The New Testament was written in Koine Greek. The word Koine denotes “common,” because this style of Greek was the language of the common man-on-the-street during the time of Christ.
Koine Greek came into vogue about 300 years before the birth of Jesus, and it became an obsolete language about three centuries after the Lord’s death. It was the most precise instrument for the conveyance of human thought that the world has ever known.
Without doubt, this language was providentially employed by God in giving the world the New Testament revelation of his Son.
The “Love” Vocabulary
Koine Greek had several words representing different aspects of love. Eros generally had to do with sexual love. From this term derives the English “erotic.” This word, however, is never found in the New Testament.
Then there was the noun storge. This term was primarily employed of family affection. Paul used a negative form of it in describing the base traits of certain pagans of his day. He spoke of those who were “without natural affection” (astorgous — Romans 1:31).
A very common word for love during the apostolic age was philia. It is the word of genuine affection — heartfelt love. It is seen in the name, Philadelphia (brotherly love). Jesus had this kind of love for his closest disciple, John (John 20:2), and for Lazarus (John 11:3).
The noblest form of love, however, was agape. William Barclay, in his superb discussion of this word, noted:
"Agape has to do with the mind: it is not simply an emotion which rises unbidden in our hearts; it is a principle by which we deliberately live" (1974, 21, emphasis added).
It is the kind of love that we must have for all men — even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). The Christian must always act out of love, i.e., in the best interest of his fellow human beings.
1 Corinthians 13 — The “Love” Chapter
Unquestionably, the most exhaustive treatment of what this kind of love involves is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Within this context, the inspired apostle gives more than a dozen descriptives which regulate the operation of agape love.
And what a challenge they are. To study them carefully is to come to the rude awakening of how far we fall short of measuring up to the divine ideal of concern for others. The following is the sacred text as it appears in the English Standard Version.
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
A word must be said regarding the context in which agape is employed in this epistle. By the imposition of apostolic hands (cf. Acts 8:18; 2 Corinthians 9:2), some members of the Corinthian church had been granted certain supernatural gifts (e.g., the gift of healing, speaking in a foreign language, translating a foreign tongue, etc.; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
Some of these Corinthian gift-holders, however, were abusing their spiritual privileges — exercising the signs as an end within themselves, and not out of regard for their family in the Lord.
For example, sometimes there would be multiple verbal presentations simultaneously, creating a climate of confusion (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:29-33). That was hardly conducive to learning.
In addition, the apostle noted that the time was coming when these gifts would be removed from the church’s possession. When the revelatory process was completed (with the finished product of the New Testament), miraculous gifts would cease (1 Corinthians 13:8ff — see What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?).
The discussion of “love” thus serves a twofold function in 1 Corinthians 13. First, it seeks to regulate selfish abuses of spiritual gifts; second, love’s abiding nature is contrasted with the temporal character of miraculous gifts.
In the balance of this discussion, we will reflect upon the quality of agape love as described in this context.
The Character of Love
The word makrothumei literally hints of taking a long time to get angry! In the New Testament, it has to do with how one should respond to abuse. Love patiently waits and attempts to win over one’s adversary.
William Barclay tells the following enlightening story. Edwin Stanton was the bitter opponent of Abraham Lincoln in the early days of their political careers. Stanton characterized the awkward-looking Lincoln as a clown, a gorilla, etc.
When Lincoln became president, however, he appointed Stanton as his secretary of war, because he felt that he was the best man for the job.
Later, when President Lincoln lay dead from Booth’s bullet, at the bedside Stanton tearfully said: “There lies the greatest ruler of men the world has ever seen.” Patience had conquered (1956, 133).
A wise man declared: “That which makes a man to be desired is his kindness” (Proverbs 19:22). Kindness includes attributes like friendliness, compassion, generosity, and tenderness. To be kind is to be God-like (Luke 6:35).
In a world that is saturated with harshness, a kind disposition is a refreshing breeze. There are many a woman who would trade a handsome husband for a kind one. Kindness would stifle the plague of child abuse.
More kindness among brothers in the Lord would alleviate so much church trouble. The Scriptures demand that we be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32).
The consuming flames of jealousy are as cruel as hell (Song of Solomon 8:6).
What is jealousy? Jealousy is a feeling of displeasure caused by the prosperity of another, coupled with a desire to wrest the advantage from the person who is the object of one’s envy.
The loving person will rejoice at the success of others. Jealousy has destroyed many a home and church. Envy was one of the sins responsible for the death of Christ (Matthew 27:18; cf. Acts 7:9; 17:5).
“Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2).
Is there anyone more of a bore than a braggart?
Genuine love is selfless. It seeks to extol the virtues of others. Love has words of encouragement for the lonely, the downtrodden, and others who deserve and need uplifting.
