Love: (n) an intense feeling of deep affection; a great interest and pleasure in something. (v) to feel deep affection for (someone); to like or enjoy very much.
We say we love people and things all the time—I love my mom. I love dogs. I love the beach. I love sports. I love pizza. But surely one's love for pizza is not the same as one's love for their mother! Unfortunately, the English language has combined so many levels and types of affection into one word that the word love has become so common and has lost much of its original meaning.
In the original Greek, there are many words used to describe what we now collectively refer to as love. There is a distinct differentiation between the following three: eros (romantic), philia (friend), and agape (unconditional). But before the New Testament was written in Greek, the Old Testament was written in ancient Hebrew, in which the word for love was ahavah.
In its most basic sense, ahavah refers to the kind of affection or care that one person shows another person. Ahavah is the word used to describe Abraham's parental love for his son Isaac, as well as Jonathan's brotherly love for his friend, David. Ahavah is used to describe all different kinds of affection in the Old Testament, and each use is important for helping us understand the Old Testament meaning. In Deuteronomy 7:7–8, we read that "God showed affection for you, He chose you…because of his ahavah for you," and it is in these verses that we begin to grasp the idea that God doesn't love because we deserve it or have earned it but because love is who God is, and love is what He does.
In Jeremiah 31:3, we read that God has "loved you with an everlasting love," and that everlasting love is possible because God Himself is everlasting.
His love has no end because it has no beginning. It is a part of His character, and it is an action He chooses to do because of who He is.
We see a clear example of God loving us in John 3:16 where we read that God sent His only Son to Earth as our pathway for salvation. And ultimately, it is the life of Christ on Earth that points us to the perfect, everlasting love of the Father.
In the New Testament, the word ahavah shifts to the word agape because Jesus spoke and taught day-to-day in Aramaic, a cousin language of Hebrew, in which the word for love is rakhmah. Then, as Jesus' followers continued to spread His teachings around the world, they translated rakhma into Greek, which is where we get the word agape.
And unlike modern day academia, the authors of the New Testament books didn't learn the meaning of agape by looking into dictionaries. Rather, they looked to the teachings of Jesus and the actions of His life to redefine the very concept of love. Jesus perfectly reflected the love of the Father, both in His character and also in His actions. God demonstrated HIs love for us through the sacrifice of His Son—and Jesus demonstrated true love in the way He lived. This is our model for showing biblical love on Earth.
Biblical love is a choice we make and an action we live out. If we have truly accepted the unconditional, overflowing love of God, then we should be doing all we can to show that love to others, so they can experience it, too. When we are generous with love to those around us, we begin to show a snapshot of God's true, unconditional, agape love to those who have maybe never experienced it before.
To learn more on biblical love and to access kid-friendly resources to teach your children about love this Christmas, visit bellevue.org/family and download the Advent Celebration booklet from Fight for Your Family.