, no matter what the provocation may be. Roughness or harshness on the part of a Christian toward others would not accomplish any good. Nonetheless, love can be firm and act in justice in behalf of righteousness. Those having authority may discipline wrongdoers, but even then, they are to employ kindness. Unkindness would bring benefit neither to the unkind counselor nor to the one doing unrighteousness, but it could separate that one even farther from repentance and right works.
“Love is not jealous.” It is not envious of good things coming to others. It rejoices in seeing a fellowman receive a position of greater responsibility. It does not begrudge even one’s enemies receiving good things. It is generous. God makes his rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Mt 5:45) God’s servants who have love are content with their lot (1Ti 6:6-8) and their place, not getting out of place or selfishly seeking the position occupied by another. Satan the Devil selfishly and enviously did get out of place, even desiring worship to be given to him by Jesus Christ.
Love “does not brag, does not get puffed up.” It does not seek the applause and admiration of creatures. (Ps 75:4-7; Jude 16) The person having love will not push another person down to make himself appear greater. Rather, he will exalt God and will sincerely encourage and build up other persons. (Ro 1:8; Col 1:3-5; 1Th 1:2, 3) He will be happy to see another Christian make advancement. And he will not boast of what he is going to do. (Pr 27:1; Lu 12:19, 20; Jas 4:13-16) He will realize that all he does is due to the strength coming from Jehovah. (Ps 34:2; 44:8) Jehovah told Israel: “Let the one bragging about himself brag about himself because of this very thing, the having of insight and the having of knowledge of me, that I am Jehovah, the One exercising loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I do take delight.”
Love “does not behave indecently.” It is not ill-mannered. It does not engage in indecent behavior, such as sexual abuses or shocking conduct. It is not rude, vulgar, discourteous, insolent, coarse, or disrespectful to anyone. A person who has love will avoid doing things that, in appearance or actions, disturb his Christian brothers. Paul instructed the congregation at Corinth: “Let all things take place decently and by arrangement.” (1Co 14:40) Love will also prompt one to walk honorably in the view of others who are not Christian believers.
Love “does not look for its own interests.” It follows the principle: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1Co 10:24) Here is where concern for the everlasting welfare of others shows itself. This sincere concern for others is one of the strongest motivating forces in love as well as one of the most effective and beneficial in its results. The possessor of love does not demand that everything be done his way. Paul said: “To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with others.” (1Co 9:22, 23) Neither does love demand its “rights”; it is more concerned with the spiritual welfare of the other person.
Love “does not become provoked.” It does not look for an occasion or an excuse for provocation. It is not moved to outbursts of anger, which is a work of the flesh. (Ga 5:19, 20) One having love is not easily offended by what others say or do. He is not afraid that his personal “dignity” may be injured.
Love “does not keep account of the injury.” (Literally, it is not “reckoning the bad thing”; Int.) It does not consider itself to be injured and so lay up that injury as something ‘on the books of account,’ to be settled, or paid off, in due time, in the meantime permitting no relations between the injured and the injurer. That would be a vengeful spirit, condemned in the Bible. (Le 19:18; Ro 12:19) Love will not impute evil motives to another but will be inclined to make allowances and give others the benefit of the doubt.
Love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Love rejoices with the truth even though it upsets previous beliefs held or statements made. It sticks with God’s Word of truth. It always sides with the right, finding no pleasure in wrong, in lies, or in any form of injustice, no matter who the victim is, even if he is an enemy. However, if a thing is wrong or misleading, love does not fear to speak out in the interests of truth and of others. (Ga 2:11-14) Also, it prefers to suffer wrong rather than commit another wrong in an attempt to straighten out the matter. (Ro 12:17, 20) But if another person is properly corrected by one having authority, the loving person will not sentimentally side with the chastised one and find fault with the correction or the authorized one who did the correcting. Such an action would not be an expression of love for the individual. It might gain the favor of the corrected one, but it would harm rather than help him.
Love “bears all things.” It is willing to endure, to suffer for righteousness’ sake. A literal rendering is, “all things it is covering.” (Int) A person having love will be slow to expose to others the one who wrongs him. If the offense is not too serious, he will overlook it. Otherwise, when the course recommended by Jesus at Matthew 18:15-17 is applicable, he will follow it. In such cases, if the other person asks forgiveness after the wrong is privately pointed out to him, and repairs the damage, the one having love will show that his forgiveness is real, that it has completely covered the matter, as God has.