But some are ever tooting their own horns. When a windbag preacher boasts that were it not for his efforts the whole brotherhood of Christ would be immersed in apostasy, one cannot but be reminded of this descriptive.
The original language here denotes one who is inflated with a sense of personal pride. Pride is unreasonable self-esteem, generally accompanied by insolence and rude treatment of others. It deceives the heart (Jeremiah 49:16), hardens the mind (Daniel 5:20), and results in destruction (Proverbs 16:18).
Love is characterized by genuine humility.
The Greek expression here literally suggests the notion of being “without form.” It encompasses all sorts of evil activity, bad manners, and brutal rudeness. Love doesn’t deliberately seek to be offensive.
Have you known anyone who took pride in his ability to bludgeon others? The Christian’s vocabulary should be characterized by such expressions as, “No, you first,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “How may I help you?” etc.
Love operates with determined politeness. The terms “gentleman” and “lady” should reach their zenith in the context of Christianity.
The meaning is: love does not pursue its own interests. Love is not selfish.
It has been said that there are two kinds of people: those who are always thinking of their rights, and those who concentrate on their responsibilities. Ours is an age of woeful selfishness.
Everyone is protective of their own rights, but in far too many instances the disposition evolves into an attitude that says: “Let others fend for themselves; I’m looking after ‘Number One.’” After all, it’s a jungle out there—a dog-eat-dog world.
Whence came the origin of this fang-and-claw philosophy?
Satan adopted it first, and he was followed by a long line of henchmen, e.g., Darwin, Nietzsche, Lenin, Hitler, et al.
By way of stark contrast was the sacrificial example of the Son of God (Philippians 2:5-8), the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:15), Timothy (Philippians 2:20), and numerous souls since those ancient times. Love thinks of others and seeks to serve.
Not Quickly Provoked
Love does not have a short fuse; it does not stroll about with a chip on its shoulder.
Some folks are cocked, just ready to explode. Their day is ruined if someone does not provide the opportunity for them to give a piece of their mind.
Genuine love does everything possible to avoid combat. If conflict for truth has to come, so be it; but one should not live in the “objective case and kickative mood!”
Not a “Record-Keeper” of Mistakes
This descriptive does not mean that love ignores evil. That view would contradict numerous other passages of Scripture. There are times when evil must be exposed, rebuked, and disciplined.
The Greek word for “account” is from logizomai, a commercial expression which suggests writing a transaction in the record so as not to forget it.
Love does not keep score, as in, “Three times this month he has neglected to speak to me.” The one who says, “I must forgive you, but I will never forget what you did,” has miserably failed the test of agape.
Love does not harbor bitterness nor does it plot revenge.
No Pleasure in Wrong, Only in Truth
Since love always seeks the good of others, it can never rejoice when evil prevails.
When a brother falls — even an obnoxious one — we should never entertain secret thoughts of satisfaction. Rejoicing in moral wickedness is at variance with biblical love and does not have humanity’s welfare at heart.
For example, those who exult in parades for “gay rights,” or who gleefully celebrate the liberalization of abortion laws, have utterly no perception of what real love is.
Divine love cannot be divorced from objective truth.
The verb stego conveys the picture of one object on top of another, thus hinting of either support (by the lower object) or concealment (by the upper object) (Vine 1951, 132). The ideas are not mutually exclusive — especially in this context.
Love supports, uplifts those who are in need of such.
Jesus was constantly in trouble with his Jewish critics because of his encouragement of the downtrodden (cf. Luke 15:1ff).
Moreover, one who operates out of love will cover (i.e., be slow to expose) the mistakes of another.
Love “would far rather set about quietly mending things than publicly displaying and rebuking them” (Barclay 1956, 137). It is unfortunate that some are militant to expose and rebuke, but so stubbornly resistant to forgiving.
Of course there may be a time for the open exposure of wrong (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1ff; 1 Timothy 5:20), but this is certainly not the initial procedure. The loving soul does not froth at the bit at the prospect of such an adventure!
This does not mean that love is gullible. Believing error is both wrong and dangerous (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Rather, the apostle has something else in mind.
The sense of the verb pisteuo (believes) here is probably that of trusting (J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English). The word can surely have that meaning (cf. John 2:24), and that seems to be indicated here.
Love will give the benefit of the doubt.
When you hear a distasteful report concerning a fellow Christian, do you hesitate to believe it until the evidence is overwhelming
In these times when error is so rampant in the church, we must resist the temptation to be quickly and recklessly suspicious. It is never proper to shoot first and ask questions later. We should strive to be more trusting of our loved ones in Christ.
Love is optimistic; it entertains the highest expectations.
