The Love That Leads to Life
“The fruitage of the spirit is love.”—Gal. 5:22.
1. What questions illustrate the reasonableness of the Greeks’ use of four words to express love? And why should we be interested in the answers?
THE saying goes that “the Greeks had a word for it.” And that seems to be true when it comes to the subject of love, for the Greeks had, not one but, four words to express the idea of love as viewed from different angles: éros, storgé, philía and agápe. This is reasonable, for love is a very complex quality, and you only need pause here and try to define it for yourself in order to be convinced that this is so. What, really, is love? Is it just a feeling, an impulse? Must it be accompanied by affection, and can it be displayed only toward those for whom we feel admiration, attraction, or at least some fondness, because of the qualities they possess? Could you love someone even though you did not like him? What is the source from which love springs? Is it the heart or the mind or both? And, finally, what means is there, if any, by which love can be measured to test its genuineness and worth? We need to know this, because, just as “all that glitters is not gold,” so all that appears as love is not always love. It could be as false as Judas’ last kiss, tender but treacherous.—Mark 14:44, 45.
2. What shows that love can be taught?
2 “Love is the hardest lesson in Christianity; but for that reason, it should be most our care to learn it.” So wrote William Penn, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania. While it may seem strange to think of love as being taught, yet the Bible clearly shows that it can be. (1 Thess. 4:9, 10) The word “disciple” literally means a learner or a pupil, and God’s Son on the night before his death, told those whom he had trained and taught: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:35.
3. (a) Why is genuine love the distinguishing mark of true Christians? (b) What danger exists today for the Christian congregation?
3 Love of that kind must be rare, so rare that it would make Jesus’ true pupils or disciples stand out among all other persons on earth and be their distinguishing mark. It did in Jesus’ day; does it today? Look at the newspapers, listen to the radio reports, or just examine the scene around you wherever you may now happen to be. Do you not see what the apostle Paul said you would, when he wrote: “But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, . . . disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, . . . without love of goodness, . . . puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away”? (2 Tim. 3:1-5) Why, Jesus foretold that the lack of true love would be so great that even his own Christian congregation would be seriously affected. Remember, it was not of the world in general but of his own professed followers in the time of the end that he said: “And because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.” That spells danger.—Matt. 24:12.
4. What is sentiment, and whose experience illustrates that it is not the same as genuine love?
4 What kind of love do you have? Would it, does it, distinguish you from people in general and identify you as a follower, disciple or pupil of Christ Jesus? Or is your love mainly a matter of sentiment? Sentiment is defined in the dictionary as “an attitude, thought or judgment permeated or prompted by feeling.” Many people act on an impulsive feeling or emotion and do or say certain things that they feel are expressions of love. The apostle Peter in his early days as a disciple inclined toward such acts, and this brought him into difficulty on more than one occasion. Thus, when Jesus told his disciples about his future sufferings and death, Peter impulsively took Jesus aside and raised strong objections, saying, “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.” Did Jesus accept this emotional appeal as an expression of genuine love? The account says: “But, turning his back, he said to Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan [opposer]! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.’”—Matt. 16:21-23.
5. What controls the sentimental person, and how is true love superior?
5 Sentiment lets feeling rather than truth dominate the mind; and since sentiment relies on feeling to find its way, it is like a blind person. The sentimental person, in effect, shuts his eyes to the need for logical thought and for weighing matters to determine what will actually be in the best interests of the other person or bring the best results for all concerned. Genuine love, by contrast, takes a long-range view of matters and does not let emotion grab the reins and go off on uncertain paths. It makes sure that any emotion or feeling that arises is used to give force in the right direction, which the mind has already selected.—Rom. 8:5-8.
6. (a) What may our own sound thinking on the subject of love cause us to realize about it? (b) Why does honesty oblige us to admit our need for divine guidance in expressing love?
