Love (Agape)—What It Is Not and What It Is
1. (a) To what quality does the Bible give preeminence? (b) What four Greek words are often translated “love,” and which is the one referred to at 1 John 4:8?
IF THERE is one quality or virtue that God’s Word, the Bible, gives preeminence to, it is love. In Greek, the original language of the Christian Scriptures, there are four words often translated “love.” The love we are concerned with now is not that of eʹros (a word not found in the Christian Greek Scriptures), which is based on sexual attraction; nor is it that of stor·geʹ, a feeling based on blood relationship; nor is it phi·liʹa, warm friendship love based on mutual esteem, dealt with in the preceding article. Rather, it is a·gaʹpe—the love based on principle, which might be said to be synonymous with unselfishness, the love the apostle John referred to when he said: “God is love.”—1 John 4:8.
2. What has well been said about love (a·gaʹpe)?
2 Concerning this love (a·gaʹpe), Professor William Barclay in his New Testament Words says: “Agapē has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts [as may be the case with phi·liʹa]; it is a principle by which we deliberately live. Agapē has supremely to do with the will. It is a conquest, a victory, and achievement. No one ever naturally loved his enemies. To love one’s enemies is a conquest of all our natural inclinations and emotions. This agapē . . . is in fact the power to love the unlovable, to love people whom we do not like.”
3. What emphasis did Jesus Christ and Paul place on love?
3 Yes, among the things that differentiate the pure worship of Jehovah God from all other forms of worship is its emphasis on this kind of love. Rightly did Jesus Christ state the two greatest commandments: “The first is, . . . ‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) The apostle Paul put the same emphasis on love in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. After stressing that love was the premier indispensable quality, he concluded by saying: “Now, however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) Jesus rightly said that love would be the identifying mark of his followers.—John 13:35.
Things That Love Is Not
4. How many negative and how many positive aspects of love does Paul mention at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8?
4 The point has been made that it is easier to tell what love is not than to tell what it is. There is some truth in that, for the apostle Paul in his chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, in 1Co 13 verses 4 to 8, mentions nine things that love is not and seven things that it is.
5. How is “jealousy” defined, and how is it used in a positive sense in the Scriptures?
5 The first thing Paul says that love is not is that it “is not jealous.” That requires a little explaining because there are positive and negative aspects of jealousy. A dictionary defines “jealous” as “intolerant of rivalry” and as “exacting exclusive devotion.” Thus, Moses stated at Exodus 34:14: “You must not prostrate yourself to another god, because Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, he is a jealous God.” At Exodus 20:5, Jehovah says: “I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” In a similar vein, the apostle Paul wrote: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy.”—2 Corinthians 11:2.
6. What Scriptural examples show why love is not jealous?
6 However, by and large, “jealousy” has a bad connotation, for which reason it is listed with the works of the flesh at Galatians 5:20. Yes, such jealousy is selfish and spawns hate, and hate is the opposite of love. Jealousy caused Cain to hate Abel to the point of murdering him, and it caused Joseph’s ten half brothers to hate him to the point of wanting to do away with him. Love does not jealously begrudge others their possessions or advantages, as King Ahab jealously begrudged Naboth his vineyard.—1 Kings 21:1-19.
7. (a) What incident shows that Jehovah is displeased with bragging? (b) Why does love not brag even thoughtlessly?
7 Paul next tells us that love “does not brag.” Bragging betrays a lack of love, for it causes one to place oneself in a position above that of others. Jehovah is displeased with braggarts, as can be seen from the way he humbled King Nebuchadnezzar when he bragged. (Daniel 4:30-35) Bragging is often done thoughtlessly because of being overly pleased with one’s own attainments or possessions. Some may be prone to boast about their success in the Christian ministry. Others are like the elder who just had to phone his friends to tell them of his having bought a new automobile worth almost $50,000. All such is unloving because it presents the braggart as superior to his listeners.
8. (a) What is Jehovah’s attitude toward those who are puffed up? (b) Why does love not behave that way?
8 Then we are told that love “does not get puffed up.” One who is puffed up, or haughty, unlovingly exalts himself above others. Such a mental attitude is most unwise because “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (James 4:6) Love acts in just the opposite way; it considers others to be superior. Paul wrote at Philippians 2:2, 3: “Make my joy full in that you are of the same mind and have the same love, being joined together in soul, holding the one thought in mind, doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” Such a mental attitude makes others feel comfortable, while the haughty person because of contentiousness makes others feel uncomfortable.
9. Why does love not act indecently?
9 Paul further says that love “does not behave indecently.” The dictionary defines “indecent” as “grossly unseemly or offensive to manners or morals.” One who behaves indecently (unlovingly) disregards others’ feelings. Many Bible versions translate the Greek as “rude.” Such a one flouts what is considered proper and in good taste. Certainly, loving consideration for others would mean avoiding all things that are rude or indecent, things that offend and may even shock.
Other Things Love Is Not
10. In what way does love not look for its own interests?
10 Next we are told that love “does not look for its own interests,” that is, when there is a question of our personal interests and those of others. The apostle states elsewhere: “No man ever hated his own flesh; but he feeds and cherishes it.” (Ephesians 5:29) When, though, our interests compete with another’s interests and no other Bible principles are involved, we should do as Abraham did with Lot, lovingly let the other person have the preference.—Genesis 13:8-11.
11. That love does not get provoked means what?
11 Love also does not quickly take offense. So Paul tells us that love “does not become provoked.” It is not thin-skinned. It exercises self-control. Especially should married folk take to heart this admonition by guarding against raising their voices impatiently or shouting at each other. There are circumstances when it is easy to get provoked, for which reason Paul felt the need to counsel Timothy: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil”—yes, does not get provoked—“instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.”—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
12. (a) In what way does love not keep account of the injury? (b) Why is it unwise to keep account of an injury?
