The Greatest of These is Love

In the past I have written about the subjects of faith and of hope now we turn to the Theological Virtue of Love. Love is one the hardest and most misunderstood words in the English language. Love is a word that is the prime example of how deficient the English Language really is. In English we have one word for all the forms of love and in Greek for example there are many. How can we use the same word for how we feel about ice cream and about our spouse or our children? But we love lice cream and we love our children, there it is.

Our entire existence on this world from a Christian perspective is to commune with God and this communion is possible through love. If love does not exist then God does not exist and there can be no spiritual life. Where love resides there God is and all righteousness. The love of human beings has it’s origin in God. We are to love one another and we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul. Why is this true? Because God first loved us. “For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16)

The 4th Century spiritual father Macarius of Egypt tells his spiritual children that the aim of life as the “acquisition of the Holy Spirit” is expressed most perfectly in Love. The Holy Spirit himself is identified with God’s love by the saints. St. Simeon the New Theologian writes, “O Holy Love, – i.e., the Holy Spirit of God – he who knows you not has never tasted the sweetness of your mercies which only living experience can give us. But he who has known you, or who has been known by you, can never have even the smallest doubt. So God who is love enters into the union with humanity through the Son of His love by the Spirit.”

Let us look at three types of love in Scripture. Agape is love as the action of perfect goodness for the sake of the other. This is the most basic of all the meanings of love, to do everything that we possible can for the sake and well-being of the other. This is the type of love that God has when we say that God is love. This is the love that we as spiritual beings must have first and foremost.

Eros is love for the sake of union with the other. Erotic love, not sinful erotic love, but love free from the sinful passions. The pure desire for communication with the other, including of course God. This is the love that should exist between God and his creation as the pattern for the erotic love in the world between husband and wife.

Friendship or phila is the love that should exist between God and humanity. We have no greater friend that God and God’s wishes to be the friend of all of humanity. The very purpose of coming to know Christ was to destroy the “enmity” between humanity and God and to restore the co-working relationship that existed in the Garden. “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. (Exodus 33:11) “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends; for all that I have heard from my Father, I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15)

So we have seen love as goodness, love as union and love as friendship. These are all to be found in relationship between God and humanity and the relationship between human beings. We need the spiritual life in order for there to exist these forms of true love. Because these forms of love all exist in the spiritual life and the spiritual life is a life rooted in God.


  1. I don’t care what the language, we like ice cream, not love. That is the problem. Discerning love from like. People do not know what love is. By the way sex is an organ, one of many in the body created by God Himself, with purpose. It is not a lustful, sinful passion. God would not create anything that isn’t good. Where does the self love fit in? Many either cannot love themselves, or have just the opposite problem, “all about them.” Book smart is one thing, heart smart is another.

  2. this is very good fr.i have always thought it was odd that we say we love another human being and with the same breath say we love a hamburger. they are not on the same level but we only have one word for our loves.linda

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