Alfred Lord Tennyson, one of the greatest poets in English history, wrote: “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever.” These sweet terms of endearment sadly do not reflect mankind’s universal experience. The history of mankind’s attempts to find “true love” seems instead to offer very little that stands the test of time.
Love today seems anything but timeless. The greatest “love stories” we hear often have no basis in fact, and are far from reality. At a time when traditional marriage is less popular, entertainment is riddled with shallow sensuality and pornography, and fidelity is a rare commodity, many disbelieve that there is even such a thing as true love.
One of the greatest epic love stories in history, found in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, tells of a beautiful woman—Helen of Troy—whose face “launched a thousand ships.” What a concept: a romance so compelling that a war was fought to win back the woman who was taken for “love’s sake!” Ironic that this story might have been invented to “glorify” the reality of war and conquest–to beautify it–and how appropriate that the Apostle James was inspired to write: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight” (James 4:1-2).
Romantic love— whether it inspires poetry, epic legends, or the cheap and endless stream of shallow, Hollywood-contrived love stories of today—is a much misunderstood and abused concept. But why? Of course love exists – how else do we explain the feelings that two human beings can have for one another, and the importance of the bonds that form between individuals and families, amid so many clichés and the sufferings and cares of this life? Could it be that wrong priorities cloud the definition, and make it difficult to separate love from lust, or selfish desire?
God is love, but what is true love? The Apostle Paul said that love is foundational: “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Jesus Christ Himself, quoting the Old Testament book of Leviticus, said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
In each of these scriptures, the original Greek word used for love is agape, a five-letter word meaning unconditional, outgoing concern for others, with no expectation in return. Agape is a different concept from romantic, erotic, or even filial love – all of which may have similar shades of meaning, but from the purely physical perspective also include some conditionality as well. We love what makes us feel good, quite naturally. But Jesus Christ even commanded us to show agape love to our enemies (Matthew 5:44), who certainly do not love us or desire to give us anything!
There is a love which surpasses all others: a kind which only God can bestow naturally, but which we can learn by His example, and the example of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice pictures an act of outgoing love for beings that could in no way repay Him, and for whom He was not required to do anything, being perfect and needing nothing from us (John 3:16; Philippians 2:5-8). Through understanding this agape love, we can learn to avoid the pitfalls of human emotion, self-deception and mistakes, as the Bible clearly warns us about (Jeremiah 17:9). Once we do, all other love becomes possible in ways we cannot imagine on our own.
The Passover (Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar; see Leviticus 23:5) is the day each year on which true Christians hold a special commemoration of Christ’s act of love and sacrifice—an act for which we should be thankful all year. If you would like to know more, write or call for our free booklet, The Holy Days: God’s Master Plan, or watch the Tomorrow’s World telecast “The Real Jesus” today.