We are instructed to “love” one another, but we don’t have to like anybody. In the Bible, the word used as love has three Greek meanings; Eros, Phileo, and Agape. I will not go into all the translation details in this article. You can “Google” “Greek words for love” and get plenty of information on the subject. My point, though, is to emphasize that there is no one way to “love” others, and that depending on the way you are “loving” someone else, there are conditions.
|In my 30 years of counseling people, I have heard countless of times how much couples “love” each other. Men who physically and emotionally abuse their wives will argue about how much they “love” them. Wives who committed adultery will, after they get caught, cry about how much they “love” their husbands.|
According to Holman’s Concise Bible Commentary, love is an “undivided allegiance and unswerving obedience” to God. This definition of love does not involve a person’s emotions as the determining factor. But, there is a clear object of this “love,” it belongs to God alone. The question I am dealing with today is not about our “love” for God, but, rather, in how we feel about one another as humans. The question is are we expected to love one another “unconditionally?” Keep in mind that I used Dictionay.Com’s definition of the word. “Conditionally – imposing, containing, subject to, or depending on a condition or conditions; not absolute; made or allowed on certain terms: conditional acceptance.” Therefore, if someone will or might benefit from something they do, then there was a condition. I searched the Bible to find any reference which would lead me to believe that I was to love someone else “unconditionally,” and I came up with zero verses.
On the other hand, I also searched the Bible for any references which would, at least, give the impression that some condition was tied to loving someone else, and came up with a bunch. For example, let’s look at, Matthew 5:43-45 (NASB), “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” I added the bolding, underline, and italics to emphasize the condition for “loving” our enemies. (See also Luke 6:32) Notice the very next verse, Matthew 5:46a (NASB) “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” Did you get that? Why mention a, “reward,” if loving our neighbor is to be done “unconditionally?” Doesn’t “unconditionally” mean you are not supposed to get, or look forward to, a reward?
God understands that humans are driving by selfishness. Even those of us who have learned to also be selfless, still deal with some selfishness. God understands that when we humans are rewarded for what we do, we are more likely to continue to repeat the behavior.
Let’s also look at Matthew 19:19 (NASB) “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Did you notice the condition? “As yourself,” it said. Not just “love” your neighbor, but love him or her as you would show that “love” toward yourself, that is the condition in this case. It means you have to evaluate how you “love” yourself. Identify what you do which demonstrates love for yourself, and then do the same for others. That is conditional “love.” There is a principle which will help us better understand this concept, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” If you do not “love” yourself, then you will have a difficult time trying to “love” someone else. You must first “love” yourself, and see the benefits, so that then you can give it to others.
|Human “love” is almost always some emotional soup made up of distorted perspectives, selfish desires, and mixed in with self-serving manipulation and abusive control over the object of one’s affections.|
Do you get it now? No? You want more proof? Okay, let’s look at Luke 7:41-42 (NASB), “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” The obvious answer is the one who owed the most money. Why? Because this “love,” which the Bible recognizes as affected by human feelings, is swayed by the condition by which it is promoted. See, the Bible understands that people’s love is likely conditional.
This word “love,” in the Greek, has different connotations, for example in Luke 11:42 ((NASB), “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”), it is the Greek word: ἀγάπη. Transliterated it means: agape. The definition is: love, goodwill, and is used in the New Testament 116 times. On the other hand, the Greek NASB Number: 25 (John 8:42 (NASB) Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.), used as love is: ἀγαπάω. The have the same root, from which the words come from, but this one is transliterated as the word: agapaô. Its definition is: to love, and is used 143 times in the New Testament. The first word “agape,” is used to mean, “Doing good unto others, because you want to do the good.” The second word, agapaô, is used to mean, “An emotional attraction and desire for something.” Between the two, the closest one which could be considered as unconditional is the first, “agape.” But, even then, the person is “loving” others because he or she wants to, this means that their feelings, motivation, and/or desired outcome affects their “love.” These feelings, motivation, and/or desired outcome is the condition upon which this “love” is based.
You see? Love is not unconditional with humans, nor does God expect it of us. But, my goal in this article was not to argue against “unconditional” love. I have a different objective, I want to argue in favor of another word used for love in the Bible, “Phileô.” This word is Greek NASB Number: 5368, φιλέω. It is transliterated as the word: phileô. The definition is: “to love,” and is used only 25 times in the New Testament. The meaning of the word is better understood by replacing the word “love” with “like.” Yes, I mean, “Like!”
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word like as, “to enjoy (something), to get pleasure from (something), to regard (something) in a favorable way, to feel affection for (someone): to enjoy being with (someone).” The great majority of the time, when people use the word “love,” they are actually using this definition. We use it for, “I love hamburgers,” or “I love my dog,” or “I love my wife,” or “I love writing long boring articles.” In either case, we are not really meaning “agape” or “agapaô.” We are really saying, “Phileô.”
|I was counseling with a couple once where the wife found out her husband was having an affair. When she threatened to divorce him, he agreed to come to counseling. I asked him why his wife should even consider staying with him, he argued that he loved his wife!”|
In my 30 years of counseling people, I have heard countless of times how much couples “love” each other. Men who physically and emotionally abuse their wives will argue about how much they “love” them. Wives who committed adultery will, after they get caught, cry about how much they “love” their husbands. Parents who have physically (and sometimes sexually) abused their children, will then turn around and adamantly claim “love” for the children. I will often have couples in my counseling office, who will spend an hour or two accusing each other of horrendous things, calling each other names, putting each other down, blaming each other for countless of wrongdoings, and when I ask them why they even want to be with the other person, they say the “love” them. There is no way they are saying they, “agape” or “agapaô” the other person. What they are saying is they “Phileô” the other person. In other words, they want the other person around, because they have some level of like for them. If you really “love” (“agape” or “agapaô”) someone, you don’t do things on purpose which can damaged them.
What is the one main factor in why marriages fail? Most people will say that it is because people stopped “loving” each other. I disagree. I believe that the real reason marriages fail is because one or both of the two stopped “liking” each other. Real “love” develops over time, or it is done intentionally, as in, by obeying God. “Love” at first sight is a lie which has deceived many couples into relationships which turned out terrible. The truth is that we can have “like” at first sight, and then get to know each other and start learning to “love” one another with time. True “love” (“agape” or “agapaô”) has a condition, and that is that the one who “loves” does so with the intention of giving the other the fullest benefit. In other words, that the “love” results not be solely selfish in actuality. For example, when a young man says he loves a young woman, is he saying, “I want to do for her all that will be in her best interest, even if that means she won’t end up with me? (“agape” or “agapaô”), or is he saying, “I want her to be with me, because it will make me happy? (“Phileô”). Everyone reading this article, will know that he really means that second kind of “love” (in other words, “like”) right?
I am a counselor, I don’t lie to, or deceive, myself as much as I am able. Just because people use certain words, it does not mean they actually mean what they say. Truthfully, most people say one thing but mean something else. In their own minds they know what they intend to say, but the will choose words which say something different. For example, I went to visit a friend, a while back, when I knocked on his door he yelled out “It’s open!” I glanced at the door and it was not open. I responded to him indicating the truth. He yelled again, “Yes, pastor, it is open!” I glanced back at the door and saw clearly that it was shut and that it was not even slightly ajar, much less actually open. I stood at the door waiting. He walked to the door and opened it, and the said, “See, it was open.” “No,” I said, “You opened it.” “No,” he said, “I meant that it was unlocked.” I smiled and said, “Why didn’t you just say that?” “I did,” he said grinning, “I said it was open.” If you look up the word “open” in the dictionary, you will see that it does not define “open” to mean “unlocked.” He was saying one thing, while he clearly meant something else.”
|People who really like you will not willingly
make choices which will harm you.
The word “love” is the same. People use the word, but, more often than not, they really mean “like.” When most people define the word “love,” they mean something like, “I want, I need, she or he is mine, it makes me feel good, I should not be deprived of it,” and so on. Human “love” is almost always some emotional soup made up of distorted perspectives, selfish desires, and mixed in with self-serving manipulation and abusive control over the object of one’s affections. Too many times human’s “love” is displayed by jealousy, abuse, violence, and traumatic behavior. Why? Because, they are not actually speaking of “love” (“agape” or “agapaô”), they are speaking of something which has no resemblance to real “love,” any more than a duck resembles and dog.
On the other hand, one thing I don’t see in my counseling office, is a couple who is there because they are having problems because the “like” (“Phileô”) each other. When people “like” someone they go out of their way to spend time with that person. They miss that person when they are apart. They look forward to those times they spend together. A couple who is dating (and also “like” (“Phileô”) one another), write poems to each other, buy flowers for each other, will sacrifice time with friends to be with each other, will spend lots of time talking about practically nothing, just to be with each other, they care how they dress, smell, and look to each other, and so forth.
Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Treasures are those things which we consider important to us. If your wife or husband is your treasure, your desire is for them. You want them to like you, because you like them. “Phileô” (“love” that is really “like”) is an emotional choice to desire someone or something. People who “Phileô” each other tend to stay together much better than people who just claim to “love” each other.
I was counseling with a couple once where the wife found out her husband was having an affair. When she threatened to divorce him, he agreed to come to counseling. I asked him why his wife should even consider staying with him, he argued that he loved his wife!” I asked him two questions, “If you had not been caught, would you have already quit seeing the other woman by now?” and “Were you loving your wife while you were having sex with the other woman?” He just sat there silently, because he knew the truth, and he didn’t want to make things worse. If that is love, I sure don’t want any part of that. On the other hand, I asked the wife why she wanted to try to save the marriage. “I love him,” she said, “I know that he was wrong, and I know that he deserves for me to divorce him, but I want to give him a chance to prove to me that he really loves me by making the necessary changes.” Now that, dear reader, is love. She was willing to make a sacrifice and take a chance he would just hurt her again, solely because if it worked, it was the best thing for the relationship.
So, what was my point to begin with? Well, it is this. I would rather that people liked me than “loved” me. People who claim to “love” you, too many times, are actually referring to a conditionally motivated, self-serving, self-satisfying, and ego-centric, emotion. On the other hand, when people truly like each other they want to spend time with each other, spend time speaking with each other, treat each other with respect, do enjoyable things with each other, and so on. Someone can “love” you and abuse you, attack you, lie to you, manipulate you, control you, be unfaithful to you, be jealous of you, fool you, and so on. People who really like you will not willingly make choices which will harm you.
There is no such thing as “unconditional love,” even God has a condition for His love (“agape” or “agapaô”), regarding us, He wants to end up with His children in eternity with Him. God does not “love” us just for the heck of it, with no intention, desire, motivation, or personal benefit from that “love.” He wants something for that “love.” He wants you.