Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Christian Love

Bible teaching about Christian love brings sharp focus on what makes the world go ‘round: love. You take music - country, pop, or whatever – it talks about love. Either you have it, want it, or have just lost it. People fall in love, and fall out of love. Romance novels stuff bookshelves. Love can turn to hate, then switch to passion in a marital squabble. 

What is this thing called love? What is Christian love? Have you ever wondered? I have, and so have many others. Let’s explore.

In the Western world, when we say, “love,” we can mean many different things. Things can get confusing. I can love my cat, my wife, my music, my friend, my job, my country, or my car. But I don’t love my wife in the same way I do my car. See, things can really get mixed up!

Here I lay out a short course on the Bible teaching about Christian love. When I talk about Christian love, I mean love as viewed from the New Testament (NT). I focus on three basic categories.

Eros: Sexual Love

I start with sex – or the Greek, “eros.” Why? Because the fiery passion of sexual love is what most people call love. In American culture, eros is also romantic love, and according to research, is the main reason people get married.  It gets more interesting. Over one half of both American men and women maintain that not being in love (eros) is grounds for bailing out of marriage! 

Eros is a multifaceted mixture of anger, sexual urge, joy, and jealousy. It is consummated in searing ecstasy. 

Strangely, in the Bible teaching about Christian love, eros is not mentioned in the NT Greek. Maybe it is because the Greeks in Corinth viewed eros as the ultimate religious expression. They thought the highest spiritual experience was the most powerful form of ecstasy. And, what could be more intense than sexual climax? 

That is why there existed in Corinth the temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. At one time, this fertility cult employed about one thousand priestess prostitutes available to provide the ultimate “religious experience.” Paul referred to this problem in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.

Bible teaching about Christian love is quite contrary to the Greek notion of the highest form of love – or religion. For Christian love, the highest form is agape next.

Agape: Highest Love

Actually, this NT word (agape) stands in sharp contrast to eros, and is rarely used outside the NT. It means to highly value, and unconditionally have at heart the genuine welfare and best interests of the object loved. It includes a rational commitment and motivation to maintain a relationship even in the face of problems. It directs kindness, respect and loyalty toward the object loved.

Agape stands at the heart of what is commonly referred to in the Bible teaching about Christian love. The concept of this kind of experience was in Greek and Roman culture, but not the actual word, agape.

God expresses Christian love toward us (John 3:16; cf. Romans 5:5, 8), and Jesus explained this self-sacrificial love, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12, 13). 

Agape is fully described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This kind of love can be directed (wrongly) toward the things of this world, which might include cars, clothes, cameras, money, fame, power, and manifold “bling blings” (1 John 2:15-17). 

According to Jesus’ definition, agape can be expressed in patriotism, as in soldiers laying down their lives for their country. The Bible teaching about Christian love indicates it should form the foundation of believer’s relationships with one another (John 13:35). Agape love demonstrates our friendship with Jesus (John 15:14), and expresses our Christian love toward God (1 John 5:1-3).

But, there is more to Christian love than this.

Phileo: Friendship Love

The Bible teaching about Christian love includes “phileo.” This category includes emotional warmth and tender affection toward a friend or family member. It involves closeness, bonding, and mutual sharing in a relationship. It is companionship, or brotherly love. 

In a marriage relationship, the dominant fire of eros gradually gives ground to the mature phileo of affection. Phileo becomes the cement that bonds and holds families together over the long haul. There is an actual shift in the balance of bodily hormones during this transition. In popular usage, we call this shift the end of the honeymoon period. 

The chemicals of eros dominate the emotional areas of our brain, and overrule the critical thinking areas. After those chemicals subside, the thinking regions make a come back, and we may wonder what we ever saw in the other person! 

Jesus displayed this Christian love toward Lazarus, as observed, “Lord, behold, he whom You love (phileo) is sick” (John 11:3). In addition, John also wrote of this relationship, “Now Jesus loved (agape) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” John 11:5). 

John also reveals that God displays friendship love (phileo) toward us, and believers toward Jesus (John 16:27).  

So, what practical application can we draw from the Bible teaching about Christian love? Let’s look.

Practical Applications

•Christian love is important. It forms the relationship foundation between us, God, and other believers – and all people (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:12).

•All three kinds of love are vital and important in a healthy marriage relationship.

Phileo can be thought of as love from the heart, and agape from the head. Agape should be the foundation in a marriage. But, sex is important also. Successful love in a marriage incorporates all three.<br>

•Marriage should not be based on eros alone, because when the eros slows down with time and age, you might get bored, and think you have fallen out of love.

•Don’t confuse eros and phileo with true Christian love: agape. Falling out of eros is not falling out of love. 

•We must be wary of “platonic” relationships with the opposite sex. The heartfelt intimacy of phileo can quickly turn to the raging passion of eros.

•Agape love is the sign of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life (Galatians 5:22).

•Both agape and phileo should characterize the relationships among Christians (Romans 12:9, 10).

With this Bible teaching about Christian love, Esmie and I pray for your increased understanding and richer experience in all your relationships. Let Christian love prevail.

Dr, Newman

BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS

1. Describe how Christian love (agape) is to work out in your life (Mark 12:29-31).

2. In what manner did God display His Christian love (agape) toward us (Romans (Romans 5:8)?

3. What is a source of hope to Christians (Romans 5:5)?

4. List and explain five ways you can express Christian love (agape) in your most important relationships (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

5. How important is Christian love (agape) in your relationships with others (1 Corinthians 13:13)? Explain.

6. Explain the difference between eros, agape, and phileo.

7. What should be our relationship to the world (1 John 2:15-17; John 3:16; Matthew 5:24). 

How can you reconcile these verses? Agape is used in all three.<br>

8. Describe two ways how husbands can relate Christian love (agape) to their wives ((Ephesians 5:25)?

9. Describe two ways wives can express love (phileo) to their husbands (Titus 2:4).

10. What stood out the most to you in this Bible study? Explain.<br>

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