The word love is an Indian contribution to the world. Etymologically, it comes from the Sanskrit verb lubhyati (‘to desire ardently’). Its nuanced meanings include allurement, enticement, covetousness, being interested in, and being confused about a thing or a person. However, Europeans derive it from English and Germanic roots that stress affection, friendliness, praise, and hope. Love involves social accountability. 

The Most Used And Abused Word

Nowadays, the word love is the most used and abused word in human relationships because its meanings cover a wide spectrum of human life and relationships. Speakers and hearers can interpret it in any way that suits their purpose at that particular time in a specific context. 

It begins with an inclination toward someone or something. Gradually, they consciously allow the person or object of their love to become agreeable, dear, and valuable to them. Then, they pour into the person or object of their love their perceptions of affection, friendship, and goodwill.

 At the end, a mere remembrance of the person or object of their love fills them with hopes and pleasures. They feel passionately drawn and attached to the person or thing of their love. Their imagined perception of the beloved overlooks dispositions and character manifestations that might be defective and dysfunctional. They choose to notice only those qualities that appear to be amicable, pleasing, and benevolent at that time. 


Love at first sight entails blind faith. Valentine Day, for example, provides every 14th day of February with an opportunity for lovers to express their romantic attachment. Their amorous relationships would not permit them to think about the practical consequences, responsibilities, and sacrifices true love. 

Their lust may tempt and invite into irresponsive and fleeting affairs. They might exchange the symbols of the male deities of love, namely Greek Eros, Roman Cupid, or Sanskrit Manmatha and female deities of love, namely Greek Aphrodite, Roman Venus, or Sanskrit Ratī. 

Thus, every human society, however small, ancient or modern it might be, has its own goddesses and gods of love. The symbols of these deities communicate strong attraction, beauty, physical union, fertility, and progress in life. 

True Love

At the beginning of a love affair, the lovers are blind to the flaws in their beloved. When they engage with the unforgiving realities of everyday life, they complain about the breaking of promises and the failure of expectations. A Chinese proverb states that just as distance tests the strength of a horse, time discloses people’s hearts. 

The eagle that flies high should come down to eat its food and to rest. Real life requires focused work, constant adjustments, enduring commitment, and willing sacrifice. After all, there are no two human beings who are like Xerox copies. Each person has their own histories, memories, customary behaviours, expectations, priorities, loyalties, and boundaries that give them meaning in life. 

Love enables these persons to cultivate thoughts and perform actions that increase the joy of their beloved and enhance the quality of their life. Love requires discipline and consistent behaviour because no city was built in a day, or no path was beaten in a single one-way journey. True love chastises and embraces. It maintains moderation in all things, and thus it remains the fulcrum of a fulfilling life. 

Sacrificial Love

The Hebrew Bible has three nouns for love: ahavāh is sacrificial love. Its first occurrence in Genesis 22:2 required Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac whom he loved. 

The second most beautiful Hebrew concept for love is chesed, often translated as ‘loving kindnesses.’ Psalm 136 describes twenty-six aspects of chesed

The third word rahamim refers to compassionate love (Genesis 43:14). This word is associated with the womb (raham) and thus, it implies a mother’s love for her child. Exodus 34:6–7 combines God’s chesed and rahamim with God’s grace and faithfulness to God’s covenanted people. 

The Epitome Of Love

Likewise, the New Testament contains three Greek words to indicate various types of love: agapē is radically sacrificial, and it calls for loving the enemy (Matthew 5:44). I Corinthians 13 is the greatest chapter on agape-love. The Lord Jesus Christ remains the unparalleled epitome and definition of this sacrificial love. 

Secondly, the eros-love is implied in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9, and it leads to marriage. The third word is for friendly love philia. When the risen Lord Jesus asked Peter whether he loved him with agape-love, Peter responded twice that he loved him as a friend with philia-love. Jesus adjusted himself to Peter’s level and asked him the third time whether he loved him with philia-love. philia is more like an affection and kindness than superficial friendship. Jesus charged John to translate his philia-love into feeding the ram-lambs, the ewe-lambs and the baby-lambs (John 21:15–17). 

Thus, in God’s love, no one is forgotten. The New Testament does not use other Greek words for love, such as parent’s love for their children (storge), playful love of lovers (ludus), self-love (philautia), mad and obsessive love (mania), and benevolent love (eunoia). 

Love: Well-Being Of Others

The couplets 71 to 80 of the nearly 2000-year-old Tamil book Thirukkural (‘holy short sayings’) describe love (anbu) in a touching manner: amidst suffering, no one can lock up anbu because a drop of tear will reveal it. People without anbu consider their possessions to be their own. By contrast, people with love consider their wealth to belong to others. 

The sole purpose of life attached to our body is to demonstrate anbu. Anbu creates interest in the wellbeing of others. This interest will result in great friendships. The greatness of the people who joyfully live in this world is their anbu for others. Ignorant people might claim that anbu aids only in the virtuous life of sharing. By contrast, anbu is the cause of all other good works. 

As the hot sun dries up the boneless worm, the virtuous life of an anbu-less person will also be. The life of an anbu-less person in a family resembles a dry tree in the desert that briefly buds. No external fame will help any man, who does not show anbu to his family. Life in the human body is only for anbu, without which the body is nothing, but a skeleton covered by skin. With Apostle Paul, we can say: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.”

Prof. Dr. Daniel Jeyaraj is an accomplished church historian and currently serves as the Academic Dean at Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.