In the English language, the word love has many meanings. Sometimes we use it for trivial pleasures like a love of ice cream, or it can be equated with romantic feelings of falling in love. However, if we hope to understand what love truly is, we must understand how God defines it. In the New Testament, there are four different Greek terms used for our English word love, and the highest and most noble form is called agape.
“One who has been touched by grace will no longer look on those who stray as ‘those evil people’ or ‘those poor people who need our help.’ Nor must we search for signs of ‘loveworthiness.’ Grace teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are. Categories of worthiness do not apply.”
Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
This chapter is the Bible’s longest and most detailed description of agape love. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on the positive characteristics of love mentioned in this passage and examine some Greek definitions to enrich our understanding.
“[Love] is the highest, the pinnacle. It is not the foundation—that is faith. Just as a rose in full bloom is greater than the stem that bears it, so, whilst faith is most needful, and hope most cheering, love is the most beautiful and brightest of the three.”
Love is patient. Makrothymeó is a compound word that means “long-suffering,” or “patient.” It’s the opposite of responding in anger and is often associated with mercy. Patience is the quality of self-restraint in human relationships. In the face of provocation, love is forbearing and does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish an offense.
Love is kind. Chrésteuomai is a spirit of gentleness and graciousness, which acts benevolently by looking for ways to be useful and helpful.
Love rejoices with the truth. Sugchairó means “to rejoice with others.” Genuine love celebrates when God’s truth penetrates a heart, resulting in sincerity and integrity of character.
Love bears all things. Stegó “covers over with silence.” Instead of making another person’s faults and errors public, agape builds a roof to protect a fallen brother or sister from shame and ridicule. “Love covers a multitude of sins” with the goal of restoration, not condemnation (1 Peter 4:8).
Love believes all things. Pisteuó places confidence and trust in others. It’s not gullibility but a choice to think the best of someone rather than the worst.
Love hopes all things. Elpizó confidently anticipates a person’s spiritual victory regardless of present imperfections. Genuine love believes in God’s power to transform a life.
Love endures all things. Hupomenó means to abide or remain under ill-treatment or trials while holding fast to faith. It bears burdens calmly and bravely without giving up.
1 Corinthians 13 is a commonly cited passage of Scripture. Among its diverse uses: It played a role in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration and was referenced in Bob Dylan’s 1989 song “Dignity.”
The word agapé is used 116 times in the New Testament, appearing most frequently in 1 Corinthians (14 times) and 1 John (18 times).
As fruit of the Spirit, love cannot be produced by self-effort. All the qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are characteristics of Christ’s life expressed in and through us. Although love is often considered an emotion, agape love is selfless action empowered by the Spirit in the believer who acts in obedience to God. It’s always looking for a way to express itself for the good of someone else. Agape will never fail, because it’s an attribute of God, which characterizes heaven and will be perfectly reflected in His people throughout eternity.
If you substituted your name for the word love in these verses, what would it say about your love? Which areas pose the greatest challenge for you?
Since agape cannot be produced by you, what can you do to grow in this Christlike characteristic?