Of course, you will recognize the title of this article from one
of the most famous verses in the Bible. John 3:16 says: "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." Although
there is much to say about this verse, I would like to focus this
article on love. And, what better example of love than the love
God has for mankind.
There are several greek words, all with slightly different meanings,
that have been translated into english as love. Original, and subsequent,
Bible manuscripts were written in greek. Although understanding
the greek language is not necessary to understand the Bible unto
salvation, we may enrich our lives with a greater understanding
of the Bible expressed within the language which was used in the
The greek word translated love in John 3:16 is agapao. Agapao
and its associated noun form agape appear 247 times in the
New Testament. Some Bible translations translate agape as
charity. For example, the King James version translates I Corinthians
13:4: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up." But, the New King
James version reads: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not
envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up." Remember,
a translation of the Bible, simply seeks to translate "word for
word" or "word to phrase", as best suits the languages. Upon examining
the two separate translations of I Corinthians 13:4, we see the
translator's problem to find an english word that properly denotes
the meaning of agape.
Agapao is used to describe an attitude one has towards another
that is outwardly manifested in the doing of good. Agapao
within God or an individual is to seek the best for all others apart
from any feelings one may have towards the one that good is being
extended. Vines expository Dictionary says of agapao:
"In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the
deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards
entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential
love in them towards the Giver, and a practical love towards those
who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to
seek the Giver."
"Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward
men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not
always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself
only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks
the welfare of all, Rom. 15:2, and works no ill to any 13:8-10;
love seeks opportunity to do good to 'all men, and especially
toward them that are of the household of the faith,' Gal. 6:10."
This attitude (agapao) is poorly expressed in the english
language by either love or charity. And, there is not another suitable
word in our language that appropriately expresses the attitude of
agapao wherein one will do good to another apart from the
feelings or emotions that may be possessed towards the one to whom
good is being extended. I suppose a combination of love, charity,
grace, and mercy best relay the meaning of agapao in the
It is this attitude that we must posses to fulfill our duty towards
God as commanded by Jesus. Jesus says in Matthew 5:43-44: "You have
heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your
enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse
you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully
use you and persecute you."
The greek word translated love in Matthew 5:43-44 is agapao.
Jesus is saying that we must have an attitude towards others to
do good - even if they curse us, hate us, spitefully use us, and
persecute us; we are to love them. That is, we are to have an attitude
towards others who mistreat us to do good towards them even though
they may not do good towards us.
Simply put, we must rise above our emotions and feelings to do
good to everyone. Fortunately, many to whom we are commanded to
love in the agapao sense are those towards whom we also have
fond emotions. The greek word phileo is also translated love and
"more nearly represents tender affection" (Vines Expository Dictionary).
So, we may, or may not, have tender affections toward those we are
commanded to agapao (love), but we must set aside our feeling,
when necessary, in order to do good to all men.
The Bible teaches us to have an agapao attitude towards
others, and the Bible teaches some of the reasons God wants us to
behave in this fashion. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that we are
to have an agapao attitude towards God. We will continue
discussing agapao in the next article along with its significance
in the life of a Christian.