What is the Biblical Definition of Love?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

How does God define love in the Scriptures? What is genuine, godly love?

Love is a Verb

How does God define love in the Scriptures? What is genuine, godly love? To start with, love is a verb. It is not so much a dozen roses or a Valentine’s Day card or saying, “I love you,” but rather, it’s what you do for others. Just like action speaks louder than words, love is a verb displayed before others in how we treat them, talk to them, and do for them. Jesus displayed the godliest love of all (agape) when He went to the cross for us sinners. Jesus told His disciples He loved them, but that love was no better displayed than at the cross where He died for unworthy sinners who were hostile to God; even dying while yet wicked, enemies of God (Rom 5:6-10).

Love in Action

God displayed this love for us by not giving us what we really deserve (His holy, righteous wrath) but instead, giving us what we desperately needed (mercy and grace; i.e., Eph 2:8-9). You can tell someone you love them, but the proof of that love is displayed by how you make yourself available and a servant of others. Jesus, Who is God, came not to be served but to give His own life a ransom for the many who would trust in Him (Mark 10:45). I can tell my wife I love her, but if I never lift a finger to help her, do I really lover her? Am I showing my love for her by doing nothing to help her? Not likely. My saying, “I love you,” is sheer hypocrisy without action. You cannot love without doing, which is why, love is a verb; it’s what you do!

Discipline Equals Love

God loves us if we’ve trusted in Christ and He will never allow things that would hurt His children (Rom 8:28). We know that “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:6), so rejoice if He disciplines you. That means He loves you for “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline” (Heb 12:7)? That’s what human parents do too; they discipline their children (hopefully) because they love them and care for them, but God is an even more loving parent than any of us could ever be. What parent can say they love their child and yet never discipline them? Love is proven by our care and concern for our children and wanting to protect them. We discipline them for their own good, just as God does us. We directly intervene in their lives when they try to hurt themselves, like when reaching for the top of a hot stove or trying to take a knife out of a kitchen drawer. And we need this discipline from God too, so that we too might not hurt ourselves.

Human Love

Phileo is one kind of love. This Greek word for love signifies a kind of spontaneous natural affection for someone/others, sometimes more feeling than reason. The love we have for our family or brothers can be the Phileo kind of love, but this love can be had for a best friend or spouse too. For example, I love my brother because he’s my brother but also love my brother in a different kind of way (“storge”). We know about the city of Philadelphia, called the city of brotherly love, and so it is with Phileo love. My love for my natural brother or my blood-relative is “Storge.” Storge is the type of love signifying the natural affection between kinfolk like a brother, sister, child or spouse. This word appears a few times in the New Testament but only in the compound form. Then there is Eros love. This Greek word was not used in the New Testament but it refers to sexual love and probably derived its name from the mythical god of love. This love is found in marriages. Dr. Norman L. Geisler, in his book, Christian Ethics (Baker Book House, 1989) breaks down the various kinds of love.

First of all, Mr. Geisler states that Erotic love is inward turning and describes it as egoistical (focused on self, one’s own feelings, and what is best only for self). It says to self, “Me first” because I am my first and last consideration.

Then there is the Phileo love which is more mutualistic and can be altruistic (giving). It’s a love a little like the barter system: “I will give as long as I receive.”

And once again, Storge is the type of love that signifies a natural affection or bond between family members.

Godly Love

Agape love, on the other hand, is altruistic, saying, “I will give, requiring nothing in return.” I will give even though someone doesn’t deserve it. It involves God making the first move. The Apostle John explains the only reason we love God “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). He made the first move. Dead men and women cannot choose Christ and that’s just what we were; dead in our sins (Eph 2:1-5). Like Lazarus, being four-days-dead and beyond all hope, he could not have chosen Christ. It was Christ Who choose Lazarus (and us). This explains why salvation is fully a work of God (John 3:16; Acts 4:12). Agape love is a self-sacrificial love that Jesus Christ displayed on the cross. Think of this; how many of our sins were yet ahead when Jesus died? All of them! This is the kind of love at which God operates. It is a love that is willing to sacrifice and demand nothing back. What better way to sum up God’s agape love than from Jesus’ own lips where He said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Taking up your cross daily


God has already shown us what real, godly love is in Jesus’ supreme sacrifice (John 3:16). It is a love where God doesn’t give us what we truly deserve, namely His wrath, but instead, and only because of Jesus Christ, He gives us what we need, and that is His mercy and grace (Eph 2:8-9). We all should honestly say what the Apostle Paul wrote and he wrote that said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim 1:15), so I do pray you are like the Apostle Paul who understood that we only “received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:16).

Here is some related reading for you: Bible Verses About Love: 25 Awesome Scripture Quotes

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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