Love is a very important concept to genuine followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul tells us that it is the most important quality that those who want to please God would seek to cultivate (1Cor. 13:13). The whole thirteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians consist of an essay on my love is so important. Finally, John explains the greatest reason why love is so important to the child of God, he tells us that it is God’s greatest quality because “God is love” (! John 4:8, 14), that is God is the very personification of the quality of love. I know that concept is hard for many to grasp since those who seek to undermine belief in and smear God use supposed injustices and horrors on his part as a tool towards there goals. So let’s take a look at what love is from the biblical stand point through and exploration of the Greek and Hebrew words in the bible underlying the quality of love.
First, to the Hebrew, basically the Hebrew word for love is ahabah (H160) and it means pretty much the same thing our English word means. So, whatever we would mean by it in a given context will more often than not be the same in the Hebrew context. That makes it one easy word to work with. The second word, ahab (H157), is a participle which is from the same root and tends to be used of a “friend” (Prov. 14:20.) Those are the nouns. The verb is ahab (H157) and is simply the verb form of ahabah. Again it covers the same territory as the English verb to love.
The other major word which is often translated as love is chesed (H2617). It covers both the idea of love along with loyalty. Chesed is used I connection with god’s relationship with Israel using the beautiful picture of a married relationship between God and Israel much like that between the Christ and the church (Hosea 2:21 [BHS]). It can refer to Kindness and is used in that sense at 2 Sam. 9:7. Israel was told to have chesed towards the lowly and needy (Hosea 6:6) and is used of the reason behind God’s creation (Psalm 136:5-9).
I think most folks are aware that the Ancient Greek language uses five words to bring nuance to the concept of love and two of those words are used in the bible in verb form, agapao (G25) and phileo (G5386). Phileo basically refers to the love between best friends and is analogous to the love fellow soldiers feel for their friends among their fellow troops. It is a love strong enough that one is willing to lay down their live to save their friend from serious harm or death. Contrast that with agapao, which is a more generic kind of love and the contrast of the two we find in the narrative at John 21:15-17 really comes alive for us. There Jesus asks Peter if he loves (agapao) him, and Peter in his typically dramatic fashion answers that he Loves (phileo) him. The implication is that despite his personal failure on the night before Jesus’ death he would now die for him and means it with all his heart and being. We all know that Peter followed through on that promise.
Because it gets used so little in the NT I think it gets a bit overlooked by Christians. At 1 Cor.16:22 Paul tells Christians “If anyone doesn’t love (phileo) the Lord let him be cursed!” Paul is essentially telling the brethren in Corinth that the selfless, agape love he usually promotes is not enough when it comes to loving our Lord Jesus. We should have the same kind of love Peter articulated for our love and be willing to go as far as he did. Since we are baptized into his death, that kind of love for him, and I submit the brethren as well given all the military connotations used in scripture for the brethren, is most appropriate.
Agapao is often called the “characteristic word” of. Christianity because of how often it’s used in the NT and the emphasis placed on it by the bible writers. This is a word which is often hard to wrap one’s mind around. All other types of love occur because the object of our affection has some sort of good quality about them which raises them above others be it sexual attraction, familial love, or the love we feel for close friends. This love doesn’t depend on any such attraction and cares not whether it is returned in any fashion. It is often called an exercise in will, or a cold, rational love. I personally think that the best way to look at it is that we love all of humanity because they are all made in the image of God and thus worthy of our love in spite of their imperfections and irregardless of any hope of it being returned.
Viewed in that light it is easy to see why completely consecrated Christians are real danger to nobody. The real church, the Christ’s bride, does not force conversions. They do not seek temporal control over others, nor to force their values and ways on those who do not want them. That is not the purpose of the church. Those who follow closely in the footsteps of the master live their lives in accordance with their deep love for God and desire to please him by keeping his commandments (1 John 3:23,24). For further contemplation on the subject of love and how it relates to those who want to please our heavenly father, read the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians and the entire first letter written by the aged Apostle John. That last one is especially interesting because it represents John’s reflections on nearly seventy years of a relationship with God and his service to him, much as his gospel also does.