Love is...
... or isn't

The following is an examination of love as taught in the Bible, primarily from a New Testament perspective (see the second section for the Old Testament).  As such it examines four primary Greek words that could be translated love (and a fifth that some have claimed as a possibility).  A related question, "Does God love everyone?", is considered in the final section.

Love in the New Testament

Mania (maínomai [NT:3105])

    Though some have claimed that this may represent a form of love (e.g. obsession), it is never used in such a fashion throughout Scriptures or in Bible times.  In the New Testament it means to be irrational, out of one's mind, or having taken leave of one's senses.  This Scriptural usage reflects common application of the word in other ancient documents as well, including in Classical Greek.  (Translated as "insane", "mad", "out of your mind", "raving mad", "crazy", etc. in passages such as John 10:20; Acts 12:15; Acts 26:24-25; 1 Corinthians 14:23).

Storge - Natural (familial) affection.  Only found in the New Testament in its negative form...

    Astorgos (as' tor gos) [NT:794].   Without natural (familial) affection. 

      Romans 1:28-32   Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless ["astorgos"], ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.  (NIV)

    • "without natural affection"  GENEVA, KJV 

    • "heartless" ESV, NET Bible, CJB, NLT, TLB

    • "unloving" HCSB, NKJV, NASU 

    • "no love"  NIV2011 

    • "don't show love to their own families"  GOD'S WORD

    • "cruel" MESSAGE

    • "they show no kindness" NCV, ERV

    • 2 Timothy 3:1-5   But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love ["astorgos"], unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.  (NIV)

Related use of the word "storge"...

    Philóstorgos [NT:5387] - from philos [NT: 5384] (friend or companion) and storge (natural family love); loving with the natural affection that characterizes a family.

      Romans 12:10  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love [NT:5384, also KJV, HCSB; ESV "brotherly affection"]. Honor one another above yourselves.  (NIV)

Philia (philía - phílos [noun], philéo [verb])

    Philia represents a close personal friendship and affection between two who share a common bond or interest.

    As a noun it occurs thirty times in the New Testament (eighteen times by Luke alone in the gospel and Acts).  Examples include:

      John 3:29   The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend [NT: 5384] who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  (NIV)

      Luke 7:34  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend [NT: 5384] of tax collectors and "sinners." '  (NIV)

      Luke 21:16   You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends [NT: 5384], and they will put some of you to death.  (NIV)

      John 11:11   After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend [NT: 5384] Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."    (NIV)

      Acts 19:31   Even some of the officials of the province, friends [NT: 5384] of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.   (NIV)

      John 19:12   From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend [NT: 5384] of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."   (NIV)

      Luke 12:4  [To the disciples]  "I tell you, my friends [NT: 5384], do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  (NIV)

      John 15:13-14  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends [NT: 5384]. 14 You are my friends [NT: 5384] if you do what I command.  (NIV)

      James 2:23  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend [NT: 5384].  (NIV)

    As a verb it occurs slightly fewer times (approximately 25) and signifies:

    Love of a parent or child

      Matthew 10:37   "Anyone who loves [NT:5368] his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves [NT:5368] his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  (NIV)

    Love of a close friend

      John 11:1-3   Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love [NT:5368] is sick."  (NIV, also verse 36)

    Love of a disciple (and all believers) for the Lord

      John 21:15-17   When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"  "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love [NT:5368] you."  Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."  16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"   He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love [NT:5368] you."  Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."  17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love [NT:5368] me?"   Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love [NT:5368] me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love [NT:5368] you."  (NIV)

      1 Corinthians 16:22   If anyone does not love [NT:5368] the Lord - a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!   (NIV)

    The Father's love for the Son

      John 5:20  For the Father loves [NT:5368] the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.   (NIV)

    Believer's love for each other

      Titus 3:15   Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love [NT:5368] us in the faith.   Grace be with you all.   (NIV)

    The Father's love for us (and ours for Jesus, first example)

      John 16:27  No, the Father himself loves [NT:5368] you because you have loved [NT:5368] me and have believed that I came from God.  (NIV)

      Revelation 3:19   Those whom I love [NT:5368] I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.  (NIV)

    Jesus' love for a disciple

      John 20:2   So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved [NT:5368], and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"   (NIV)

    The Septuagint translators of the Old Testament used Philia only four times, each in the book of Proverbs.

      Proverbs 27:5   Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  (NIV, also in Proverbs 5:19;7:18; 19:7)

    By context, the word phileo can also mean "to kiss".  This usage is not unique to Scriptures and is similarly found in other early Greek literature.

