Summary: In English we use the word “love” to convey a lot of different meanings, from I “love” hotdogs, to I “love” the guys on my bowling team, to the sign on that seedy little video store on the west side of town called the “Love Shop,” to “For God so loved the
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
I was beginning to wonder if spending nine weeks exploring the fruit of the Spirit might be a little too preachy, a little too much like I was giving a sermon instead of writing about purpose and human potential. The fruit of the Spirit includes some wonderful character traits, but is it really on topic for this newsletter?
When I started reading Paul’s introduction to the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, I realized that he was writing about freedom; escaping the slavery that prevents us from accomplishing our purpose and embracing the freedom to become whole, fully-realized human beings – as God intended us. That’s about as on-topic for our weekly Purpose letter as I can imagine.
When we talk about “love” in the New Testament, we always have to start out with a Greek lesson. The New Testament was written in Greek and then translated into other languages; ours being English. The thing is, the Greek words the New Testament writers used don’t always have an English equivalent that’s going to accurately and fully convey the meaning the writer was trying to get across. “Love” may be the best example in the New Testament. In fact, “love” may be the most important word in the New Testament.
In English we use the word “love” to convey a lot of different meanings, from I “love” hotdogs, to I “love” the guys on my bowling team, to the sign on that seedy little video store on the west side of town called the “Love Shop,” to “For God so loved the world…”.
It can get a little confusing. That’s why the Greeks had different words for all those meanings of “love” … and that’s why we need a Greek lesson before we start to consider what the New Testament means when it speaks of “love.”
“Epithumia” is a Greek word that could be translated “love” in English. “Epithumia” means “craving, a desire for what is forbidden, lust.” It’s what that guy at the video store was thinking when he ordered his sign. When the Bible uses “epithumia” it’s not a good thing and certainly not what Paul was talking about as fruit of the Spirit.
“Eros” means “erotic or sexual love.” “Eros” isn’t in the same irredeemable league as “epithumia.” It still has mainly to do with sex, but is can mean the romantic and intimate love between man and wife. Not altogether bad, but not a word used in the Bible, so we’ll move on.
Of the two words used to convey “love” as we generally understand it, “phileo” would be the meaning we use most commonly as part of our everyday life. “Phileo” means “to approve of, to like, to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend, to be fond of doing.” When I say that I “love” hotdogs and I “love” the guys on my bowling team, I’m talking about “phileo.” It’s a nice word, but not fruit of the Spirit.
“Agapao” (or “agape”) is what the Bible says we should have as a result of God’s Spirit living inside of us. “Agapao” wasn’t used much in Greek culture at the time the New Testament books were written; it was more of a “church” word. Believers used “agapao” to express the unconditional love God has shown to us in Christ and that believers should show toward their brothers.