Love may be defined as the outworking of the divine and inner urge of life. It is founded on understanding, nurtured by unselfish service, and perfected in wisdom.” Pure love activates the highest expression of trust, respect, and devotion, and rises above conditional feelings and circumstances. Known to the ancient Greeks as agape, it is the force that holds the various conditional expressions of human affection in place. In New Testament Words: The Greatest of the Virtues, William Barclay explains: “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. Agape has supremely to do with the will.”
The personal attitude of love springs from loyalty to both divine duty and human need. It activates the unconditional and beneficial concern for the good of others and is expressed in respectful and unselfish behavior. Our depth of love and the quality of its expression is proportional to our comprehension of Deity, our efforts to cultivate the qualities of divinity, and our receptivity to the guidance of the Indwelling Spirit.
Unlike the instability of emotions or fickleness of affection, pure love is loyal, forgiving, reliable, compassionate, and truthful. A profound and poetic description of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4’7 (New American Standard Bible): “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Without love, the other virtues lose their vigor.
Unconditional love must be cultivated. Love must undergo a constant readaptative interpretation of relationships in accordance with the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. When the human mind is able to grasp the enlarging concepts of the highest cosmic good of the individual who is loved, then love goes on to strike this same attitude concerning all other individuals.There are several expressions of human affection that are instinctive and, unless cultivated, often remain conditional:
1. The natural liking or admiration people have for one another was known by the ancient Greeks as phileo and arises out of benevolence or common interests. Most friendships are built on phileo. It is the type of affection that says: “I like you if . . .”
2. Familial love, which includes parental love, was labeled by the Greeks as storge. Storge is a strong, bonding, and protective love toward an animal, object, or person. A living being with storge feels a strong sense of duty and is often willing to die to protect this love. Storge is a conditional love that says: “I love you because I should.” The strength and devotion of storge is often proportional to the need of the loved one and may be thwarted by influences such as ambition, selfishness, or religious conviction.
3. Physical attraction, called eros by the ancient Greeks, is the chemical reaction, the sex urge, the infatuation between two people. “Notwithstanding the personality gulf between men and women, the sex urge is sufficient to insure their coming together for the reproduction of the species. This instinct operated effectively long before humans experienced much of what was later called love, devotion, and marital loyalty.” Eros is often mistaken for love and therefore easily abused. Without phileo and storge, eros is passion, the sex urge that, when unbridled, can devastate personal lives, its effect radiating into families and society. But the sex impulse is the catalyst that eventually leads to love. Eros gets beyond the romance stage with the support of phileo, storge, and agape, which helps sustain the friendship and spirituality that long-term relationships require.