We want to quickly consider what is not love; what is love; what to do to be loved; and how to love. Probably no other dimension of human experience has been pondered, discussed, debated, analyzed, and dreamed about more than the nature of true love.
The longing for love is everywhere—in our songs and in our books, on our televisions and on our movie screens. Talk of love is always on the tips of our tongues, never far from our thoughts or our conversations.
Yet, for all our thinking and talking of love, for all our discussing and debating on it, how many of us truly understand love? Do we really know what true love is?
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, a 17th-century French author and moralist, made an astute observation when he wrote, “True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.” No wonder a popular singer was asking himself a question in a song “Is this love, is this love that I am feeling…?”. There are many things that look like love and are not; one will need to ascertain properly before falling for an error.
Contemporary Views of Love
Where can we turn for genuine knowledge in matters of true love? Psychologists; Sociologists; Relationship Counsellors…?
The world offers many different concepts of love, but are they reliable?
Western popular culture tends to equate love with warm feelings, physical attraction, and sexual activity. Can these be love? Can these sustain love over time?
This view of love is hammered into our brains every day through the books and magazines we read, the songs we listen to, and the movies and television shows we watch.
The epidemic of broken relationships failed marriages, and separated families that characterize our modern society should tell us that something is terribly wrong with the way we understand love.
English language as a wide medium of expression has a great limitation in our understanding of the concept of love.
We use ‘love’ to describe our feelings or attitude toward a wide range of objects. We say, “I love cheesecake,” or “I love my dog,” but we also say, “I love my children,” and “I love my wife,” or “I love my husband.”
These feelings and attitudes are vastly different in scope and degree, yet we used the same word ‘love’.
This has led many people to wrongly believe that love is what is not, and to believe that what is not is love.
The ancient Greeks used four different words for love—Eros (sexual attraction), Phileo (friendship), Storge (family ties), and Agape (Divine love) —with each word identifying a separate and distinct type or degree of love.
Eros centres on the physical stimulation of the five senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch— and the desires and cravings aroused by those senses.
Phileo refers to the love that one has for a friend or acquaintance. Love on the level of casual friendship, the affection we have for someone we are familiar with.
Storge refers to love that we have for family members as an obligation. This can be to parents, children, and other extended family members.
If you are going into marriage, you require a deeper, more focused love than what Eros; Phileo and Storge provides.
Biblical View of Love
The Torah was written in Hebrew and the first compilation of the bible was first in Greek. The word love scripturally is translated ‘Agape’. Agape refers to divine love, the love God has for His people as well as the love His people give back to Him. It is also the kind of love that the people of God are supposed to have toward one another.
Unlike Phileo and Storge, Agape carries no obligation (let me just do it), holds no expectations, and lays down no conditions. Agape is unconditional love.
Unlike Eros, which is the epitome of selfishness, Agape acts first and foremost for the good and welfare of another.
Rather than self-serving, Agape is self-giving, a sacrificial love that pours itself out for the sake of someone else.
God alone is the source of agape. Apart from Him, it cannot be known (John 3:16).
Therefore, Eros (sex); Phileo (friendship); Storge (duty ties); Agape (true love). In marriage, the four must be complete. Eros is reserved for the marriage relationship only. Agape must be involved in Phileo & Storge.
The best way to learn anything is to consult an expert on it.
If we wish to improve our golf game, we go to a golf pro; if we desire to play the piano, we study under a qualified teacher.
Who is the expert on love? No one understands love better than God.
Not only did God create love and establish it as a central foundation stone of human experience, but according to the Bible, God Himself is love. (1 Jn. 4:8,16).
LOVE FROM GOD’S STANDPOINT
Contrary to the common assumption of the world in general, love as presented in the Bible is not primarily an emotional thing, but an attitude of the heart; a will to do so or a determination.
Biblical love is a command to be obeyed. A command is an order.
Emotions are not subject to command; no one can be ordered how to feel about a certain person or thing. Yet, throughout the Bible, the Lord commands His people to love.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:12).
