Love: Our Most Overused and Undervalued Word

Pastor Blake WilliamsPastor Blake Williams
Missions & Outreach Pastor, Shiloh Community Church

It is estimated that the English language has around one million words. With the plethora of vocabulary available to us you would think that our ability to communicate affection would be seemingly limitless. However, we have put very strict limits on ourselves and commonly use one word to describe our affections for a range of things from food trucks to our spouses. Love. When set next to each other it seems ridiculous that we would use the same word to describe our deepest sentiments for those closest to us as we would a $10 waffle, yet this is what we do.

In the Greek language there are far fewer words; some estimate only 8,000 at the time the New Testament was written; and yet, they had 6 variations of the word love.

Eros was named after the Greek god of fertility and was tied specifically to the reckless sexual passion that was common in the Greek world.

Philia was used to describe friendship and is where we get the name for Philadelphia the city of brotherly love.

Philautia while having the same root was drastically different; it was known as the love of self. Greeks realized many centuries ago what we’re seeing at record levels now, people love themselves first and foremost.

Ludus is a playful love typically experienced by young immature people who believe they have “fallen in love.”

Although these four types are important, the type of love we long for is a combination of these last two:

Agape love is best described as selfless and unconditional love. This is the type of love spoken of in the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage. It is the type of love Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross.

Pragma love is mature or longstanding love. This is the type of love experienced by those who have developed deep and abiding relationship with one another.

When I studied this list I thought about how shallow our understanding of love truly is. If given the chance to define love, most of us would struggle to come up with a coherent answer. Some might give the cliché “church” answer, “God is love.” While that is true, it doesn’t give us a real description of what love is or how we do it well.

Yet God’s Word has plenty to say about it. Philia, Eros, and Agape are used in the Greek translation of the Bible and are used often. Most current translations have some form of the word love in them over 400 times.

Some of the most popular passages we know have to do with God’s love for us:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

And even passages that don’t use the word love, often describe acts of love by God towards His people.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you where you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

This isn’t so much a post about how to love like God, but rather about the language we choose to use when describing Him to others. When we talk about love, let us be discerning in how we use it. Let us not water down the meaning of such a powerful word. Use the creative capacity that God gave you and the vast assortment of words available to formulate meaningful dialogue. When given the chance to describe a favorite food, a new piece of clothing, or some technology; choose your words carefully. But when given a chance to describe God, know that the less you have watered down the meaning of the word love in your vocabulary, the more meaningful it will be in your description of your heavenly Father.