Love is one powerful emotion. It’s most likely love that gave every married couple the desire to spend the rest of their lives with each other. But love is so much more than a romantic desire. What is love?
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34
As we’ve looked the last two weeks at what the Bible teaches about our emotions and how they affect our marriages, we’ve learned that God created emotions to be an important part of our lives. But He did not design them to control us. He designed us to be in control of them.
This week we begin looking at some specific emotions and what the Bible has to say about them. And what better emotion to begin with than LOVE. After all, love and marriage go together, and this is the week of Valentine’s Day–when we take time to express our love for each other in special ways.
The emotion of love is from God, and it is important. But God intends love to be much more than an emotion. Only by understanding what God means by love can we have the marriage relationship He intends for us.
The World’s Idea of Love
The world looks at love as a feeling. Just take a look at some of the world’s love songs…
When I was a young teenager in 1968, B.J. Thomas sang “Hooked on a Feeling” by Mark James. The lyrics said: “I’m hooked on a feelin’, I’m high on believin’, that you’re in love with me.”
Earlier in 1964, The Righteous Brothers sang “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” You might remember it as the song Tom Cruise sang in the 1986 movie Top Gun. The words said: “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin…. Now it’s gone…gone…gone.”
And a song from my early adult era was “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling,” sung by Barry Manilow. It tells about how he’s lost the feeling of love for his woman and wants to get it back. He sang the feeling “seemed to disappear as fast as it came.”
Wow. That’s the problem when love is only viewed as a feeling or emotion. It can come and go on a whim.
When we base our love on emotion alone, we might end up thinking like the man in Luther Ingram’s hit song of 1972: “If Loving You is Wrong.” In the song he’s a married man with two little kids in love with another woman. Just listen to these lyrics: “If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”
Unfortunately, I have heard words like these too often from a husband or wife in marriage counseling. I’ll hear how they have “fallen in love” with someone at work or somewhere else. They say something like, “I can’t help how I feel.”
Friends, this thinking comes from the satanic lie that we have no control over our emotions. But that is not the truth we find in God’s Word. It is not the truth God teaches us about love.
The Truth about Love…from God’s Word
The Bible is much more specific about love than we are in our American culture. We men may use the word love to describe how we feel about our wives and use that same word to describe how much we like a good steak. And a wife may say, “I love my husband,” and also say, “I love those shoes I saw today.” Let’s hope we don’t mean the same thing, but we do often use the same word–love.
The Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, is much more precise. There are four Greek words that are typically translated “love” in English. Three of these are used in the New Testament.
Four Types of Love
1 – Phileo
The first type of love is phileo, which is used to describe affection or fondness. It has been called “brotherly love.” A good way to describe this kind of love is to feel a deep connection with someone so that we desire to help, encourage, and show kindness to them.
One example of phileo in the New Testament is found in the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When Lazarus becomes very ill, his sisters send for Jesus and say, “Lord, the one you love is sick” (John 11:3, bold mine). Jesus loved this family as He would love his own brothers and sisters.
2 – Storge
A second Greek word for love is storge. It means to feel obligated to someone or something because we care for them. I might say, “I love my dog.” My dog brings me companionship, protects me, and shows me affection (or what seems like affection). So I care for him and show him affection in return.
This word is not used often in Scripture, but one reference is found in Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in love“ (bold mine).
3 – Eros
A third word in Greek that is often translated love is eros. We derive the word “erotic” from it, which gives a good understanding of its meaning. It is a passion that seizes and absorbs into the mind. It impacts the body and feelings. We may say “I love you,” but we really mean “You make me feel good.”
This kind of love is based on some characteristic in the other person that pleases us and attracts us to them. But if that characteristic ceases, then the eros–or love–ceases.
This is the type of love we think of most often in our culture when we say we love someone. It’s what we most often refer to as romantic love–a love totally dependent upon attraction and feeling. Therefore, eros love is completely conditional.
The word eros is never found in the New Testament. I believe this is because biblical love is not, at first, physical. Biblical love is first an action from which our feelings of love flow. This then leads to the physical acts of love reserved for the covenant relationship between husband and wife.
4 – Agape
The fourth Greek word translated love is the word we find most often in Scripture. It is the most important word for understanding marital love. It is the word agape.
Agape love does not depend on the merit or worth of the other person. It begins in the truth that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). This love continues even when the one being loved does not return that love–when they are unkind, unlovable, and unworthy. It is a love that always and only desires the best for the other person. Agape love has a consuming passion for the other person’s well-being and delights in giving, wanting nothing in return.
Agape love is unconditional love.
This is the word used for the love God the Father has for us. The best-known usage of this word is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (bold mine). Does there need to be any better definition for agape love than this?
Because this is the love God has for us, we must have this same love for each other. We’re told in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” And Jesus said in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (bold mine).
The apostle Paul writes specifically about agape love in his Ephesians passage on marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25, bold mine).
The Bible is clear. Husbands and wives are to love each other with the agape love of God.
Our agape love for each other as a husband and wife will lead to phileo, storge, and even eros love for each other. But our love will be so much more than these things. It will be far greater than just feeling or emotion. And it will not disappear when we become angry or feel unappreciated.
When we love with agape love, our actions will be selfless, caring, and not dependent on how we feel.
How can I not show love to my wife, no matter how I feel, after what God has done for me?
This is a question I need to keep at the forefront of my thoughts at all times. It’s a question all of us who are married need to keep front and center.
God’s love for us is unconditional and unchanging. When we love our spouses with this kind of agape love, God will draw us ever closer together toward the sweet oneness He designed for our marriage.
Questions for Discussion
♦ Read this week’s teaching together. What truths did God reveal to you about the emotion of love and how it applies to your marriage?
♦ Discuss the four different types of love mentioned and how each impacts your marriage.
♦ Spend time discussing agape love. How do you see agape love evident in your marriage? Talk about how each of you has experienced this type of love from God.
♦ To understand agape–God’s love–better, imagine a situation where you could choose to save the life of another person, but at the cost of your spouse’s life. What would you do? This is what God did for you when He sent Jesus to earth to die for your sins.
♦ In light of what God has done for you through Christ and the cross, ask yourself two questions:
◊ Is there anything you can do now to lose God’s love, knowing His love is unconditional?
◊ Is there anything your husband or wife can do to lose your love? Is your love unconditional, like God’s or does your spouse have to earn it?
♦ Close your time together by praying that God will help you live with agape love for each other, by the power of His Holy Spirit. Ask Him to help you show each other this love in word and action.
◊ When we are saved through faith in Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit–who brings His fruit into our lives. And the first fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is love–agape love. We can pray with confidence that God will help us love like this. He promises in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”
If you are not a believer and have never received Jesus as your Savior, it will be difficult to love this way. Find out more about God’s love for you here: Meet Jesus.
Next week we’ll discuss another emotion we all deal with in our marriages–FEAR.
Until then, may God bless you and your marriage in all His wonderful ways,
Other posts in the MARRIAGE AND OUR EMOTIONS series:
Part 1: More Than a Feeling
Part 2: What Can You Trust?
Part 4: About Fear
Part 5: About Joy
Part 6: About Anger
Part 7: About Peace
All Scripture is from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Photo by AndyTriggerRaw via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.