Understanding the Term “Love”

In order to build a relational community in Christ, we must be filled with the self-sacrificial love, which can come into our hearts and souls only from God through our faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The greek term for this kind of love is transliterated “agapan” (noun form). Most of us have heard the greek term “agape”, which is the verb form of the same greek term. The definitions of this term that readily come to mind are “unconditional” love, and some of us may realize that self-sacrifice is bound up in this term. The Holy Spirit chose to use “agapan” to communicate with mankind the very heart and mind of the God of love, the very nature of God Himself. Now, this term was the common word for “love” and was understood to mean “a love called out of one’s heart by an awakened sense of value in an object which causes one to prize it.” In other words, the love’er (if you will) so values the love’ee (if you will again) that the love’er willingly chose an act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the love’ee. In the case of agapan, the apprehension of the preciousness of the love’ee moved the love’er to action.

But the actions of sinless Jesus, namely, dying for the sins of humanity, further defined agapan as “a love of self-sacrifice, complete self-sacrifice to the point of death to self, and that for one who bitterly hates the one who loves. We have passages of scripture such as John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 13, and 1 John 4:16, which contextually demands such interpretation of this kind of love God has loved humanity with and the love with which God commands us in Jesus’ name by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5; Gal 5:22) to love one another, including those who hate us (Matthew 5:43-48), even to the point of death if God so calls us.

1 John 4:16b “God is love (agapan)” testifies to the truth of God’s very nature being defined with this kind of love. Therefore, this kind of love must already be in the very being of the love’er in order for the love’er to have the ability to agapan the love’ee. Since “God’s love [agapan] has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romas 5:5) and agapan is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22), then God’s very nature, that is His agapan, lives in us, enabling us to fulfill the two greatest commandments we have from God. Those commandments are that we “shall love [agapan] the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “you shall love [agapan] your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 10:30-31). Thus we shall build a relational community in Christ through the agapan of Calvary.

Philein (love) is a love called out of one’s heart as a response to the pleasure one takes in a person or object. The love’er has a sense of pleasure in his own being that is realized when he connects relationally with the love’ee. This is a brotherly love, a friendly love. But it is subject to weakness because of human sinful tendencies. Meaning, a Christian brother could philein another Christian brother selfishly. The love’er could seek the self-satisfaction of the pleasure itself rather than thinking of his brother. Therefore, agapan is needed in order for us Christians to truly love our brothers and sisters.

Steven Jetton

References: Kenneth Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament