Do You Follow the “Surpassing Way” of Love?

“GOD is love.” These words of the apostle John identify God’s most dominant quality. (1 John 4:8) It is God’s love for mankind that makes it possible for us to draw close to him and to have a personal relationship with him. In what other way does God’s love affect us? It has been said: “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” That is true. However, it is also true that we are shaped and fashioned by whom we love and by who loves us. As we are created in God’s image, we have the ability to mirror God’s love in our lives. (Gen. 1:27) Hence, the apostle John wrote that we love God “because he first loved us.”​—1 John 4:19.

Four Words to Describe Love

The apostle Paul called love the “surpassing way.” (1 Cor. 12:31) Why did he describe love in this manner? To what kind of love was Paul referring? To find out, let us take a closer look at the word “love.”

The ancient Greeks had four basic words, used in various forms, to describe love: stor·geʹ, eʹros, phi·liʹa, and a·gaʹpe. Of these, a·gaʹpe is the term used to describe the God who “is love.” * Concerning this love, Professor William Barclay in his New Testament Words says: “Agapē 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. Agapē has supremely to do with the will.” In this context, a·gaʹpe is love that is governed, or guided, by principle, but it is often accompanied by strong emotion. As there are good and bad principles, it is evident that Christians should be guided by good principles, which are laid down in the Bible by Jehovah God himself. When we compare Biblical descriptions of a·gaʹpe with other terms used in the Bible to describe love, we will better understand the love that we should demonstrate.

Love Within the Family Circle

What a delight it is to belong to a warm, close-knit family! Stor·geʹ was the Greek word often used to refer to the natural affection that exists between members of the  same family. Christians strive to show love to members of their family. Paul prophesied that in the last days, people in general would have “no natural affection.” *​—2 Tim. 3:1, 3.

The natural love that should exist between family members is sadly lacking in today’s world. Why do so many expectant mothers have abortions? Why do so many families show no interest in their aged parents? Why does the divorce rate continue to skyrocket? The answer really is, Lack of natural affection.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches that “the heart is more treacherous than anything else.” (Jer. 17:9) Family love involves our heart and our feelings. Interestingly, though, Paul used a·gaʹpe to describe the love that a husband should show for his wife. Paul compared that love to the love that Christ shows for the congregation. (Eph. 5:28, 29) This love is based on principles laid down by Jehovah, the Originator of the family arrangement.

Genuine love for family members moves us to show interest in our aged parents or motivates us to shoulder responsibility for our children. It also motivates parents to give their children loving discipline when necessary and prevents parents from acting out of mere sentimentality, which often results in an overly permissive attitude toward children.​—Eph. 6:1-4.

Romantic Love and Bible Principles

The physical love shared by a man and a woman in the marriage arrangement is truly a gift from God. (Prov. 5:15-17) However, the word eʹros, which refers to romantic love, is not used by the inspired Bible writers. Why not? Some years ago, The Watchtower made this comment: “Today the whole world seems to be committing the same mistake the ancient Greeks did. They worshiped Eros as a god, bowed at his altar and offered sacrifices to him. . . . But history shows that such worship of sexual love only brought degradation, debauchery and dissolution. Perhaps that is why the Bible writers made no use of the word.” For us to avoid getting involved in relationships based purely on physical attraction, romantic feelings must be tempered, or controlled, by Bible principles. So ask yourself, ‘Are my romantic feelings balanced with true love for my companion?’

 During “the bloom of youth” when sexual impulses are often very strong, young people who stick to Bible principles will remain morally clean. (1 Cor. 7:36; Col. 3:5) We view marriage as a sacred gift from Jehovah. Jesus said regarding married couples: “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Matt. 19:6) Rather than staying together only as long as there is mutual attraction, we are committed to our marriage. When marriage problems arise, we do not look for an easy way out but earnestly strive to display godly qualities to make our family life happy. Such efforts will bring lasting happiness.​—Eph. 5:33; Heb. 13:4.

Love Among Friends

Life would be boring without friends! A Bible proverb says: “There exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24) Jehovah wants us to have genuine friends. The close bond of friendship between David and Jonathan is well-known. (1 Sam. 18:1) And the Bible says that Jesus “had affection” for the apostle John. (John 20:2) The Greek word for “affection” or “friendship” is phi·liʹa. There is nothing wrong with having a close friend in the congregation. However, at 2 Peter 1:7, we are encouraged to supply love (a·gaʹpe) to our “brotherly affection” (phi·la·del·phiʹa, a compound word of phiʹlos, the Greek word for “friend,” and a·del·phosʹ, the Greek word for “brother”). In order to enjoy enduring friendships, we need to apply this counsel. We do well to ask ourselves, ‘Are my feelings of friendship balanced with Bible principles?’

God’s Word helps us to avoid partiality in our dealings with our friends. We do not apply double standards: a relatively lenient standard for our friends and a different, stricter standard for people who are not our friends. Furthermore, we do not use flattery to make friends. Most important, applying Bible principles gives us the discernment needed to be selective in choosing friends and to avoid ‘bad associations that spoil useful habits.’​—1 Cor. 15:33.

A Unique Bond of Love!

The bond that unites Christians is truly unique! The apostle Paul wrote: “Let your love be without hypocrisy. . . . In brotherly love have tender affection for one another.” (Rom. 12:9, 10) Indeed, Christians enjoy ‘love (a·gaʹpe) without hypocrisy.’ This love is not limited to an emotion that wells up in our hearts. Rather, it is deeply rooted in Bible principles. However, Paul also speaks of “brotherly love” (phi·la·del·phiʹa) and “tender affection” (phi·loʹstor·gos, a compound word of phiʹlos and stor·geʹ). According to one scholar, “brotherly love” is “affectionate love, showing kindness, sympathy, offering help.” Combined with a·gaʹpe, it promotes close companionship among Jehovah’s worshippers. (1 Thess. 4:9, 10) The other expression, translated “tender affection,” occurs only once in the Bible and refers to being close in warm intimacy, as in a family. *

The bond that unites true Christians is a combination of family love and affection for true friends, with all relationships governed by love based on Bible principles. The Christian congregation is, not a social club or a secular organization, but a close-knit family united in the worship of Jehovah God. We call fellow believers brothers and sisters, and we view them that way. They are part of our spiritual family, we love them as friends, and we always behave toward them in harmony with Bible principles. May we all continue to contribute to the bond of love that unifies and identifies the true Christian congregation.​—John 13:35.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 5 A·gaʹpe is also used in negative contexts.​—John 3:19; 12:43; 2 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:15-17.

^ par. 7 The expression “no natural affection” is a translation of a form of stor·geʹ with the negative prefix a, meaning “without.”​—See also Romans 1:31.

^ par. 18 In the New World Translation, other Greek words are also translated “tender affection.” Hence, in that version, “tender affection” appears not only at Romans 12:10 but also at Philippians 1:8 and 1 Thessalonians 2:8.

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How do you contribute to the bond of love that unites us?