6 But above all, love thinks “God’s thoughts.” It acknowledges the truth of his statement that “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:9) Our own powers of reason may tell us that the human family was obviously made to be interdependent, that we all have needs, physical, mental and spiritual; and that, while we can fill some of these needs ourselves, we must rely on those who love us for the filling of others, and that only when such needs are filled can there be happiness. Logic may tell us that a loving person would be one who discerned such needs and endeavored to fill them to the extent of his ability, and that, since such ability is limited, his love would prompt him to determine the most important needs and concentrate on them. Our intelligence may tell us that many factors and circumstances would need to be considered, and that true love would be determined not by what we ourselves may prefer to do for another, nor by what others may think should be done, nor even by what the person himself may want at the moment, but, rather, by what the facts show to be for his future welfare. Sensible thinking may also tell us that, in addition to all this, love would require a heartfelt wanting to do this for the other person. Nevertheless, if we are honest we will admit that we need “God’s thoughts” to tell us how we can best fill the needs of others, what their greatest needs really are, and what will result to their best interests both now and in the future, as well as to build up in us the desire to do these things. We will never go wrong if we look to him, because “every good gift and every perfect present is from above, for it comes down from the Father of the celestial lights, and with him there is not a variation of the turning of the shadow.”—Jas. 1:17.
LOVE IN THE GREEK LANGUAGE
7. What is the basic meaning of each of the four Greek words for “love”?
7 This is where the Greeks and their four words for love come back into the picture. In Bible times the Greeks used the word éros to describe what we today would call romantic love, or love between the sexes. Love among those of the same family, such as love of parents for a child, was expressed by the word storgé. The word philía conveyed the idea of affection felt for friends, a love characterized by fondness or attachment due to mutual attraction of personalities. Finally, they used the word agápe to express the love that is based on principle and that results from the deliberate exercise of one’s judgment and will, a love free from selfish interests.
8. (a) To whom are we indebted for the clear understanding of these words? (b) How does their use of the word agápe show it to be the love that leads to life?
8 The Greeks gave us the words but, strangely enough, it was Hebrews, writing in Greek, who gave us the clearest understanding of their meaning. These were the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures of the Bible, and the clear understanding they gave us is due primarily to their unique use of the word agápe, referring to the love based on principle (rather than on physical attraction, family relationship, or compatibility of personality). In fact, Douglas’ Bible Dictionary tells us that agápe is “one of the least common words in classical Greek writings.” So, while Plato, Socrates and Aristotle rarely used the word, Peter, Paul, John and the other writers of the books from Matthew to Revelation used it as it had never been used before. In their writings the word éros does not appear, storgé occurs only three times, and the verb philéo appears less than a hundred times, but the word agápe is found some 250 times in the Greek Scriptures. The apostle John used it when he wrote: “God is love [agápe].” (1 John 4:8) He quoted Jesus as using it when he said his disciples would be known if ‘they had love [agápe] among themselves.’ (John 13:35) Paul used it when he said that the “fruitage of the spirit is love [agápe].” (Gal. 5:22) And since it is the one “who is sowing with a view to the spirit [who] will reap everlasting life,” it becomes a life-and-death matter for us to learn this kind of principled love produced by God’s spirit. (Gal. 6:8) That is just the way the apostle John puts it when he says: “We know we have passed over from death to life, because we love [agapáo, a verb form of agápe] the brothers. He who does not love remains in death.”—1 John 3:14.
9. (a) What issue arose due to a lack of love early in human history? (b) How did Jehovah God react to such expression of selfishness?
9 What are the principles with which this unselfish love works? In his written Word God reveals to us the great issue of universal sovereignty that arose when one of God’s spirit sons turned against his Creator and maliciously lied about him to the first human pair in Eden to win them over to his side, even at the cost of their own lives. The first man, Adam, showed only erotic love, fleshly desire for his wife, Eve, and turned his back on his heavenly Father to join her in her disobedience. By spurning his righteous standing with Jehovah God and forfeiting his human perfection he drastically reduced his ability to show any true love for his wife. His children would inevitably be born imperfect, with inborn sin, and in a dying state like himself. But in the face of all this selfish ingratitude Jehovah’s own love did not turn bitter. Even when pronouncing just sentence on the three rebels he simultaneously announced his purpose to produce eventually a Seed who would end all the evil that God’s adversary had begun. This theme runs throughout the entire Bible as it traces God’s development of matters down through four thousand years to the time when he sent his most beloved Son to earth, first of all to uphold his Father’s side of the issue and demonstrate unbreakable integrity to him as the Rightful Sovereign, and then to meet mankind’s greatest need: the provision of a ransom to relieve them from the condemnation of sin and death and thus reconcile them with his heavenly Father.—Gen. 3:14-24; John 3:16, 36.
10. (a) What prospects do Bible prophecies hold out to those who show genuine love today? (b) In what activity would love prompt them to engage?
10 The Bible also shows that these benefits will be extended to obedient and loving men and women through a Kingdom government ruled by Christ Jesus, and that this will result in an entirely new order for this earth; the old order founded on selfishness, violence and disobedience to God being wiped out at the universal war of Armageddon. Bible prophecies combine with the present-day events and conditions to testify that we now live in the “time of the end” of that old order since 1914, and that our generation will shortly see the earth cleansed of hatred, greed, strife, murder, theft, oppression, adultery, slander, and all the other fruitages of a loveless world void of God’s spirit. (Matt. 24:7-14, 33-35; Gal. 5:21) It shows too that, while the love of many of those claiming to be Jesus’ disciples would “cool off,” others would endure and do a most loving work. What would it be? Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
11. Who really teaches us the true meaning of love?
11 We can see, now, why 1 John 4:19 says: “As for us, we love, because he first loved us.” The knowledge of God’s loving acts and purposes provides the real understanding of love and should stir us as nothing else could to imitate him. Since man was originally made in God’s image, it is our obligation to express a love like his.—Gen. 1:26, 27.
12, 13. (a) Does the Bible ignore or reject the love between the sexes and how do we know? (b) What does such romantic love need in order to be a contributing factor to happiness, and how is this seen in the case of the ancient Greeks and Romans?
12 Consider first of all the love between the sexes, which the Greeks called éros. You may wonder what relation there can be between such love and the principled love (agápe) about which we have written. True, the Christian writers did not use the word éros, but still the Bible does consider such love and it does so in plain, frank language, as anyone who reads the account in Genesis of Adam and Eve, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Rachel, or the book of the Song of Solomon, or the counsel at Proverbs 5:15-19, must admit. But it does not deify such love. While we read that Rebekah was “very attractive in appearance” and that Rachel was “beautiful in form and beautiful of countenance,” yet the Bible shows that their real beauty was in their devotion to the true God Jehovah and their wifely devotion to their husbands. (Gen. 24:16; 29:17) In the Christian Scriptures the apostle Paul gives very straightforward counsel on marital love in his first letter to the 1 Corinthians, chapter seven, and there is certainly nothing “prudish” about his dealing with the matter.
13 But in all that the Bible has to say, this fact is made clear: Such romantic love can contribute to happiness only when it is controlled, not worshiped; and, to control it, we need the love based on principle. Today the whole world seems to be committing the same mistake the ancient Greeks did. They worshiped Eros as a god, bowed at his altar and offered sacrifices to him. The Romans did the same with Cupid, the Roman counterpart of Eros. But history shows that such worship of sexual love only brought degradation, debauchery and dissolution. Perhaps that is why the Bible writers made no use of the word.
14. How could the love based on principle solve major, and even intimate, marital problems?
14 Problems of incompatibility today are making the divorce rates soar in many lands, and in some states of the United States the ratio now stands at one divorce for every two marriages. How great the need is for the love based on principle! Men and women could find the solution to some of marriage’s most intimate problems by remembering that “love [agápe] does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked.” (1 Cor. 13:5) The roots of marital strife and quarrels could be cleared away by the balanced advice Paul gives: “Nevertheless, also, let each one of you individually so love [agapáo] his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” (Eph. 5:33) Where a husband and wife have such love their aim will be, not to possess, but to share. Rather than thinking in terms of “I,” “me,” “mine,” they will think in terms of “we,” “us,” “ours.” They will each seek to know the other’s needs and longings and then lovingly use this knowledge for the happiness of the other.
LOVE WITHIN THE FAMILY CIRCLE
15. How is the love expressed by the word storgé now in a time of crisis, and what is needed to protect it?
15 What a delightful thing a united, loving family is! It has a beauty all its own, a charm that makes time spent within its borders a real pleasure. This natural affection (storgé in Greek) of family members for one another was used by Paul to stress the close family relationship that should exist among Christians. (Rom. 12:10) But he also foretold that in our times men in general would lack this “natural affection.” (2 Tim. 3:3) The family circle of yesteryear is certainly breaking up today under the pressures of modern-day living. In more and more cases families no longer take their meals together, nor gather in their living rooms to enjoy one another’s association. Delinquency, both adult and juvenile, continues to divide home after home. This is because natural affection alone cannot stand up under the present-day stresses. But the love based on principle can hold the family together, because “love [agápe] . . . is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:14.
