The Real Meaning of Love

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love.

Love is a necessary ingredient in the life of every individual. Many years ago it was discovered that tiny babies need love. Babies left in orphanages or hospitals, without the warmth of a loving stroke or tender embrace, did not thrive.

Ask most people what they want out of life and it all boils down to this four-letter word, to love and to be loved!

The use of this one little word has the power to lift our spirits or send us into the depths of despair. It’s a word that has an enormous impact on our lives. However, its true meaning is often misunderstood.

Though love is a basic human emotion, it is difficult to define. Perhaps that is why the Greeks use three forms of the word to describe what we commonly refer to as love.

Eros is the word for sexual attraction or lust. It is quite simply, the urge to merge. It is generally dependent on the senses. It can come on quite suddenly and leave just as suddenly.

Phileo is the love one feels for a relative or close friend, often referred to as “brotherly love.”

Agapao was the verb used in classical Greek literature to describe the actions associated with what we have come to think of as “true love.” Liddell & Scott’s Intermediate Lexicon defines it this way: “To treat with affection, to caress, love, be fond of.” This verb reflects the actions associated with the urgency and passion of eros as well as the caring of phileo.

Agape, a noun, is the most powerful word imaginable for love. It was first used by the early Christians to describe the love of God in Christ, the love intended to provoke our love for Him and to motivate a lifestyle of love toward others.

There always has been some confusion between true love and the passionate affection one has for a member of the opposite sex. The latter is meaningless without the former and, if those passions are followed through to the ultimate conclusion without real love, the two people involved may feel empty, cheated and hurt.

How do you know that a person who professes to love you really loves you? The answer is simple, time. Its passions ebb and flow but if love is true, the commitment remains constant through the best and worst of circumstances.

It is no wonder that today’s young people are more confused than ever about love. Our educational systems cater to the dysfunctional student who doesn’t know the meaning of “delayed gratification.”

When we pass out the condoms, what we are really telling our young people is “Play now; pay later.” Unfortunately, with HIV/AIDS and the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can lead to cervical cancer, some will pay with their lives. If you think that sexual activity among willing young people is no big deal you are wrong, dead wrong.

While condoms often fail to prevent pregnancy, condoms fail to prevent exposure to HIV/AIDS nearly 16 percent of the time. Also, there is no scientific evidence that condoms prevent the transmission of HPV as well as a host of other sexually transmitted diseases.

Yes, a new drug has been rushed to market that is supposed to protect against certain strains of HPV, but the long-term side effects and results are unknown.

Even if sexually permissive youths manage to escape a sexual transmitted disease, there is no vaccination that will prevent dysfunctional students from becoming dysfunctional adults, incapable of understanding what it truly means to be in a loving relationship.

The best modern definition I’ve found for love is this: The commitment one makes to the best interest of another person, now and in the future.

I Corinthians 13 expands that definition and Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to share it with the young people in your life:

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. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

It is possible to receive love from others, but still have an inner longing that cannot be satisfied. I think of it as a homing device, installed by our Creator that leads us to Him.

Remember. The only perfect love comes from God. In I John, we are told, “We love because He first loved us.”

6 thoughts on “The Real Meaning of Love

  1. Jane,

    Good column about love. Especially now the world does not know anything about agape, and most denominational churches in this country know little or nothing about it as well. Christian churches are supposed to shape society, but most churches today lacking agape merely reflect society.


  2. You may not believe this, but I agree with much of the substance of your argument–that sex without love is a meaningless experience.

    However, as Woody Allen once said, ‘as far as meaningless experiences go, it’s the best.’ Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉

    The devil, as they say, is in the details, and that’s where your argument breaks down, specifically in the area of condoms. Let’s walk through some details, shall we?

    “When we pass out the condoms, what we are really telling our young people is “Play now; pay later.”” Uh, no. Actually, using condoms indicates that someone is behaving responsibly. Not using condoms, that’s paying later.

    “While condoms often fail to prevent pregnancy-” Huh? According to three recent studies (DeVincenzi et al., Saracco et al., and Deschamps et al.) condom failure is about 3%. That means that, given consistent and proper use, you have a 97% chance of preventing pregnacy. That doesn’t sound like ‘often’ to me.

    “Condoms fail to prevent exposure to HIV/AIDS nearly 16 percent of the time.” Uh, no. According to studies by the CDC, NIH, and FDA (Davis & Weller-Fam Plann Perspect, 1999; 31: 272-279; Pinkerton & Abramson-Soc Sci Med 1997; 44: 1303-1312,) contraction of HIV was .9% with constant condom use, as opposed to 6.7% without condom use. That’s an 85% reduction in risk by using condoms.

    “Also, there is no scientific evidence that condoms prevent the transmission of HPV as well as a host of other sexually transmitted diseases.” The New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 354:2645-2654, No. 25, Jun 22, 2006) published a study (Winer et al) that showed women who used condoms had a 37% chance of contracting HPV, as opposed to 89% for women who didn’t use condoms. Similar results were found even when the sample was restricted to women with high-risk partners. In short, condoms do substantially reduce the risk of contracting HPV. A host of other studies have shown consistent protection against other STD’s. BTW, the above study was in 2006. That’s two years ago. Easy to find, if you’re looking.

    Look, I said I agree with the substance of your argument–abstinence or one-partner relations over time are the most effective means of preventing a lot of bad things. The prblem is that you and other like-minded folk have decided that abstinence should be the only bullet in the gun.

    Telling people to just say no is fine. But what if they don’t listen? People will have sex. Period. It is one of the most basic urges of the human animal, and it won’t be stopped by hanging a ‘no entry’ sign over your naughty bits.

    Recent studies nationwide have shown that abstinence-only sex education programs have had zero effect on teen pregnancy or transmission of STD’s. In fact, the science behind some the programs have been ludicrous at best, to the point where some porgrams have actually instructed that HIV can be contracted from a toilet seat! That sort of ‘touch it and you’ll go blind’ instruction might have worked in the good old Victorian days, when children worked in factories and women were married off before they stopped believing in Santa Claus, but it doesn’t work now.

    In short, there is no reason why abstinence programs cannot be augmented with education about basic contraception.

    But I do agree with one thing: love is the greatest force for good in the human heart. Happy Valentine’s Day.


  3. Dear Martin,

    While I am pleased that you at least agree that sex without love is a meaningless experience, you are wrong about the rest.

    Anyone who has ever parented a teenager knows that teens tend to live up to or down to your expectations of them. Double-minded messages always fail. Seriously, you tell them all of the practical reasons to abstain from sex until they are ready to make a life-long commitment but leave them a visual reminder and permission slip — the condom in their hand – and you really think that works?

    One of the best studies I’ve ever seen was done by Planned Parenthood in the late 80s called “American Teens Speak.” It showed that teens who had sex education had no higher rate of sexual activity than teens who had not. However, among teens who had what PPH deemed “comprehensive” (with condoms) the rate of sexual activity went up 30 percent. By the way, you won’t find this on PPH’s web site. I have a copy in my files.

    Contrary to what you have read – and there is a lot out there – abstinence education does work. If you go to the sites of the pregnancy profiteers you will not get a complete or accurate picture.
    Check out my columns under “abstinence” on my homepage.

    There is a myth that most teens are sexually active. In truth, less than half of all teens in grades nine through twelve (“2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” Centers for Disease Control.) and most wish they had not ( “The Case for the Cautious Generation,” National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. 2002).

    As to condom failure rates. Yes, there are studies done under laboratory conditions “consistent and proper use” that show the condom failure rate to be three percent, but not in the real world. In fact condom failure rates among teenagers are much higher. Not hard to figure: teens forget their lunch, their gym bags, their homework assignments and somehow in the heat of passion they are supposed to remember their condoms???

    Condoms fail to prevent exposure to HIV/AIDS nearly 16 percent of the time. See “Men With Broken Condoms: Who and Why?,” STI Online. 2006. As for HPV and other stds see “Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for STD Prevention,” National Institutes of Health. 2001.”

    By the way your NEJM study proves my point. People involved in clinical studies tend to be more selective and follow directions. However, the women involved in that study who used condoms still had a 37% chance of contracting HPV. If you knew that a third of all airplanes crashed would you get on one? Of course not! Much too dangerous.

    When doing your research on pregnancy and stds, if you truly have an open mind, I would suggest that you balance what you are now reading with some information from Family Research Council or Abstinence Clearing House.


  4. First, an apology. When I came back to this post, I found that my post had disappeared. I assumed that you had simply deleted it instead of posting it. I referred to this in another post I wrote today about global warming. Again, my apologies.

    Nice bait and switch. We’re not talking about sexual proclivity. We’re talking about birth control.

    As for where I’m getting my evidence, look at my citations. These studies are all peer-reviewed and published in respected scientific journals. Hardly the pregnancy-profiteers you’re describing, unless of course you’re stating that anyone who doesn’t support your beliefs is a pregnancy profiteer. You wouldn’t say that, would you? 😉

    Jane, people aren’t putting on condoms in a lab. The studies are following people during their normal lives.

    Finally, you want me to balance reputable medical journals with the Family Research Council? And you think I’m biased? Okay…



  5. Hello Jane,

    Would you provide an reference to the modern definition of love, “The commitment one makes to the best interest of another person, now and in the future,” you quoted?

    It sounds very similar to a definition of love by Thomas Jay Oord, “”act[ing] intentionally, in sympathetic response to others, to promote overall well-being”



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