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Holman Bible Dictionary
In the Old Testament In the Old Testament, the verb "to love" has a range of meanings as broad as the English verb. It describes physical love between the sexes, even sexual desire (Judges 16:14; 2 Samuel 13:1-4 ). It describes the love within a family and among friends (Genesis 22:1-2 ). Love as self-giving appears in the significant commandment that Israelites love the stranger. The basis for such selfless love is God's act of redemption (Leviticus 19:33-34 ).
Hosea used the image of married love to teach us to understand both the faithlessness of Israel and the faithfulness of God. Israel's love is "like a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away" (Hosea 6:4 ). God desires steadfast love, but Israel had been unfaithful. His own relationship with an adulterous wife allowed Hosea the insight that God had not given up Israel in spite of her faithlessness. The Shema (Hebrew for "hear") of Deuteronomy 6:4-6 is echoed in Paul's declaration that love is the fulfillment of the law ( Romans 13:10 ).
In the Teachings of Jesus In Jesus' teachings in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Shema of Deuteronomy (the command to love God) is united with Leviticus 19:8 ("Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself") ( Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28 ). Just before the parable of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer quoted the two commands to love and then asked Jesus: "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29 ) Jesus gave the story of the Samaritan who took care of the man who fell among robbers to illustrate the selfless love which is to be characteristic of citizens of the Kingdom.
In Matthew 5:43-48 , Jesus gave the radical command to love one's enemies and to pray for those who persecute. Loving only those who love you is, according to Jesus, no better than those who are not His disciples. The love that Jesus' disciples have for others is to be just as complete as God's love (Matthew 5:48; compare Romans 5:8 ).
In these teachings, of course, the selfless love is a response to God's prior activity. It is a way of living expected of those who are citizens of the Kingdom. The teachings of Jesus on love of enemy, it will be noted, are a part of the Sermon on the Mount which is directed to Christian disciples. See Sermon on the Mount .
In the Teachings of Paul In the poem on love in 1 Corinthians 13:1 , Paul associated love with the all-important biblical words of faith and hope (see also 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Galatians 5:6 ) and declared love the greatest. The context for this poem on love is Paul's discussion of relationships within the church. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 indicate that the gifts of the Spirit (ecstatic speech, wisdom, faith, and self-sacrifice) are good for nothing without love; only love builds up. The Spirit distributes His gifts for the common good ( 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:7 ). 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 characterizes love: Love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. Love is not selfish, irritable, or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrong but in the right. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.
Finally, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 contrasts love with preaching and knowledge, on the one hand, and faith and hope, on the other. All of these (with love) are important aspects of our lives here and now. Love in contrast to these, however, is not only for the here and now; it is forever. Love, therefore, is "the greatest" of the most significant realities we experience as Christians.
Paul's understanding and discussion of love make love a central theme, and his use of the noun agape makes that term almost a technical term. Prior to Paul, in fact, the Greek term agape was little used. Instead of using a word for love already filled with meaning, Paul took the seldom-used term and filled it with Christian meaning. This love of which Paul wrote is somewhat different from the love we normally experience and speak about. Christian love is not simply an emotion which arises because of the character of the one loved. It is not due to the loving quality of the lover. It is a relationship of self-giving which results from God's activity in Christ. The source of Christian love is God ( Romans 5:8 ), and the believer's response of faith makes love a human possibility (Romans 5:5 ).
Even though love does not begin in the human heart, the believer must actualize love. In Paul's admonition to Christians to love, the nature of love as self-giving is manifest (Galatians 5:13-15 ). The Christian walk is to be characterized by love so that Paul could even speak of "walking in love" (Romans 14:15 ). The Christian is to increase and abound in love (1 Thessalonians 3:12 ).
Love is vitally connected with faith in that the believer's faithful response is one of love. Love is also connected with hope. In his prayer for love to increase and abound, Paul indicated that this increase of love has the end that the hearts of Christians might be established "unblameable in holiness" before God when Jesus returns with all his saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ). Paul also wrote of the hope we have of sharing the glory of God and declared that this hope does not disappoint us, because our hearts have been filled with God's love through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:2 ,Romans 5:2,5:5 ). Christian love is evidence of and a foretaste of the goal of God's purposes for His children.
In the Writings of John The Johannine writings magnify the significance of love as forcefully and fully as any other writings. John's writings account for only one tenth of the New Testament but provide one third of the references to love.
The key text in the first half of the Gospel of John is John 3:16 . This passage indicates the relationship of the Father's love to the work of Christ and of both to the life of believers. These themes are repeated throughout the Gospel of John. The second half of the Gospel of John emphasizes the ethical dimension of love among Christians. The key passage is Jesus' new commandment in John 13:34-35 (sec also John 14:15 ,John 14:15,14:21 ,John 14:21,14:23-24; John 15:9 ,John 15:9,15:12 ,John 15:12,15:17 ).
This command of Jesus to love one another gives us insight into the nature of Jesus Christ for the church and the nature of Christian love. What is commanded is not an emotion; it is the disciplined will to seek the welfare of others. Jesus speaks with the authority of the Father, the only One with authority to make such demands of men and women. Jesus speaks as the incarnate Word (John 1:1 ,John 1:1,1:14 ). He has authority to give conditions for discipleship. The relationship of this commandment to Leviticus 19:18 should be noted. Both command love, but Jesus' commandment includes the clause: "as I have loved you."
When the overall importance of love in the Gospel of John is seen, the dialogue between Jesus and Peter concerning Peter's love for Jesus and Peter's tending the sheep (Leviticus 21:15-17 ) becomes more significant. Our love for Jesus Christ is closely related to our fulfillment of the pastoral task.
The Letters of John make explicit statements about the ethical implications of love. Our appreciation of these letters and the command to love is increased when we realize that John's opponents claimed that they loved God in spite of their unlovely temper and conduct. They claimed enlightenment and communion with God. (They were Gnostics or "Knowers." See 1 John 3:23 ). This love is be manifested in deeds (1 John 3:18 ). John left no doubt about the relationship of love and belief in God. Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness (1 John 2:9 ). Whoever does not do right and love his brother is not of God (1 John 4:20 ). 1 John 4:8 is the climax: "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love."
In 2,3John this command to love is repeated in direct and indirect ways. 2 John 1:5-6 is addressed to the church, and they are explicitly reminded of the command from Jesus to love one another. 3 John 1:5-6 speaks of the love of the "Beloved Gaius" in terms of giving service to Christian brothers. Diotrephes, however, will live in infamy, for he put himself first, refused to welcome the brethren, stopped those who wanted to welcome the brethren, and put them out of the church ( 3 John 1:9-10 ).
Love and Judgment The judgment account in Matthew 25:31-46 illuminates and is illuminated by the New Testament teachings on love. The account depicts not only what happens at the end. The narrative makes plain that what happens at the end is what happens here and now. Christians love because they have been loved. In such love, God's eternal purposes are being experienced and carried out by his people ( Matthew 25:34-36 ).
Edgar V. McKnight
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Love'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/l/love.html. 1991.