The word love has many meanings. In fact, in the New Testament a number of Greek words have been translated into the word “love” in English. The various Greek words refer to romantic love, family love, charity, friendship, etc. Perhaps the most famous Bible verses on love come from 1 John 4:7-12. In the NIV this reads:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
The word for love used more than ten times in these verses as a verb, noun, or adjective have their roots in the Greek word agapaō. This generally refers to one person dearly loving another person or persons in the sense of intense fondness or selflessness.
I was recently asked to write an article that included the topic of love. As I did so, I felt I should offer a definition of the word so that readers would understand what I meant when I used it. I’ve actually thought about this a good deal over the years, and thus used what’s come to be my own definition of love. My working definition of what it means to love another person is to want the best for that individual. This generally involves putting the needs of another before one’s own, and doing so at a significant cost.
A great example is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus does a wonderful job illustrating love as he answered someone who questioned him. In the ESV, the account is recorded as follows:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
It’s evident in this parable that the Good Samaritan loved the man who was wounded. Whereas the Priest and Levite simply passed him, the Samaritan wanted the best for the man. He placed the injured man’s needs before his own at significant cost.
Sometimes the costs involved in love are financial. More often, however, the costs involve something else. For example, sometimes first responders or those who serve in the military help others at the cost of their own lives. There’s no question that such an act involves a high degree of love for others.
Perhaps the cost of love that most of us are most familiar with involves an emotional cost. This is often the case as we love our children. Yes, we often sacrifice financially for them, yet especially when they’re young we pay an emotional price for having to discipline them when it’s necessary. As they grow, we pay an emotional price as we hurt with them when they struggle in various ways or have to face the hard challenges of life. We often spent a great deal of emotional and even physical strength as we pray for our children.
There’s no question that to genuinely love another involves great cost. And yet, the costs we pay cannot compare with what it cost God to offer Jesus on our behalf. Not being one with God the Father and not knowing what it’s like to be without sin, we cannot fully know the emotional and spiritual costs involved in what Jesus did for us. We can only respond in love and with thanksgiving by seeking God’s forgiveness through him and following Jesus as our Lord.
Yes, to love involves great costs. And yet, nothing in this world could return such dividends. To live a life genuinely seeking to love others, whether they return our love or not, is to live as God intended us to live. And loving God by receiving Jesus fulfills God’s highest purpose for us.
So what does love mean to you? We encourage you to spend some time to think through your own definition of what it means to love others. Doing so helps us to see the world differently than we otherwise would, and helps us to be aware of the many needs that surround us each day. May God grant that we know how to love others well as we journey through this life. Amen!