from Nelsons New Illustrated Bible Dictionary

The Nature of God

LOVE — the high esteem that God has for His human children and the high regard which they, in turn, should have for Him and other people. Because of the hundreds of references to love in the Bible, it is certainly the most remarkable book of love in the world. It records the greatest love story ever written—God’s unconditional love for us that sent His Son to die on the cross (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10).

Love is not only one of God’s attributes; it is also an essential part of His nature (Deut. 7:7–8). "God is love," the Bible declares (1 John 4:8, 16)—the personification of perfect love. Such love surpasses our powers of understanding (Eph. 3:19). Love like this is everlasting (Jer. 31:3), free (Hos. 14:4), sacrificial (John 3:16), and enduring to the end (John 13:1).

Two distinct Greek words meaning "to love" appear in the Bible. The word phileo means "to have ardent affection and feeling"—a type of impulsive love. The other word agapao means "to have esteem" or "high regard." In the memorable conversation between Jesus and Peter, there is a play upon these two words (John 21:15–17).

The warm word agape is the characteristic term of Christianity. This word for love is used several different ways in the Bible.

1. Agape love indicates the nature of the love of God toward His beloved Son (John 17:26), toward the human race generally (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8), and toward those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:21).

2. Agape love conveys God’s will to His children about their attitude toward one another. Love for one another was a proof to the world of true discipleship (John 13:34–35).

3. Agape love also expresses the essential nature of God (1 John 4:8). Love can be known only from the actions it prompts, as seen in God’s love in the gift of His Son (1 John 4:9–10). Love found its perfect expression in the Lord Jesus. Christian love is the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus in the believer (Gal. 5:22).

Love is like oil to the wheels of obedience. It enables us to run the way of God’s commandments (Ps. 119:32). Without such love, we are as nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). Such Spirit-inspired love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8) but always flourishes.