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.
My friend and author David Pawson explains “agape” love in his book, Is John 3:16 the Gospel?
[Agape] is the love of action. In other words, ‘eros’ is centered in the heart, ‘phileo’ in the mind, but ‘agape’ is centered in the will. The nearest English word I can get to ‘agape’ is care. To care for someone means giving them two things: your attention and your action. It is to do something loving on their behalf. Essentially, it is a response to someone’s need. It is neither a response to their attractiveness nor a response to things which may interest them. To act in agape love is to respond to someone else’s need, pay attention to that need, and then do something about it.
The kind of love Paul lists as fruit of the Spirit is a love of will and action. It’s a love that would sacrifice itself to come to the rescue of others. It’s the same love Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about; “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” (John 3:16).
Paul tried to show the early believers that no matter what else they considered a sign of being godly, if they didn’t have love they were wasting their time. He told them that they could display all the gifts of the Spirit; they could speak in tongues, they could prophecy, they could have all the wisdom and knowledge and power in the world, they could give all their money to the poor and sacrifice their lives, but if they didn’t possess love (agape) it would all be for nothing.