      Luke 22:47-48 (also Matthew 26:48 & Mark 14:44)   While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss [NT:5368] him,   48 but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss? [NT:5370, a related word "philema" meaning "a kiss"... as we are told to great each other: Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14]"   (NIV)

Related use of the word...

    Philóteknos [NT: 5388] - from philos [NT: 5384] (friend or companion) and teknon (a child); loving one's child.

      Titus 2:4   That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children [NT:5388], (KJV)

    Philandros [NT:5362] - from philos [NT:5384] (friend or companion) and aner (man or husband); loving one's husband.

      Titus 2:4   That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands [NT:5362], to love their children,  (KJV)

    In this one word, the wife literally is being instructed to "love her man!"



    Eros was the most widely used word for love in ancient Greek.  In Classical Greek it describes sexual and emotional love, something that is impulsive or spontaneous as well as sensual.  Eroticism (an English word that is derived from this Greek word) would be characteristic of many uses of the word.  Its focus revolved around feelings and on finding satisfaction wherever it could be found.   There was also a second concept, for those deeper thinkers rooted in Platonic thought, which held Eros to be a more contemplative aspiration or desire for the divine, or mankind's quest for God.  All these ideas held that you could find truth through feelings.

    If English still held a separate word for these concepts, it would still be the term most used in everyday culture and in hosts of religious settings.  Firstly, because love pervasively has a popular view of being sexual and secondly because hosts of religious settings (in fact, everyone but true Biblical Christianity) hold love of God to be all about our quest for God rather than God's true love which pursued mankind. 

    All concepts of Eros are so removed from God's view of love, or should I say the only true view of love which is rooted in God himself, that the term is never used in the entire New Testament.  Interestingly, the translators of the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) chose to use this word in only one verse.   The entire passage establishes context:

      Proverbs 7:1-21   My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. 2 Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. 3 Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your kinsman; 5 they will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words.

      6 At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice. 7 I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. 8 He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house 9 at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. 

      10 Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. 11 (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; 12 now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.) 13 She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said:

      14 "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows. 15 So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you! 16 I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. 17 I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. 18 Come, let's drink deep of love [Septuagint: phílos] till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love! [Septuagint: EROS; OT:159]  19 My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. 20 He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon."

      21 With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk.  (NIV)

    It's commonly claimed that marriage must include Eros, but I would argue that true sexually intimacy in the context of marriage is not Eros but included within Agape love.  The Septuagint translators were quite correct in relegating Eros to only being illicit love outside of marriage.


Agape (agápe [NT:26], noun; agapáo [NT:25], verb)

    Agape love is often described as unconditional or selfless love.  It is a love given regardless of circumstances or receiving favor or anything in return.  Functionally it is a willful love, a conscious choice to love.

    When the Septuagint translators were searching for a word to best describe the love illustrated throughout the Old Testament, they legitimately ignored the most common word for love that was then being used in the Greek language, namely Eros (using it only once).  Philia didn't have the scope or focus (using it only four times), so instead they drew upon what was then an obscure word, Agape.   Agape's rare ancient usage had the general idea of true lasting love, versus the transient or emotional aspects intertwined with Eros.  Ancient usage was relatively broad as it was used to describe true feelings for food, children and a spouse.  Since its use was rare, the Septuagint ultimately became the foundation for its usage in the New Testament.  The Bible functionally defines the word and this is quite appropriate, since the fullness of love is rooted in the person of God, only God can truly define it.

    Old Testament writers, in Hebrew and Aramaic, didn't have the luxury of a specific word, such as Agape, so the Old Testament writers resorted to utilizing numerous Hebrew words and synonyms.  The Septuagint writers, dealing with all of the Old Testament, reduced 17 differing words for love into one: Agape

    By the time early church fathers were writing, in the post-apostolic era, the Judeo-Christian influence of using Agape as the primary word for love spelled the demise of the word Eros, which functionally fell out of regular use in literature.

    Because Agape love is willfully selective, with an emphasis of choice by the lover, it is quite different that the broad feeling based concept of Eros.  And, as it relates to God, it is all about God loving and seeking out us rather than the Plato-based conception of Eros, which focused on man seeking God.

    The best definition for Agape love is the one found in 1 Corinthians:

      1 Corinthians 13:4-8a   Love [NT:26] is patient, love [NT:26] is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love [NT:26] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8 Love [NT:26] never fails.  (NIV)

    The sacrificial nature of Agape love is best illustrated by Jesus.  His death on our behalf is the perfect illustration of agape love.