12 Continuing with things that love is not, Paul counsels: “Love . . . does not keep account of the injury.” That does not mean that love takes no note of an injury. Jesus showed how we are to handle matters when we have been seriously injured. (Matthew 18:15-17) But love does not allow us to continue to be resentful, to harbor grudges. Not to keep account of an injury means to be forgiving and to forget about it once the matter has been handled in a Scriptural way. Yes, do not torment yourself or make yourself miserable by going over and over a wrong, keeping account of an injury!
13. What does it mean not to rejoice over unrighteousness, and why does love not do that?
13 Moreover, we are told that love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness.” The world rejoices over unrighteousness, as can be seen by the popularity of violent and pornographic literature, films, and TV programs. All such rejoicing is selfish, having no regard for God’s righteous principles or the welfare of others. All such selfish rejoicing is sowing to the flesh and in due time will reap corruption from the flesh.—Galatians 6:8.
14. Why can it be said confidently that love never fails?
14 Now the final thing that love does not do: “Love never fails.” For one thing, love never fails or ends because God is love, and he is “the King of eternity.” (1 Timothy 1:17) At Romans 8:38, 39, we are assured that Jehovah’s love for us will never fail: “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.” Also, love never fails in that it is never found wanting. Love is equal to any occasion, to any challenge.
Things That Love Is
15. Why does Paul list long-suffering first among the positive aspects of love?
15 Coming now to the positive side, the things that love is, Paul begins: “Love is long-suffering.” It has been said that there can be no such thing as Christian fellowship without long-suffering, that is, without patiently putting up with one another. That is so because all of us are imperfect, and our imperfections and shortcomings try others. No wonder the apostle Paul lists this aspect first as to what love is!
16. In what ways can members of a family show kindness to one another?
16 Paul states that love is also “kind.” That is, love is helpful, thoughtful, considerate of others. Kindness manifests itself in things big and little. The neighborly Samaritan was certainly showing kindness to the man waylaid by robbers. (Luke 10:30-37) Love delights in saying “please.” To say, “Pass the bread” is a command. To preface that with “please” makes it a request. Husbands are kind to their wives when they heed the counsel at 1 Peter 3:7: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” Wives are kind to their husbands when they show them “deep respect.” (Ephesians 5:33) Fathers are kind to their children when they follow the counsel at Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.”
17. What are two ways in which love rejoices with the truth?
17 Love does not rejoice over unrighteousness but “rejoices with the truth.” Love and truth go hand in hand—God is love, and at the same time, he is “the God of truth.” (Psalm 31:5) Love rejoices at seeing truth triumph over and expose falsehood; this accounts in part for the great increase taking place in the number of Jehovah’s worshipers today. However, since truth is contrasted with unrighteousness, the thought may also be that love rejoices with righteousness. Love rejoices at the triumph of righteousness, as Jehovah’s worshipers are commanded to do at the fall of Babylon the Great.—Revelation 18:20.
18. In what sense does love bear all things?
18 Paul also tells us that love “bears all things.” As the Kingdom Interlinear shows, the thought is that love covers over all things. It does not “give away a fault” of a brother, as the wicked are prone to do. (Psalm 50:20; Proverbs 10:12; 17:9) Yes, the thought here is the same as at 1 Peter 4:8: “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Of course, loyalty would keep one from covering over gross sins against Jehovah and against the Christian congregation.
19. In what way does love believe all things?
19 Love “believes all things.” Love is positive, not negative. This does not mean that love is gullible. It is not quick to believe sensational statements. But for one to come to have faith in God, one must have the will to believe. So love is not skeptical, unduly critical. It does not resist believing as does the atheist, who dogmatically states that there is no God, nor is it like the agnostic, who dogmatically asserts that it is simply impossible to know where we came from, why we are here, and what the future will be like. God’s Word gives us assurance in regard to all these things. Love is also ready to believe because it is trusting, not being unduly suspicious.
20. How is love connected with hope?
20 The apostle Paul assures us further that love “hopes all things.” Since love is positive, not negative, it has strong hope in all that is promised in God’s Word. We are told: “The man who plows ought to plow in hope and the man who threshes ought to do so in hope of being a partaker.” (1 Corinthians 9:10) Even as love is trustful, it is also hopeful, always hoping for the best.
21. What Scriptural assurance is there that love endures?
21 Finally, we are assured that love “endures all things.” It is able to do so because of what the apostle Paul tells us at 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” Love will cause us to look to the many examples in the Scriptures of God’s servants who have endured, chief of whom is Jesus Christ, as we are reminded at Hebrews 12:2, 3.
22. As children of God, what preeminent quality must we always be concerned with manifesting?
22 Truly, love (a·gaʹpe) is the preeminent quality that we as Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, need to cultivate, both as to what it is not and as to what it is. As children of God, may we always be concerned with manifesting this fruit of God’s spirit. To do so is to be godlike, for, remember, “God is love.”
Do You Remember?
◻ How do Jesus Christ and Paul show the preeminence of love?
◻ Love is not jealous in what sense?
◻ How does love ‘bear all things’?
◻ Why can it be said that love never fails?
◻ In what two ways does love rejoice with the truth?
[Box on page 21]
What It Is Not What It Is
1. Jealous 1. Long-suffering
2. Does not brag 2. Kind
3. Does not get puffed up 3. Rejoices with the truth
4. Behave indecently 4. Bears all things
5. Look for its own interests 5. Believes all things
6. Become provoked 6. Hopes all things
7. Keep account of the injury 7. Endures all things
8. Rejoice over unrighteousness
9. Never fails
[Pictures on page 18]
Jehovah humbled Nebuchadnezzar for bragging