Sometimes we see a struggling brother and perhaps think: “He will never make it.” Whereas we ought to say, “I believe that with God’s assistance — and mine — he will make it!”
If we must err on the pessimism/optimism scale, let us err in the direction of hope.
Even when adversity challenges again and again, love continues to operate. Agape is tough. It is not easily discouraged. It may, on occasion, have a bloody head; nonetheless, it keeps its face in the wind and forges ahead.
True love does not give up — on God, or on others.
The apostle concludes by affirming that agape “never ends.”
Again we must emphasize: no one can see his reflection in these words without embarrassment.
The divine dictionary of love will be a lifetime challenge, but the demonstration of this virtue will evince that we are truly the Lord’s disciples (John 13:35).
Jackson, Wayne. "The Challenge of "Agape" Love." ChristianCourier.com. Access date: August 18, 2022. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/78-the-challenge-of-agape-love
Most religious people agree that God hates sin. Over and over, the Bible stresses the fact that God despises iniquity. God told the prophet Jeremiah to speak to the Israelites about their sin, saying: “Oh, do not do this abominable thing that I hate!” (44:4). The Proverbs writer listed seven sins the Lord hates (6:16-19). The prophet Zechariah declared that God hates a false oath and evil done to one’s neighbor (8:17). Jesus Himself said that He hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6). The Bible emphasizes that the Lord hates sin.
Some have suggested that God takes His hatred one step further. They believe that God hates the sinner as well as the sin he or she commits. It has been suggested that God loves those who obey Him, and hates all who disobey. Those who teach this idea use various Bible verses to “prove” their case. For instance, Psalm 5:5 says that God hates “all workers of iniquity.” Proverbs 6:18-19 says that God hates “a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” Is it true that God hates sinners and their sin?
Any person who has read the Bible understands that one of its greatest themes is love. The Bible says that God is love (1 John 4:8). It also explains that God showed His love to us while we were still sinners:
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).
An interesting aspect of this passage is that it stresses that lost sinners were not “righteous” or “good” when Christ demonstrated His love for them.
In the narrative of the rich young ruler, Jesus explained that the young man lacked something necessary to be pleasing to God. Yet even though the young man was lacking and lost, the Bible says that Jesus “loved him” (Mark 10:21). When Jesus mourned over lost Jerusalem, He cried:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37).
Jesus said His affection for the lost inhabitants of Jerusalem was like a mother hen’s affection for her chicks. Such a statement obviously denotes love for the sinners in Jerusalem.
In one of the most well-known “love” verses in the Bible, Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s love for the lost world was shown before the lost believed in Jesus. John further explained this when he wrote: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). From these verses it is clear that God loves lost sinners, and proved that love by sending Jesus.
How, then, can one reconcile the verses that seem to suggest that God hates sinners, but loves them at the same time? One of the most plausible solutions is that the Bible writers are using a figure of speech called metonymy when they write that God hates sinners. Metonymy is defined as: “A figure by which one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation” (Bullinger, 1898, p. 538). Bullinger further explains that metonymy can be “of cause,” when the person acting can be put in place of the thing that is done (p. 539). For instance, in Luke 16:29, the text says: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” In reality, they did not have “Moses” or the “prophets,” but they did have their writings. The name Moses is a metonymy that stood for his writings, since he was the cause of the writings. In modern times, that would be like saying, “I hate Shakespeare.” Would the person who said that mean that he hated Shakespeare’s personality? No. We understand he would be saying he does not like the writings of Shakespeare, with no comment on the playwright’s personality.
If we apply that same figure of speech to the passages about God “hating sinners,” we can see that the sinner is put in place of the sin. Thus, when God says He hates “a false witness who speaks lies” (Proverbs 6:19), if metonymy is being used, then God hates the lies, and the one who is doing the lying (the cause) is put in place of the lies (the effect). It is interesting to see how clear this feature can be in other contexts. For instance, Proverbs 6:17 says that God hates “a lying tongue.” Does that mean that God hates a physical tongue, made of muscle and body tissue? No. It means God hates the sin that a tongue can perform. In the same context, we learn that God hates “feet that are swift in running to evil” (6:18). Again, does that mean that God hates physical feet? No. It simply means that God hates the sin that those feet can perform. It is interesting that while few, if any, would suggest that God hates physical tongues or actual feet, they would insist that God hates actual sinners and not the sin done by them.
When studying the Bible, it is very important to keep in mind that the Bible writers often used figures of speech. When we look at the idea that God hates sin, but loves sinners, the figure of speech known as metonymy clears up the confusion. Just as God does not hate physical feet or tongues, He does not hate sinners. These nouns are put in the place of the things they cause—sin.