16. What Bible counsel is given to parents who have their children’s life interests at heart?
16 You parents, do you want your children to love you and to be like those to whom the Bible speaks, saying: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord, for this is righteous: ‘Honor your father and your mother’; which is the first command with a promise: ‘That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth’”? Would you like them to gain life everlasting in the paradise earth under God’s kingdom? Then what are you doing really to fulfill your part as expressed in the next words: “And you, fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah”? To do that in these days takes more than mere affection; it takes love of a principled kind.—Eph. 6:1-4.
17. (a) Why does it not show true love to pamper a child. (b) How can the withholding of discipline work calamitously for both parent and child?
17 The parent who withholds proper discipline and caters to every whim of a child actually is showing love only of self. Such a parent will often say, “I know it isn’t really good for my child to have this, but he does so have his heart set on it and I couldn’t bear to hurt him.” Concern is thus shown, not for the child’s future welfare, but selfishly on the part of the parent lest the child’s affection be withdrawn temporarily because of the proper exercise of discipline. What parent would give a child a time bomb as a gift? Yet some do, disguised in the form of a car given when the boy is too young to appreciate the responsibility that goes with it, or by allowing a girl a larger area of freedom than her years would sensibly allow for. The sacrificing of principle on the altar of affection is only a false worship, and all too often in later years the doting parent hungers for a love that is no longer for sale. How wise the proverb that says: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline”! (Prov. 13:24) Discipline means teaching and training; and as our heavenly Father disciplines and teaches us, so we must do with our children if our love is to be genuine.—Heb. 12:5-11.
LOVE AMONG FRIENDS
18, 19. (a) On what is the love expressed by the word philía based, and what shows that it is proper? (b) What does such friendship love need in order to be of lasting value, and why?
18 Enriching, too, is the friendship love, called philía by the Greeks. How barren life would be without friends! Friendship usually results from a person’s seeing in another qualities that he just naturally likes, appreciates, enjoys; or there may be a sharing of experiences together over a period of time that gives the foundation for fondness, affection and loyalty. Mutual trust and confidence flow between friends. Christ Jesus himself showed a special friendship toward three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, and of the three, John is mentioned as especially beloved by Jesus.—John 19:26; 20:2.
19 Nevertheless, for our friendship to have any lasting value it must first be combined with principled love, and so the apostle Peter’s exhortation is that we ‘supply to our brotherly affection [philadelphía] love [agápe].’ (2 Pet. 1:7) Otherwise, our friendly affection could easily degenerate into flattery and spoiling; it could allow us to become partners with others in things that are not right and not for the good of either one or the other, in things that are dishonoring to God and harmful to our neighbor. But “love [agápe] does not work evil to one’s neighbor.”—Rom. 13:10.
20. How does God’s expression of friendship guide us in our expressing it?
20 Principled love, in fact, should guide us even in the initial selection and cultivation of our friends. How thrilled Jesus’ disciples must have been to hear him say: “The Father himself has affection [philéo] for you!” But why were they so honored by God? Jesus’ next words answer: “Because you have had affection for me and have believed that I came out as the Father’s representative.” (John 16:27) Yes, God has affection for, or bestows his friendship on, only those who are deserving. (Jas. 2:23) With good reason, then, we are warned that, “whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend [phílos] of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” Our friends should be, first of all, those who are God’s friends and lovers.—Jas. 4:4.
21. Why does this understanding not restrict our expression or love to a few persons?
21 Does that restrict us, put a fence around our expression of love? No, because principled love [agápe] can and should go where affection [philía] may not venture or even feel attracted. The reward of life everlasting is not for those who merely express love and devotion to marriage mate, family or close circle of friends. Jesus said: “For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:46-48) Very definitely, then, we can love persons even though we do not like them. Our life depends upon our doing just that.
22. What questions are worthy of serious consideration by each of us?
22 Pause and ask yourself now: How does my love measure up? Is it based on principle or just sentiment? Do I have love only for those whom it is natural for me to love: marriage mate, parents, children, or friends whose personality appeals to me? Is even the love I have for them really with their eternal welfare at heart, or is it just an expression of affection because of the satisfaction my relationship with them brings me? How genuine is my love? The value and worth of your whole life can be measured by your answers.—1 Cor. 13:1-3.