      Galatians 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [NT:25] me and gave himself for me.  (NIV)

      John 15:13   Greater love [NT:26] hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  (KJV)

      1 John 4:10  This is love [NT:26]: not that we loved [NT:25] God, but that he loved [NT:25] us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (NIV)

    Additional passages will further illustrate how Agape love is applied in Scriptures. This cannot be exhaustive as there are 143 uses of NT:25 (in 110 verses) and 116 uses of NT:26 (in 106 verses) spread throughout the New Testament.

    Jesus' love for a disciple

      John 13:23   One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved [NT:25], was reclining next to him.  (NIV, also John 21:7)

    Our love for everyone including our enemies

      Matthew 5:43-46   "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?   (NIV, also Luke 6:27, 32)

    Our love for God (and mankind)

      Matthew 22:37-40   Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  (NIV)

    Our love for each other 

      John 13:34-35   "A new command I give you: Love [NT:25] one another. As I have loved [NT:25] you, so you must love [NT:25] one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love [NT:26] one another."   (NIV)

    Pharisee's love of power and position

      Luke 11:43   "Woe to you Pharisees, because you love [NT:25] the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.  (NIV)

    Love of God versus love of money

      Luke 16:13   "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love [NT:25] the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

    God's love for us contrasted to world's love of darkness

      John 3:16-19   "For God so loved [NT:25] the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.  19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved [NT:25] darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  (NIV)

    God's selective love for Jacob

      Romans 9:13   Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved [NT:25], but Esau I hated."   (NIV)

    Father's love for the Son and Jesus' love for us

      John 15:9   "As the Father has loved [NT:25] me, so have I loved [NT:25] you. Now remain in my love [NT:26].   (NIV)

    The permanency of God's love for us

      Romans 8:35-39   Who shall separate us from the love [NT:26] of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:  "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."   37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love [NT:26] of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   (NIV)

    The source of Agape love

      Galatians 5:22-23   But the fruit of the Spirit is love [NT:26], joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  (NIV)

      1 John 4:8   Whoever does not love [NT:25] does not know God, because God is love [NT:26].  (NIV)

    A husband's love for his wife

      Ephesians 5:28-33   In this same way, husbands ought to love [NT:25] their wives as their own bodies. He who loves [NT:25] his wife loves [NT:25] himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- 30 for we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."  32 This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love [NT:25] his wife as he loves [NT:25] himself, and the wife must respect her husband.  (NIV)

    Notice that that martial love (which includes the two becoming one flesh) is described in Scriptures using the term Agape and not Eros, even though this union includes sexual aspects.  Simply put, Eros has no place because it illustrates illicit and selfish love.

In Summary

For a believer there are three type of love we are to have and grow in: Storge, Philia, and Agape.  The overlap between the usages of these terms shows that one is not to replace the other; rather they can and must exist together.  Consider an example in regards to my children.  My natural love for my children (Storge) should be a starting place to develop a close personal friendship and affection based in a common bond and interests (Philia).  And, because of Christ at work in me, my love should not be dependent on their actions or attitudes towards me; I must choose to love no matter what (Agape). 

While a kiss of greeting was naturally tied to the word and concept of Philia, Peter also binds it to Agape for believers.

    1 Peter 5:14   Greet one another with a kiss [Philema] of love [Agape].  (NIV)

Either individually or taken together, these three loves should encompass every aspect of love in our lives; to our families, to our wives, to other believers, to our enemies, and most of all to God. 

We are called to love!


Love in the Old Testament

Scholars claim seventeen Old Testament Hebrew words or synonyms for love, none truly having the distinctiveness of the Greek terms used or available in New Testament times.  A brief look at five of them while show the diversity of their usages:

Ahab (OT:157,158,159,160) -  This is the most used word for love in the Old Testament.  It appears over 250 times, as a noun and a verb and in at least four different forms. 

    OT:157  A verb meaning to love - in various strengths from what we would call "like" to "love." 

