There’s Love, and then there’s Christ’s love

It’s obvious when you think about it. It’s one of the inadequacies of the English language that when we use the word love, we can mean all sorts of different things. Love is probably one of the most over used, or abused words in the English language.

Some other languages have several different words to explain different aspects of what we call love. Early copies of the New Testament were written in Greek, and that is a language which has three different concepts, each of which we would translate as ‘love’.

Arguably there are four concepts. Let’s just deal with the one which didn’t make it into the New Testament. The Greeks knew a bit about love. They were a passionate people.  They knew about the sort of love which comes into being when two people are attracted to each other. In Greek, it’s called eran. This is the word which is at the root of the name Eros, the Ancient Greek god of love. It has to do with physical love. Passionate, sexual love. But let’s be honest, It’s possible to make love to someone, without ever loving them at all.

So let’s look at the three which are in the New Testament. First off, there is stergein. It means natural affection. This is about the kind of love we might associate with a family, or the bond between very closest of friends. This is a very special kind of love. (Romans 1:31; 2 Timothy 3:3) Obviously, it is very different from the eran kind of love. There are some aspects of Christian love which may be reflected here.

The second New Testament word is philein. At times, Philein has been used as a boy’s name, and it speaks of the love between good friends.  If you think of God as your Father, Christ as your brother, then there are things floating through our minds which relate in some way to the philein type of love. People who have a common interest, or are part of a sort of shared community. This is an important concept for Christians, who are called on to love one another.Indeed Peter used this word when he professed his love for Christ (John 21:15). This word appears 45 times in the New Testament.

But here’s the thing. None of these words really demonstrate the sort of love Christ wants us to show to other people. Christ wants us to love one another. Christ wants us to love our neighbour. Christ wants us to love even our enemies. This just doesn’t work with eran, stergein or philein. So probably just as well that in Greek there’s another kind of love. Agapan.

Agapan is a really special kind of love. The word, or its derivatives,  appears 320 times in the New Testament, so we need to get our head’s round this one. It’s a conscious decision to love someone, to desire the best for them in every way, whoever they are and whatever our relationship with them. There’s something rather unnatural about it. It goes against the grain. It means that always, regardless of the circumstances, we are to desire only the highest good for everybody else. Whether they are our lover, our family, our friend our neighbour or our enemy. To love in this way, in all circumstances, is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. This is the love of John 3:16.

‘We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible and even wrong. But we can see to it that , no matter what others do to us, even if they insult, ill treat and injure us, we will seek nothing but their highest good.’

William Barclay

 We should celebrate and cherish the gift of love which exists between man and wife, within the family and between friends. But we must understand that Christ demands of us that we practice agapan love. This is the  type of love which Christ commands us to share with others around us, regardless of our relationship with them, however they are treating us, and whether or not they return the love. Agapan love, my friend, is not always easy.

Never forget, however, that this was the love which He first showed, when he gave His life for you, for me, and for all mankind.

Whether they liked it or not.


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