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What is love?

We love all kinds of things, don't we? From our pets to our parents; from movies to music; from boyfriends/girlfriends to favorite restaurants. We say we "love" ice cream, but we may also say "I love you" to a grandparent. We hear the word “love” used in so many ways throughout our lives. But is "love" just a word we say, or do we know love's true meaning? How can we define this feeling that has so many levels of intensity?

Different Kinds of Love

God is the Creator of everything—including love. We have adopted the word “love” for a variety of circumstances today, but how does the Bible define love? Quite helpfully, the original Hebrew and Greek words for "love" in the Bible specify four different kinds of love: sexual, friendship, familial, and the pure and powerful love God has for His creation.

Sexual Love: yada (Hebrew) & eros (Greek)

Yada and eros are used to describe sexual love or feelings of arousal between people who are physically attracted to one another. In the original Hebrew of Genesis 38:26, Judah makes love with a woman he assumes is a prostitute. The word used for love here is yada, which, in this context, means “to know carnally” or “to have sex with.”

Sexual love is not inherently bad or evil. In fact, sex is God's gift to married couples, used to express their love for each other, strengthen emotional bonds, and to ensure that humanity continues. Of course, just like most good things, sin can taint what was once meant to be good, resulting in another Greek word, porneia or "sexual immorality" (Colossians 3:5). Boooooo.

Friendship or Familial Love: ahabah (Hebrew) & phileo (Greek)

The Hebrew word ahabah denotes the deep love that exists between super close friends or family members, such as the case of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:17). David and Jonathan were such BFFs that they considered themselves close as brothers.

In the New Testament, phileo is the Greek word used to convey the same type of love between friends (John 15:19; Romans 12:10; Hebrews 13:1). This platonic love can happen between the same or opposite genders, but it is not sexual in any way. That's ahabah and phileo love.

The Most Powerful Love: chesed (Hebrew) & agape (Greek)

Chesed and agape are the strongest words used to describe love in the Bible. Both words refer to God’s love, which is greater than any other love we could ever extend or receive. Think about that—God’s love is so enormous that they had to use special Hebrew and Greek words for it!

In Numbers 14:18, chesed refers to God’s unwavering, steadfast love. In the Old Testament, we often see the Israelites running to worship other “gods” rather than their One True God. (Actually, it happened A LOT!) Yet, despite God's chosen people flirting with these fake “gods,” He always expressed this chesed love for them and never abandoned them. He always welcomed them back to His perfect love.

How God Teaches Us to Love

Agape is used in the New Testament to express the love God has for us (John 3:16). This agape love is great, mighty, self-sacrificing, unwavering, and unconditional. That's right—unconditional love! God loves us despite our faults and failures. No matter what, God’s love for us will never change. Now, THAT is deep love!

Agape is the love we need to strive to have for each other. When Jesus talks about the greatest commandment—to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind—He uses the word agape (Matthew 22:37). The He goes on to give us the second greatest commandment, which is to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39), mirroring the unconditional agape love God has for us.

How Humans Love

We as humans have love for many things, such as family, friends, foods, and fandoms, but God’s love for us is greater than all these loves. Being able to experience love is a gift given by God; we only fully experience giving and receiving love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

The world has polluted the true meaning of love through cultural media. As Christians, we need to know what love truly is. Love is caring about the needs of others over your own. Love is putting the needs of others over your own. God demonstrates this love to us in the Bible, and we need to extend that same love to others. 1 Corinthians 13 has a beautiful, practical description of love; we highly recommend you check it out.

To truly understand love, we have to go back to the One who created it: God. God’s love for us is shown in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:9-11).

"So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." —1 Corinthians 13:13

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TL;DR

We as humans have love for many things, such as family, friends, foods, and fandoms, but God’s love for us is greater than all these loves. Being able to experience love is a gift given by God; we only fully experience giving and receiving love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The Bible uses special words in Hebrew and Greek to describe different kinds of love, depending on their meaning. There's sexual love, familial and friendship love, and the greatest love of all: the unconditional love God extends to us. True love can be found in the way Jesus died for our sins to offer us forgiveness from God and eternal life (John 3:16). As believers, our goal ought to be loving God and sharing God’s love to all people (1 John 4:9-11).

By: Vivian Bricker

Vivian loves learning, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She is dedicated to helping people learn more about Jesus and is ready to help in any way she can. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, cooking, drawing, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, you can find her soaking up the sunshine or going on an adventure.

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