    The Bible uses it in love of:

    • Bribes (Isaiah 1:23)

    • Wisdom (Proverbs 4:6)

    • Wine (Proverbs 21:17)

    • Peace and Truth (Zechariah 8:19)

    • Food (Genesis 27:4, 9, 14)

    • Of People (Genesis 29:32; Ruth 4:15; 1 King 11:1)

    • God's love of Mankind (Deuteronomy 4:37; 1 Kings 10:9; Hosea 3:1)

    • Of God (Exodus 20:6; Psalms 116:1; and see next example)

    Quite significantly it is used in:

      Deuteronomy 6:5   Love [OT:157] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  (NIV)


    Used in regards to:

    • Marital Love (Proverbs 5:19)

    • Foreign Alliances (versus love for God.  Hosea 8:9)


    A masculine noun meaning loved one. 

    • Both occurrences in the Old Testament are in regards to illicit sexual relations (Proverbs 7:18; Hosea 9:10).


    A feminine noun meaning love.  

    The Bible uses it for:

    • Love between a man and woman (Genesis 29:20; Song of Solomon 2:4, 5, 7)

    • Love between friends (2 Samuel 1:26)

    • God's selective, willful love of his people (Deuteronomy 7:8; Isaiah 63:9; Hosea 3:1)

Hesed (OT:2617; rendered "checed" in Strongs).  This is the second most significant word for love in the Old Testament.  It is found in 247 locations (241 verses).

This word has often been translated into English utilizing additional terms, all which help illustrate aspects of this term for love:




    Unfailing love

    Steadfast love

Perhaps it could best be said that it represents an intentional love that combines kindness and mercy and love.  Some examples:

    Genesis 20:13   And when God had me wander from my father's household, I said to her, 'This is how you can show your love [OT:2617] to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, "He is my brother."   (NIV)

    Exodus 15:13   "In your unfailing love [OT:2617] you will lead the people you have redeemed.  In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.  (NIV)

    Judges 8:35   They also failed to show kindness [OT:2617] to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) for all the good things he had done for them. (NIV)

    2 Samuel 7:15   But my love [OT:2617] will never be taken away from him [Solomon], as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. (NIV)

    Nehemiah 9:32a  "Now therefore, O our God, the great, mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love [OT:2617], do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes...  (NIV)

    Psalms 36:5   Your love [OT:2617], O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  (NIV)

    Zechariah 7:9   "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy [OT:2617] and compassion to one another. (NIV)

Raham (OT:7355; rendered "Racham" by Strongs).   This word for love is focused on compassion and mercy and is typically translated as such.  Examples include:

Deuteronomy 30:3   Then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion [OT:7355] on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.  (NIV)

Jeremiah 50:42a  They are armed with bows and spears; they are cruel and without mercy [OT:7355]. (NIV)

Isaiah 49:15   "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion [OT:7355, CJB uses the word "pity"; CEV, GNT, TEV "love"] on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  (NIV)

Other less used Hebrew words focus on additional aspects of love.  Two final examples:

Hasaq (OT:2836).  Desire; often in the form of "set his heart on" or "set his love on"...

    Deuteronomy 10:15   Yet the Lord set his affection [OT:2836] on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.  (NIV)

    Deuteronomy 21:11   if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted [OT:2836] to her, you may take her as your wife.  (NIV)

Dod (OT: 1730).   Beloved; loved; love; its most common usage is in regards to lovers, whether spouse or adulteress.  It is also used to refer to an uncle, which must be established by context.

    Song of Solomon 1:2-4   Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth -  for your love (OT:1730) is more delightful than wine.  3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love (OT:157) you!  4 Take me away with you - let us hurry!  Let the king bring me into his chambers.  We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love (OT:1730) more than wine.  How right they are to adore (OT:157) you!  (NIV)

    Song of Solomon 5:4   My lover (OT:1730) thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.  (NIV)

    Proverbs 7:18   [The adulteress said:] Come, let's drink deep of love (OT:1730) till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love (OT:159)!   (NIV)

    Leviticus 10:4   Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron's uncle [OT:1730] Uzziel, and said to them, "Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary."   (NIV)

    Esther 2:15   When the turn came for Esther (the girl Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle [OT:1730] Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.  (NIV)

In Summary

That the Septuagint translators chose to render almost all appearances of these words for love, including sexual love within marriage, as the word Agape, shows how much was intended within that single Greek word.  The resultant diversity of usage within the New Testament is based in this understanding and shows divine sanction for such through Old Testament quotations quoted in the New Testament utilizing the Septuagint wording.


Does God love everyone?

The question is often asked "Does God love everyone?"  The answer is both yes and no.  This is not a copout answer; it takes into account that there are degrees of love, even in regards to the professedly highest form of love: agape love.

