Is love an emotion or is it a choice? That is an interesting question, isn’t it? In 21st century America, love is certainly viewed as an emotion. Love is what happens when you first set eyes on the person you are going to marry. We call it, “love at first sight.” Love is the feeling you have when you first hold your child. Love is that excitement we feel when our best friend we have not seen in years is coming for a visit. We call all those things love.
English is a funny language. We use one four-letter word to describe all those things and much more. Thankfully, the Bible was not written in English. The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek language had at least four man different words that 21st century America translates as love. They are:
- 1) Eros – which is romantic/sexual love.
- 2) Storge which is natural affection as between parents and children.
- 3) Phileo – which is friendship or brotherly love.
- 4) Agape – which is unconditional commitment and loyalty.
Eros, storge, and phileo all are emotionally based. They are better felt than told. They are brought on by touch, sight, and words of affection. They are all God-given and are wonderful to experience. The Bible uses phileo and a form of storge. Eros is never used in scripture, but the concept is certainly found within the Bible (e.g., Song of Solomon).
Agape, however, is a whole different idea. It is translated “love” in the majority of our English Bibles, but it is much different than its three Greek companions. Agape love is not an emotion. It is a choice and an action. Jesus says to agape our enemies which includes doing good to them, blessing them, and praying for them (Luke 6:27).
Jesus didn’t say to have pleasant feelings about our enemies. He said to “agape” (love) them which is done through kind acts. In fact, this kind of love often acts contrary to feelings. Doing good for our enemies does not normally fit in well with our feelings. We see agape love act contrary to feelings in John 3:16. God’s love (agape love) caused Him to act by sending Jesus to die for us. While Jesus wanted to find another way (Mt. 26:36-46), His love for humanity realized there was no other way (Rom. 5:6-11).
Agape is much harder to practice. It is harder because it does not always have emotions motivating it. Agape could be described as a character attribute, not an emotion. Agape chooses to be kind when others are unkind to you. It is not because you have warm fuzzy feelings, but because it’s the right thing.
Agape chooses to be patient with others in spite of their continual failures. It is not patient because it feels natural, but because it is the right thing to do. Agape does not think evil of others, even though some of their words or actions could easily be taken as intending evil. It chooses to think the best of others, even though it would be much easier and maybe more natural to think badly of others.
Agape is one of the most powerful influences on earth. It has converted countless numbers to Jesus. It has broken down racial barriers. It has mended countless broken relationships. Agape is not just a healer. Agape is a maintainer. Agape is the key to maintaining peace and unity. When a destructive battle is about to break out in a church, agape is the thing that can stop it. When a marriage is struggling, agape is what can keep it going. The next time one of your relationships is struggling or breaking, ask yourself if your love is agape, or if you’re relying solely on emotional love.
– Brandon Johnson
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