What Is Love?

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Everybody seems to believe that love is a good thing.

If it is true love, you can never love too much!

However, not all agree what love is.

Everyone is a philosopher when it comes to love.

Definitions are “a dime a dozen.”

‘Love is…, says one person, a many, splendid thing.’

Another sings, “love is a rose,” fragrant and beautiful, but thorny and painful, and another suggests that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Shakespeare wrote in Merchant of Venice, “love is blind.”

This emotional, feeling-oriented, brand of “love” is promoted not only in music and literature, but by the popular media culture.

Television promotes the “love as sensual, erotic, romance” model so relentlessly, that even many Christians are confused about this important subject.

In fact, Hollywood has so successfully infiltrated the Church with its view of erotic-sensual love, that the person who questions it or attempts to suggest an alternative position is suspect as an unrealistic, unfeeling odd-ball, if he is even understood.

Many believe love is a sensation that magically generates when Mr. or Ms. Right appears.

No wonder so many people are single.

A few years ago, a teacher asked a group of high-schoolers about the Jewish idea of love.

“Someone define love,” the teacher asked.

No response.

“Doesn’t anyone want to try?” he asked.

Still no response.

“Tell you what: I’ll define it, and you raise your hands if you agree. Okay?”

“Okay. Love is that feeling you get when you meet the right person.”

Every hand went up.

This is how many people approach a relationship.

Consciously or unconsciously, people believe love is a sensation (based on physical and emotional attraction) that magically, spontaneously generates when Mr. or Ms. Right appears.

And just as easily, it can spontaneously degenerate when the magic “just isn’t there” anymore.

You fall in love, and you can fall out of it.

Erich Fromm, in his famous treatise “The Art of Loving,” noted the sad consequence of this misconception:
“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.”

(That was back in 1956 ― chances are he’d be even more pessimistic today.)

‘What is love’ was the most searched phrase on Google in 2012 according to the company.

Experts in fields from science to fiction share their thoughts on “What is love.”

Jim Al-Khalili is a theoretical physicist and science writer

Jim Al-Khalili is a theoretical physicist and science writer

The physicist: ‘Love is chemistry’

Biologically, love is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent.

We talk about love being blind or unconditional, in the sense that we have no control over it.

But then, that is not so surprising since love is basically chemistry.

While lust is a temporary passionate sexual desire involving the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and oestrogen, in true love, or attachment and bonding, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin.

However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool – a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defence and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.

Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist and author of Couch Fiction

Philippa Perry is a psychotherapist and author of Couch Fiction

The psychotherapist: ‘Love has many aspects’

Unlike us, the ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label “love” under the one word.

They had several variations, including:

Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle.

Ludus describes a more playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.

Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.

Agape is a more generalised love, it’s not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity.

Philautia is self love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds.

Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire.

Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.

According to Philippa Perry love is all of the above.

And she says that it is possibly unrealistic to expect to experience all six types with only one person. This is why family and community are important.

Julian Baggini is a philosopher and writer

Julian Baggini is a philosopher and writer

The philosopher: ‘Love is a passionate commitment’

The answer remains elusive in part because love is not one thing.

Love for parents, partners, children, country, neighbour, God and so on all have different qualities.

Love is more than just a feeling, and without the commitment, it is mere infatuation.
Without the passion, it is mere dedication.

Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.





Jojo Moyes is a two-time winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year award

Jojo Moyes is a two-time winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year award

The romantic novelist: ‘Love drives all great stories’

What love is depends on where you are in relation to it.

Secure in it, it can feel as routine and necessary as air – you exist within it, almost unnoticing.

Deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain.

Love is the driver for all great stories: not just romantic love, but the love of parent for child, for family, for country.

It is the point before consummation of it that fascinates: what separates you from love, the obstacles that stand in its way.

It is usually at those points that love is everything.

Catherine Wybourne said,
‘Love is free yet binds us’. Love is more easily experienced than defined.
As a theological virtue, by which we love God above all things and our neighbours as ourselves for his sake, it seems remote until we encounter it enfleshed, so to say, in the life of another, in acts of kindness, generosity and self-sacrifice.
Love’s the one thing that can never hurt anyone, although it may cost dearly.
The paradox of love is that it is supremely free yet attaches us with bonds stronger than death. It cannot be bought or sold; there is nothing it cannot face; love is life’s greatest blessing.’

According to the Bible, love is caring in action. Love isn’t what we feel, but what we do.

The true meaning of love, as defined in the Bible, has been corrupted in the common usage of our English language and society.