    Matthew 5:43-48   "You have heard that it was said, 'Love [Agape] your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I tell you: Love [Agape] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   (NIV, also Luke 6:27-35)

How does God love everyone, even those who are (and will remain) unrighteous?  With Agape love!  Remember, agape love is an unconditional or selfless love.  It is a love given regardless of circumstances or receiving favor or anything in return.  It is a willfully selective love rooted solely in the choice of the lover.  It could be argued that this is the only form of love that could ever love one's enemies.

God chooses to love his enemies - even those who are under His just wrath.  The good He does for them is evidence of this love.  It would be fair to say, that the wrath he withholds, even for a time, is evidence of this defined love.

Agape appropriately defines the love God has for his enemies; He chose to love, He chose to love without cause or return of affection.  And He chooses the scope and duration of His love.

Yes, that's right.  The word agape does not define, by itself, the scope or duration of the love being given.  But this fact doesn't stop people from regularly saying otherwise.   I found numerous Christian articles, in various forms, which state "agape love is eternal and unending love."  (One used 1 Kings 10:9 and Psalms 37:28 as proof texts, yet both have an extra word with love [translated Agape in the Septuagint] to define the unending scope of the love being referenced). 

If agape love automatically meant eternal or unending love, two questions:

  1. Why would Bible writer after Bible writer feel it necessary to define the scope (or substance) and duration of the love being spoken of?  (And, even if you argue that it is for literary emphasis, then...)

  2. Why does the Bible clearly speak of Agape love that is more limited in scope (or substance) and clearly restricted in duration?

Can God simultaneously love someone, with Agape love, and also hate them at another level?  Yes.

    Romans 9:13   Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."   (NIV, quoting Malachi 1:2-3)

The word "hated" in this statement is the exact opposite of agape, the word used here for love.  This is an intentional contrast.  Yet if God loves his enemies how can he hate Esau?   It's not merely Esau...

    Psalms 11:5   The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.  (NIV)

Yet even those wicked that "his soul hates" experience God's agape love - but only in the particular scope (or substance) that God has defined and certainly only for a specific duration.

When God ceases his agape love for those who remain his enemies, they have one destination.

    2 Thessalonians 1:8-9   He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power... (NIV)

This makes it clear that God's agape love for His enemies has a defined and permanent limit.  There is no implied eternal or unending in God's use of agape in regards to them.

In contrast, God clearly has defined the scope (or substance) of His agape love for us (for all believers). 

    Romans 8:37-39    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved [agape] us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love [agape] of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (NIV)

What makes this Agape love different than for an unbeliever?  The will of the one doing the loving!  The form of Agape love that we are to have is rooted in the unending love that God had for us.  Notice the emphasis given in the Greek text.

    1 Corinthians 13:1-8a  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love [agape], I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love [agape], I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love [agape], I gain nothing.  4 ["This"; Greek "Hee"] Love is patient, ["This"; Greek "Hee"] love is kind. ["This Love"; Greek "Hee Agape"] It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.   8 ["This"; Greek "Hee"] Love never fails.  (NIV)

Also notice that our love for others is to be of the type God has for us, in this specific: "it keeps no record (Logizomai "account/impute/reckoning/credited") of wrongs ("kakos" evil/bad/wrongs)."  Here we can see again that God's agape love for us is different than the love He has for the lost.  All who are lost will find that God does keep a record of their wrongs, which will be held against them on the Day of Judgment.

    Revelation 20:11-12   Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  (NIV)

As for believers, in the way God loves us, He is the perfect example of the love we are to have for others - He keeps absolutely no record of our wrongs.

    Acts 3:19a  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped ["blotted", KJV] out...  (NIV)

    Hebrews 8:12   For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."  (NIV, quoting Jeremiah 31:34)

    Micah 7:19   You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  (NIV)

This love never fails (1 Corinthians 15:8, "fails" can also be rendered "goes away" or "falls away" as in KJV).  As the Holman and NET Bibles translate it "Love never ends".  What they fail to emphasis is that which is emphasized in the Greek "This love never ends." 

God's love for us is unending agape love, solely because He wills it to be so.  So does God love [agape] everyone?  Yes.  But it's only unending for believers, His chosen and elect.   We are called, we are loved, and we are kept for all eternity.

    Jude 1b   To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: (NIV2011)

It's the contrast between God's love of the lost (temporary and limited in scope) and His love for us (beyond measure and eternal) that equates to the wording employed in God's relationship with Esau and Jacob; hate versus love.

(c) 2012 Brent MacDonald, LTM.