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.
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.