Love is an abstract quality and is therefore inexpressible in precise terminology.

Dictionary defines love as:
‘An emotion, sentiment, or feeling of pleasurable attraction toward, or delight in something, as a principle, or a person, or a thing, which induces a desire for the presence, possession, well being or promotion of its object.’


The Bible indicates that love is from God.

In fact, the Bible says “God is love.”

Love is one of the primary characteristics of God. Love is part of the nature of God.

1 John 4:8
‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’

To experience true love is to experience God. To know true love is to know God. Because God is inseparable from His nature.

Likewise, God has endowed us with the capacity for love, since we are created in His image.


The Greek language (the language of the New Testament) uses two different words to describe and define love.

The most commonly used Greek words translated “love” in the New Testament are “phileo” and”agape.”

We have ‘PHILEO – LOVE’

This kind of love is based upon familiarity and direct interaction.

The Greek word “phileo” defines this kind of love, often translated “brotherly love.”

We have Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love!

Phileo is a soulish (connected through our emotions) kind of love – something that can be experienced by both believers and non-believers.

Romans 12:10
‘Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.’

1 Thessalonians 4:9
‘Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.’

Then we have, ‘AGAPE’

In fact, the eros and phileo concepts are so deeply ingrained into our intellectual grid of life that agape may be, upon first glance, somewhat repugnant to us.

But agape is the word the Holy Spirit employs (and in fact, virtually coins) to define “love” over two hundred fifty times in the New Testament.

God determined to love people in spite of their sin:

Romans 5:8
‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

God’s love is an act of the will, not of the emotions.

It is something He decides to do, not something He passively feels.

1 John 3:16
‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.’

Love, the God-kind of love, is defined by the cross.

At the Cross we learn that Agape-Love involves a commitment to the welfare of another without any consideration of worthiness in the loved one.

Agape is a love that gives to others, not that desires for oneself.

It is self-sacrifice with an aim to make the loved one great.

In a word, agape is selflessness.

The key words in the definition are “commitment,” “others,” “giving,” and “self-sacrifice.”

John 3:16
“For God so loved (agape) the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Now God’s love is unconditional, it is for everyone no matter what people do toward Him!

Agape love requires a relationship with God through Jesus Christ since the non-regenerated soul is unable to love unconditionally.

Agape love gives and sacrifices expecting nothing back in return.

We must always remember that, Actions Affect Feelings

That is the way God created us.

For example, if you want to become more compassionate, thinking compassionate thoughts may be a start, but giving of yourself will get you there.

Likewise, the best way to feel loving is to be loving ― and that means giving.

While most people believe love leads to giving, the truth is exactly the opposite: Giving leads to love.

What is giving?

When an enthusiastic handyman happily announces to his non- mechanically inclined wife, “Honey, wait till you see what I got you for your birthday ― a triple-decker toolbox!” that’s not giving.

Neither is a father’s forcing violin lessons on his son because he himself always dreamed of being a virtuoso.

True giving, as Erich Fromm points out, is other-oriented, and requires at least these three elements:

1. Care
Demonstrating active concern for the recipient’s life and growth.

2. Responsibility
Responding to expressed and unexpressed needs.

3. Respect
The ability to see a person as he [or she] is, to be aware of his [or her] unique individuality,” and, consequently, wanting that person to “grow and unfold as he [or she] is.”

And Agape love is always others – oriented love!

The most famous biblical chapter on love is from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. This is a description of agape love.

It is described as being,

Patient, kind, truthful, unselfish, trusting, believing, hopeful, and enduring. It is not jealous, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, or angry. True love never fails.

The description perfectly fits God’s love toward us, and should be the way we love each other and God.

The Bible says that this unconditional love is more important than everything else (a partial list includes oratory ability, prophecy, knowledge, faith, philanthropy and hope).

All of these things, which are “good” things, will pass away.

Only love is eternal, since love will be the basis of eternal life.

In fact, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, in Matthew 22:37, He said, “YOU SHALL LOVE(AGAPE) THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.”

He then added that the second most important law was, “YOU SHALL LOVE (AGAPE) YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

This is where we get the slogan:

Jesus said that the entire law was dependent upon these two commandments.

If you are not a Christian, I hope you desire to express love as defined in the Bible.

However, wanting to do so and attempting to do so in the power of your own will is guaranteed to fail.

This kind of love is only possible through relying on the power of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.

Even if you are a Christian, you will not succeed if you do not abide in Christ.

May the Lord direct our hearts into the love of God and into the faithfulness of Christ.