Allow me to say at the very outset that biblical love is a terribly misunderstood and perverted subject. Love as taught in the Bible is not simply a sentiment, platitude, or indefinable emotion. Love is not a warm spot in one's chest to which one can point and identify "salvation." In this study, we shall consider biblical love (mostly the noun agape and the verb agapao). We shall divide our study into four primary sections: The excellence of love; marvels of love; presence and absence of love; and love, misdirected and rightly directed. Let us begin with a dictionary definition of love. W. E. Vine states the following lengthy but substantive comments regarding agapao and agape (love):
"Verb, agapao and the corresponding noun agape (B, No. 1 below) present the characteristic word of Christianity, and since the Spirit of revelation has used it to express ideas previously unknown, inquiry into its use, whether in Greek literature or in the Septuagint, throws but little light upon its distinctive meaning in the NT. Cp., however, Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5. Agape and agapao are used in the NT (a) to describe the attitude of God toward His Son, John 17:26; the human race, generally, John 3:16; Rom 5:8; and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly, John 14:21; (b) to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one toward another, John 13:34, and toward all men, 1 Thess. 3:12; 1 Cor. 16:14; 2 Pet. 1:7 . Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God's love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9,10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Rom. 5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself, Cp. Deut. 7:7,8. Love had its perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 2:4; 3:19; 5:2; Christian love is the fruit of His Spirit in the Christian, Gal. 5:22 . In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant "love" and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential "love" in them towards the Giver, and a practical "love" towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver. See BELOVED" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
The excellence of biblical love. The excelling nature of biblical love is repeatedly taught in the scriptures. Love is the "first and great commandment" upon which all other laws and requirements depend (Matt. 22: 34-40). Love motivates required obedience (Heb. 5: 8, 9; John 14: 23, Gal. 5: 6). The expression "labor of love" is simply labor that love produces (I Thes. 1: 3). Christians are to serve one another by love (Gal. 5: 13). Love works no ill toward one's neighbor and produces confidence (Rom. 13: 10; I Jn. 4: 17, 18). Paul summed up the excellence of love when he wrote thus, "And above all these things put on charity (love, agape, dm), which is the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3: 14).
The marvels of love. The agape love of the New Testament is unparalleled. Man has no love on his own that even comes close to duplicating biblical love. Biblical love is so both qualitative and quantitative that it produces many marvels. It is, for instance, a marvel that God loves man when man is a sinner (Rom. 5: 8). One of the most moving yet profound statements of the Bible is John 3: 16. God gave his only Son for the world, what a marvel! Biblical love cannot love opposites, according to Jesus (Matt. 6: 24). You see, true love is so strong, pure, and single in nature and direction that it will not allow or admit anything opposite (how contrary to modern thinking). Love demands the truth and hates that which is false (Ps. 119: 104). New Testament love also requires that we love our enemies (Matt. 5: 44). Biblical love elevates the husband's affections for his wife to the point of loving his wife "as his own body" (Eph. 5: 25-29). These are just a few features of love that cause us to marvel.
The presence and absence of love. As we saw in Vine's definition of biblical love, love has a strong presence and will necessarily manifest itself in certain behavior. Consider Paul's teaching regarding love:
"1: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2: And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4: Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5: Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6: Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7: Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
Paul's text is a graphic presentation of the characteristics of biblical love. He began by showing the utter futility of the absence of love. Regardless of the extent of the accomplishment or sacrifice, without love it is a wasted effort. When love is present, there is longsuffering, kindness, rejoicing in the truth, bearing all things, believing, hoping, and enduring all things will been seen. To the converse, there is no envy, egotism, improper conduct, selfishness, irritability, and thinking of evil.
Love, misdirected and rightly directed. Even though the Bible is very plain in its teaching regarding love, man still misdirects love. Properly directed love is toward God, God's commands, the truth, and our neighbor (Matt. 22: 37; Ps. 119: 127; 2 Thes. 2: 10-12; Matt. 22: 39). Christians are to love their enemies and the brotherhood (Matt. 5: 43, 44; I Pet. 2: 17).
Man wastes love when he loves darkness, pleasure, and human praise (Jn. 3: 19, 20; 2 Tim. 3: 4; Jn. 12: 42, 43). Man often expresses his love toward self, preeminence, and earthly riches (2 Tim. 3: 2; 3 Jn. 9; I Tim. 6: 10, 17). You see, man is held responsible by God regarding how he develops and directs his love.
In closing, we have seen that biblical love does not seek its own but the well being of the object or person loved. Please consider additional comments from W. E.Vine:
" Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God. Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all, Rom. 15:2, and works no ill to any, 13:8-10; love seeks opportunity to do good to 'all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,' Gal. 6:10. See further 1 Cor. 13 and Col. 3:12-14." * [* From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, p. 105.] ."
We saw this unselfish love ultimately manifested in God's love for man. We have observed that desired love is never passive and inactive. Love actually serves as the motivation for faith that prevails (Gal. 5: 6). Those who attempt to separate or make antagonistic "love" and "commandments" grievously err. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments," John exclaimed, "and his commandments are not grievous" (I Jn. 5: 3, see I Jn. 2: 3-6). In view of biblical love, it is not surprising that God's essential nature is that of love (I Jn. 4: 8). (For related reading, click on the following: "Speaking the Truth in Love.")