Love “believes all things.” Love has faith in the things God has said in his Word of truth, even if outward appearances are against it and the unbelieving world scoffs. This love, especially toward God, is a recognition of his truthfulness, based on his record of faithfulness and reliability, just as we know and love a true, faithful friend and do not doubt when he tells us something for which we may not have proof. (Jos 23:14) Love believes all God says, though it may not be able to grasp it thoroughly, and it is willing to wait patiently until the matter is more fully explained or until getting a clear understanding. (1Co 13:9-12; 1Pe 1:10-13) Love also trusts in God’s direction of the Christian congregation and his appointed servants and backs up their decisions based on God’s Word. (1Ti 5:17; Heb 13:17) However, love is not gullible, for it follows the counsel of God’s Word to “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God,” and it tests everything by the measuring rule of the Bible. (1Jo 4:1; Ac 17:11, 12) Love produces confidence in one’s faithful Christian brothers; a Christian would not suspect them or disbelieve them unless there was absolute proof that they were wrong.
Love “hopes all things.” It has hope in all the things Jehovah has promised. (Ro 12:12; Heb 3:6) It continues to work, waiting patiently for Jehovah to bring fruitage, to make things grow. (1Co 3:7) A person having love will hope the best for his Christian brothers through any circumstances in which they might be, even though some may be weak in faith. He will realize that if Jehovah is patient with such weak ones, he should certainly adopt the same attitude. (2Pe 3:15) And he continues to assist those he is helping to learn the truth, hoping and waiting for them to be moved by God’s spirit to serve him.
Love “endures all things.” Love is required for the Christian to keep his integrity toward Jehovah God. Despite whatever the Devil may do to test the soundness of the Christian’s devotion and faithfulness to God, love will endure in a way that holds the Christian true to God.
“Love never fails.” It will never come to an end or cease to exist. New knowledge and understanding may correct things we once believed; hope changes as the hoped-for things are realized and new things are hoped for, but love always remains in its fullness and continues to be built up stronger and stronger.
“A Time to Love.” Love is held back only from those whom Jehovah shows are unworthy of it, or from those set in a course of badness. Love is extended to all persons until they show they are haters of God. Then the time comes for love’s expression toward them to end. Both Jehovah God and Jesus Christ love righteousness and hate lawlessness. (Ps 45:7; Heb 1:9) Those who intensely hate the true God are not persons toward whom love is to be expressed. Indeed, it would accomplish no good to continue exercising love toward such ones, for those who hate God will not respond to God’s love. (Ps 139:21, 22; Isa 26:10) Therefore God properly hates them and has a time to act against them.
Things Not to Be Loved. The apostle John writes: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world
While the Bible shows that a husband and wife should love each other and that this love includes the conjugal relationship (Pr 5:18, 19; 1Co 7:3-5), it points out the wrongness of the fleshly, worldly practice of sexual love toward another not one’s spouse. (Pr 7:18, 19, 21-23) Another worldly thing is materialism, “love of money” (phi·lar·gy·riʹa, literally, “fondness of silver”; Int), which is a root of all sorts of injurious things.
Jesus Christ warned against seeking glory from men. He scathingly denounced the hypocritical religious leaders of the Jews who liked to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the broad ways to be visible to men and who loved the prominent places at evening meals and the front seats in the synagogues. He pointed out that they had already received in full their reward, that which they loved and desired, namely, honor and glory from men; therefore no reward at all was due them from God. (Mt 6:5; 23:2, 5-7; Lu 11:43) The record reads: “Many even of the rulers actually put faith in [Jesus], but because of the Pharisees they would not confess him, in order not to be expelled from the synagogue; for they loved the glory of men more than even the glory of God.”
In speaking to his disciples, Jesus said: “He that is fond of [phi·lonʹ] his soul destroys it, but he that hates his soul in this world will safeguard it for everlasting life.” (Joh 12:23-25) A person who prefers to protect his life now rather than to be willing to lay down his life as a follower of Christ will lose out on everlasting life, but one who considers life in this world as secondary, and who loves Jehovah and Christ and their righteousness above everything else, will receive everlasting life.
God hates liars, for they have no love of the truth. He declared to the apostle John in vision: “Outside [the holy city, New Jerusalem] are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and the fornicators and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone liking [phi·lonʹ] and carrying on a lie.”
One’s Love Can Cool Off. Jesus Christ, in telling his disciples of the things ahead, indicated that the love (a·gaʹpe) of many who professed belief in God would cool off. (Mt 24:3, 12) The apostle Paul said that, as a feature of the critical times to come, men would become “lovers of money.” (2Ti 3:1, 2) It is evident, therefore, that a person can lose sight of right principles and that the proper love he once had can fade away. This emphasizes the importance of constant exercise and development of love by meditation on God’s Word and by molding one’s life according to His principles.