Some years ago, I came across the obituary of a woman named Doris Duke, a tobacco heiress and philanthropist. She was a woman of immeasurable wealth, worth some $1 billion at the time of her death at age 80.
She once told a friend that she never knew when a man really loved her, because, after all, she was worth a billion dollars. She said, "I would go out with a man a couple of times, and the next thing I knew, he would be saying, 'I love you.' I could never really know if he really meant it. How could I be sure?"
That is a good question. How can we be sure of real love? We use the word love so often that it has almost become a cliché. We have only one word for love in the English language. We use it in a variety of ways, ranging from "I love my job" to "I love my car" to "I love my dog" to "I love my wife."
But what is love? One dictionary defines it as "a profoundly tender, passionate affection, a feeling of warm personal attachment, sexual desire or its gratification."
I think that is a poor definition of love, but sadly, many wouldn't even aspire to something that high. Love is more than an emotion; it's a commitment.
In contrast to English, the Greek language uses many words for love. Some of them are used in the Bible, including the words erōs, phileō, storgē, and agapē. Erōs, from which we get our English word erotic, is primarily love on the physical level. Phileō, from which the name Philadelphia originates, means "brotherly love." It is the love that two friends have, a friendship love. Then there is storgē, which refers to family love, such as the love of a child for a parent or a parent for a child.
Finally, there is a unique word for love that is used so often in the New Testament: agapē. When we read the word love in Scripture, it is usually agapē. This is God's love, a supernatural love that also can be known and practiced by us.
That is not to say that physical attraction, friendship love, and family love are unimportant. They each have their place.
For example, if erōs is satisfied in the marriage relationship, it can be wonderful. But you don't want to build a marriage on physical attraction alone. If you build a marriage solely on erōs, it is destined for failure.
You need to take the time to get to know a person and allow friendship love to develop as you grow closer to one another. But you also need that supernatural love to really sustain, strengthen, and cause your relationship to flourish.
When you have built your relationship on the right foundation, you will look forward to the years ahead, instead of dreading the aging process together. You will grow to appreciate your husband or wife more and more. It is not just a matter of falling in love. It is also a matter of growing in love.
While the right relationship built on the right foundation can be wonderful, there is a far greater love available to us. The Bible tells us about it in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (NKJV). This same God wants to come into your life and show you real love.
Each of us was born with a hole in our heart that cannot be filled with anyone or anything. We can try to fill it with relationships. We can try to fill it with possessions or career or success or a myriad of other things. But nothing will fill that void because we were created to know God.
Many of us confuse loneliness for God with something else, when, in reality, we are lonely to have a relationship with the God whom we are separated from.
Are you tired of the cheap imitations for love that this world offers — people who say they love you, and then use you or take advantage of you?
God will never use you. He will never take advantage of you. But what He will do is show you what real love is all about.
He loves you with the best kind of love: agapē. Now that is true love.
The story of Johnny Cash’s life and spiritual struggles offers hope to anyone who has had trouble staying on the straight and narrow path—and reminds us that God redeems broken lives and makes them whole again. My new book, Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon is a fascinating look at a unique and talented musician and follower of Christ!