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
If we are commanded to love, how do we carry it out? What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love another person?
So many relationships today fail because of an inadequate concept and understanding of love as a command.
(I): A REALIZATION THAT GOD LOVES YOU
One of the greatest truths ever revealed to mankind is the truth that God loves us.
God’s love for us is one of the central themes of the Bible, permeating its pages throughout both the Old and New Testaments.
No other sacred text in the world contains such a message.
I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness (Jeremiah 31:3b).
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
God is love and love has to give, so He created us to receive His love. For love to be complete, the receiver must be like the giver.
We are created in the image and likeness of God. As God is love, we too are love.
We were made to receive God’s love, but also to love Him in return and to love others as well.
UNDERSTANDING LOVE (II): A REALIZATION THAT YOU MUST LOVE GOD
God created us to love us, and to prove His love, He gave us dominion over His creation. He later sacrificed His only begotten Son for us. So then, what is man’s purpose on the earth? Are we here simply to exercise dominion over the created order?
We are receivers of God’s love. He also created us with the capacity to give love in return.
Therefore, our first priority as humans is to love God with everything we’ve got. Only then can we truly fulfil the second commandment to love ‘others’ as ourselves. Success and genuine happiness in all of our relationships hinge on how well we love God.
God’s will and desire—His pleasure—is that we love Him (keep His commandments). We cannot please God unless we love Him. We cannot love Him unless we know Him, and we cannot know Him unless we have faith in Him (Mathew 10:37).
UNDERSTANDING LOVE (III): A REALIZATION THAT YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF
Self-hatred is probably the greatest single problem in human society, regardless of culture. It lies at the heart of the vast majority of mental, emotional, and psychological problems. Many people have trouble living with others because they have trouble living with themselves. They find it hard either to give love or to receive love from others because they cannot love themselves.
When Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” He meant that we are to love our neighbour as much as or to the same degree as we love ourselves. Stated another way, we can love our neighbour only to the same extent that we love ourselves. People who do not love themselves cannot truly love anybody else (Mt. 22:39b).
Why should we love ourselves?
What reason do we have? The answer lies in the heart and purpose of God. God created us in His image and likeness, and crown us with glory, higher than angels.
Closely link to self-rejection is a craving for approval. Everyone needs to feel approved and accepted. Those who cannot approve of themselves seek approval from others. The real danger here is that the approval that the world gives is empty and unfulfilling. Only the approval which comes from God nourishes and satisfies. It is God’s approval we need, not men.
UNDERSTANDING LOVE (IV): A REALIZATION THAT YOU MUST LOVE ‘OTHERS’
An important dynamic of healthy relationships is that when we focus on meeting the needs of the other person, our needs will usually be met as well. It is the law of reciprocation. A person whose needs have been met is free to concentrate on meeting the needs of another.
No matter who we are, male, female, married or single, the greatest thing we can do to love others in any relationship is seeking to understand their unique needs and then commit ourselves to meet those needs.
The world is full of too many self-seeking and self-serving relationships where people are interested only in what they can get, not what they can give.
When we commit ourselves to meet the needs of another; we are expressing love in its truest and purest form, a love that gives with no condition or expectation in return, a love that reflects the very heart of God from whom it came and who Himself is love.
In relationships, as in anything else in life (career, study, business, etc.); knowledge and investment are the keys to success. Ignorance and leaving things to chance is dangerous (Lk. 14:28-30).
FATHER, HELP ME TO UNDERSTAND YOUR LOVE FOR ME;
FATHER, HELP ME TO LOVE YOU;
FATHER, HELP ME TO LOVE MYSELF;
FATHER, HELP ME TO LOVE OTHERS AROUND ME;
FATHER, FORGIVE ME WHEN I HAVE NOT LOVED WHEN I SHOULD.
Excerpts culled from – Dr Myles Munroe, (2002), The Purpose & Power of Love & Marriage, Destiny Image, USA.
Delivered on February 10, 2019, at the Family Special Series.