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Different Kinds of Love
by Ed Vasicek

Ancient New Testament Greek has about a 6,000-word vocabulary. Common English has a vocabulary of over 75,000 words (not including technical or rare terms). English has by far the broadest vocabulary of any language; my three-volume dictionary lists over 450,000 words! The vocabulary of modern English, for example, is about five times that of modern German.

As a result of such a massive vocabulary, the English language can offer nuances of meaning and word slants beyond the wildest dreams of any other language, including New Testament Greek. This is especially true regarding the common New Testament word for love, "agape." Contrary to what you may have heard, the word "agape" is not unique to the New Testament at all. It was used in common Greek language much as we would use our English "love." The other Greek word for love, "phileo," is truly a special word, but "phileo" is used sparingly in the New Testament and its meaning, "brotherly love," is self-explanatory. "Agape" can mean anything from "niceness" (as in 1 Corinthians 4:21) to the self-sacrificing love of God (John 3:16) and the whole spectrum in between.

In all languages, particularly those with a small vocabulary, words may change meaning depending upon their context. I could say, "The boy threw the ball," or "The princess went to the ball," or "The kids who went to Camp Emmanuel last week had a ball."  The context tells the reader which definition of "ball" I mean. Though the word "love" is not defined in radically different ways, the context does color the meaning of the word.

We do not love our enemy in the same way in which a man is to love his wife. The distinction is not determined by the word "love" but rather by its implications in the context. With that in mind, let me survey some of the key differences between several types of love in Scripture. I will use our vast English vocabulary to demonstrate what I believe to be the different natures of love.

  1. The love of God for us is the love of redemption. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.") God Himself becomes a man to die for our sins. We might call this the love that sacrifices oneself for another, the love that gives of oneself, or SACRIFICIAL LOVE.

  2. A man is to love his wife in a way that is also sacrificial, but there is an additional element in the love between spouses. We might call this love a BLENDING LOVE as two lovingly function as one. A man puts his wife above himself (Ephesians 5:25-28) while a woman tries to learn how to love her husband (Titus 2:4).

  3. The parent-child love and affection is described for us in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. ("But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.") We can call this a BONDING LOVE. The parent-child bond should change as the child matures; though it changes form it can remain deep. At marriage a child is to leave the authority of his or her parents and form a new family. Woe to the man or woman who puts parents above spouse. Such misdirection is not the result of a healthy bonding love which releases a child to adulthood.

  4. Then there is the love between siblings. Proverbs 17:17 is often misinterpreted, in my view, to teach the concept of sibling rivalry. I understand it to teach that brothers can be leaned upon during difficult times. ("A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.") We can call this a SUPPORTING LOVE or perhaps "a love of reliance."

  5. The love of close friends is a love many people sadly never experience. David and Jonathan were unique in this regard they exemplified an intense form of the LOVE OF COMRADERY. (1 Samuel 18:1 "After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathon became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.") Soldiers sometimes experience this love as they risk life and limb for a buddy. "He's not heavy, he's my brother."

  6. Fellow Christians are to be known for their love one for another (1 John 2:1016-18).  We are to do good to all, but fellow believers are a priority. (Galatians 6:10 "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.") This is FELLOWSHIP LOVE. We have the Lord in common, and His love binds us together. Incidentally, it is this type of love which is addressed in the famous "love" chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

  7. The Bible commands us to love our neighbor, as illustrated in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:36-37).  We could call this love a CONCERNED LOVE. Rather than pass by, we show a level of care.

  8. Last in my list is the command to love our enemies (Matthew 5:447:9 "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.") This command tells us to obey the Golden Rule even for those we do not get along with, those who have wronged us. Love in this case is certainly not a feeling, though in all of the above with the exception of loving our neighbor, perhaps feelings are involved. In reality, loving our enemy is a love in contradiction to our feelings. This love is the LOVE OF DUTY.


It isn't always easy to love others, but God demands nothing less. And we would be wise to make it easier for others to love us!

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