Posted by: davidbowerkingwood | August 25, 2011

The Greatest of These is Love

The word love in the English language is very broad in its applications; one can love bananas, apples, cats, dogs, people, and God among many other things. Generally the only way one can understand how the word is being used is to hear the context of the word.

When one says I love bananas no one thinks that this love will be an enduring long-term relationship; rather one eats the banana and throws the skin away. The same thing applies to the apple and the apple core; part is eaten the balance is disposed of.

Hopefully something entirely different is intended when one says I love my wife or other members of the family or perhaps a dear friend, but only the context can provide a more precise meaning.

One of the beauties of the Koine Greek language, the original language of the New Testament, is its precision and the wealth of its vocabulary. There are three forms of the word love that appear in the New Testament; each has its own meaning and more precisely expresses the intentions of the Holy Spirit.

The most frequently occurring form is the word transliterated agapao which is found around 320 times in the New Testament in one of its many forms. The second most frequently used is phileo which occurs around 45 times in the New Testament. The phileo form is the familiar “brotherly love” from which we get the name Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.

The Lord provides a marvelous assist to understanding His usage of the word agapao when, in I Corinthians 13:4-7 He provides a definition for us to read. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;  bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In the margin of my study Bible I have written, “Attitudinal love, not emotional love.” There is no reference to emotional love contained in this definition. We are not commanded to develop an emotional attachment to everyone we meet; this is not possible.

No matter how hard we try we will simply not be able to do it; there will always be some individual toward whom it is impossible for us to develop a positive emotional response.

You may recall in the older King James Version the word was translated charity; in this context it is probably the better translation. While it may be impossible to feel an emotional warmth toward every other human being, we can maintain a charitable attitude toward every other person.

Over the years I have watched as well meaning Christians tried to develop a positive emotional response to every other person; without exception they have failed, and in at least one instance with fatal consequences.

I believe, however, that all Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, can develop and maintain the attitudinal love described in I Corinthians 13:4-7.

Paul concludes the 13th chapter with the words of the title, “the greatest of these is love.” Once we have joined our Lord in heaven we will not need faith for we will be eternally in the presence of the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We will not need to hope because we will be living the actuality in our eternity with our Lord. We will however still love in both the phileo and agapao sense of the word as we enjoy our new lives free of sin.

As we love others we develop a better understanding of how God loves us. As we love God’s created beings it clarifies in our minds the love God has for us. It is gratifying to realize that if we, with our flawed natures, can love God’s creation, how much more does God really love us.

 This thought blesses me every day and is the rightful privilege of everyone who loves God.


  1. Christianity has brought me a peacefulness and feeling of care for others I never had before. David’s article explains this to me. Thank you David.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: