Someone once sang, “All you need is Love”.
The word “love”, particularly at this time of year (February), conjures images of romance, big red hearts… valentines! But when it comes to understanding “love” in the Bible we have to forget most of what we think we already know about the ‘L’ word.
The English language can be challenging – particularly with a word like ‘love’. For example:
- I love my wife.
- I love Mexican food.
Clearly, context is important.
It’s all Greek…
Love in the New Testament has context built in. The original manuscripts for the NT were written and shared in Greek which, conveniently, has (at least) six different words for “love”.
“Eros”, for example, is the Greek word for romantic, passionate, even reckless love. “Mania” (which has found its way into the English language too) is possessive, dependant love. By the way, neither of these words are found in the Bible.
Instead we find “phileo” and “agape” – more than 100 times each in fact.
Phileo is brotherly love – the kind of deep friendship that would develop where trust and loyalty were important. It’s about “our happiness” as opposed to “my happiness” expressed in Eros.
The apostle Peter expressed ‘phileo’ love for Jesus.
John 21: 16Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love (phileo) you!”
However, the problem was that Jesus had just asked Peter “do you ‘agape’ me”. Agape is selfless, unconditional love.
We’ll come back to Peter’s answer in a moment – first we need to understand the context of Agape in the Bible.
1 John 1: 7-12My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows that we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. 8 God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. 9 God showed his love for us when he sent his only Son into the world to give us life. 10 Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we must love each other.12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is truly in our hearts.
Each of the words for love here are Agape. Agape is the love that God shows for us. It’s the kind of love that allowed him to give His only son that we should live.
Because Jesus wanted to imitate his father, he too demonstrated ‘agape’ and willingly gave his own life for us, his friends.
This is a big deal.
And it was an even bigger deal to Peter who was understandably nervous about committing himself to unconditional, selfless love.
In John 21: 15-17 Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. The first two are agape, the third time Jesus settles for Peter’s phileo.
However, what Peter comes to realise, throughout his life, is that developing ‘agape’ is the work of a lifetime. While there was a time that he was uncomfortable declaring ‘agape’ to Jesus, later in life he is able to declare the attributes and benefits of “unconditional love” to us all…
“Above all things have fervent love (agape) for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”1 Peter 4: 7–8
Peter did in fact give his life for his faith.
All you need is…?
So what does Agape, the unconditional love of God’s character mean to you and me?
Jesus demonstrated it. Peter was able to learn it.
Clearly we need agape in our life.
There are literally 100s of verses in the Bible which build on the expression and understanding of God’s love. Hopefully I’ve shown that if we demonstrate just a small portion of Agape love, in the ways intended by God, then it becomes abundantly clear that, in fact,
…”Love is… all you need!”