Some Christians may be flummoxed by the question “What is love?” Where do you start? Can such an elemental thing be “defined”?
But others may have heard that the answer has something to do with the four Greek words for love: agape, philia, eros, and storge. Agape in particular is generally believed to hold the hidden key to the meaning of Christian love. In this common view, the Greek term agape means a non-emotional choice to sacrifice oneself for another person regardless of his or her value. What is love? It’s an action, many people say, and not an emotion.
For evidence, many people point to the passage you read yesterday, 1 Corinthians 13. They’ll say that love there is “an action verb,” that the kind of love Paul discusses is visible like an action, not invisible like a feeling.
I asked you yesterday, “What does the Bible say about the concept of love?,” and I sent you not only to Paul’s rich descriptions of love in 1 Corinthians 13 but to Christ’s statement in Matthew 22 that love for God and neighbor are the most important commandments in the law.
So what do you think? Is love an action in those passages, and a non-emotional action at that?
Jesus says in Matthew 22 that you must love God “with all your heart.” Does that sound non-emotional? He says you must love your neighbor “as yourself.” Do you merely perform actions for yourself without personal feeling—combing your hair, preparing your meals—or do you actually care what you look like and what you eat? In other words, are your emotions engaged? If they are, Jesus says your love for your neighbor is supposed to match that love.
Paul said you can give up your body to be burned and give away all your goods to feed the poor. Those are actions. But he said you can do those things without love, as if love properly goes beneath action, as if love drives action. Yes, the love of 1 Corinthians 13 results in things that can be “seen, experienced, and demonstrated.” But don’t personal feelings fit those three descriptors?
Go back and re-read the “love chapter” you read yesterday. This time, look for emotion in Paul’s description of love. In my judgment, emotion shows up in every key description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. What is love? It can’t be just “action.” Love includes emotions, feelings, affections. See this for yourself.
If you want to learn more about Bible study, you can sign up for our 30-Day Challenge here.