Everyone knows what "love" means, but we all find it hard to define. In the Bible, there are about six hundred and fifteen pages about "love", but the number of pages on the internet that deal with it runs well into the millions. Content that includes the word "love" will cover a wide range, from intimate encounters to people who "love" New York, dogs, cats, or numerous other animals; a "Love Calculator"; love spells or "love language". In fact, if you simply search a phrase such as “love of God”, you will get over three million results. These cover topics such as "prayer", "praise", "love in the Qur’an", a litany written by Pope Pius VI and so on. We can say that we "love" another person and then use the same word in our language to describe how we feel about our cat, a dress or a favourite meal.

As we look at what God wanted to say through this wonderful little letter of "1 John", the emphasis will be on "love" from the One who is Love personified. We trust that, when we have finished our study, led by the Holy Spirit Himself, we will have great victory in all our relationships - especially our relationship with God Himself. "That we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)

What is love?

The Greek language (in which the New Testament section of the Bible was written) uses these four words for "love":

Agape – Unconditional, undeserved love; an act of the will according to the word of God. The feelings come after we put His love into action. This is the love that God showed in giving up His only Son, Jesus, to leave His side and come to earth as the "Holy Lamb". He allowed Him to be sacrificed to take the sin of the whole world, so that the Father could restore fellowship with His creation after Adam had given  it up and broken it. “Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example] as well-beloved children [imitate their Father]. And walk in love, [esteeming and delighting in one another] as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a slain offering and sacrifice to God [for you, so that it became] a sweet fragrance.” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Amplified Bible)

Phileo – Reciprocal love involving emotions. It is love based on giving and receiving one another; a sisterhood or friendship. “Jesus said to Simon Peter: 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these [others do – with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father - agape]?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [that I have deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend - phileo].' He said to him, 'Feed My lambs.' Again He said to him the second time: 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father - agape]?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, You know that I love You [that I have a deep instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend - phileo].' He said to him, 'Shepherd [tend] My sheep. He said to him the third time: 'Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend – phileo]?' Peter was grieved [was saddened and hurt] that He should ask him the third time, 'Do you love Me?'. He said to Him: 'Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [that I have a deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend, phileo].' Jesus said to him, 'Feed My sheep.'" (John 21:15-17 Amplified Bible)

Storge – This is family love, between fathers, sons, mothers and daughters. (2 Timothy 3:3) “Love one another with brotherly affection [as members of one family], giving precedence and showing honour to one another. Never lag in zeal and in earnest endeavour; be aglow and burning with the Spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:10-11)

Eros - Love expressed sexually between husband and wife. “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice. Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue.” (Song of Songs 4:9-11)

God’s love ("agape") is seen in Jesus

  • He loved not His life unto death. (Revelation 12:11)
  • The love of God was shed abroad in His heart by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5)
  • He overcame the world. (Revelation 3:21)
  • He had no fear. (1 John 4:18)
  • He had no sickness. (Exodus 15:26)
  • He walked in the covenant of Deuteronomy, chapters 28 and 29.
  • Satan had no authority over Him. (1 Corinthians 15:24)
  • He never failed. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
  • He recognised who was behind His difficulties. (John 10:10)
  • He made Himself obedient to death. (Philippians 2:8)
  • He knew the love of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Who do we love?

We are called to love God primarily for who He is; for His presence not His presents. "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." (1 John 4:10-12) We have to receive love in order to give love. Let's take these wonderful verses from 1 John as our focus over the next few weeks, meditating on them and burning their message into our hearts: “God loves me.” Then our lives will be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples: if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) As the love of God ("agape") grows in us for all people, our witness will be powerful and God will draw people to Himself.

How do we love?

  • When we walk in love, we have certain obligations:
  • We must be the first to repent; (Acts 3:19)
  • We put God's word first, not our feelings. (Psalm 119:105)
  • We obey His word. (Matthew 4:4)
  • We guard our mouths. (Ephesians 4:31)
  • We do not fear what people can do to us. (Luke 12:4-6)
  • We fear God. (Psalm 147:11)
  • We do not stay in wilful sin. (1 John 3:21-22)
  • We are determined to strengthen ourselves with love; to go out and serve the unworthy and selfish. (1 Corinthians 16:14)
  • We develop all our talents so that we can be of benefit to those who have very little. (Colossians 3:12-14)

A final prayer

This enormous, endless subject of "love" will be developed in further studies. There are just a few verses being looked at each week, so that we can dig deeper into what God wants to say to us and so that we can be wise women of God who apply, daily, all that we are learning. Take time to pray now. Read the prayer first, choosing the parts that are relevant to your situation.

"In Jesus’ name, I make a fresh and strong commitment today to live the life of love; to let the tenderness of God flow through me and heal the wounded hearts of those I meet. Father, teach me to love, even when things go wrong; to be patient and kind when the children are underfoot; to overlook the spiteful words of my angry spouse; to rejoice when someone gets something I was wanting. Teach me to talk in love; to lay gossip quietly aside and to take up words of grace instead. Lord, Your word says that Your love is already inside me, that it has been "shed abroad in my heart". So, today, I resolve to remove every obstacle that would keep that love from flowing freely into the lives of others. I put resentments behind me and I forgive all those who have done me wrong. In the days ahead, cause me to increase and excel and overflow with Your love. Cause me to be what this world needs most of all: a living example of love. Amen."

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