To understand what it means to love Jesus, we must first define what is meant by the word love. Since we are discussing Jesus, we will limit our definitions to the two primary Greek words used for “love” in the New Testament. The first is philia. This refers to a brotherly love or to a close association with another person. To demonstrate this type of love would not require any substantial sacrifice on the part of the lover. This love is shown through a cordial attitude and an allotment of time. Anyone from a mild acquaintance to a close colleague can be loved with philia. This type of love will easily fade, however, if the loved one moves away or is not often encountered. Thus, this is not the type of love that would be adequate for the kind of love Jesus wants from His followers.
The other Greek word for “love” is agape. This is love that is considered unconditional. This is the love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 and is most appropriate for understanding what it means to love Jesus. Paul explains this type of love by what it does and what it does not do. According to 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, agape is patient, kind, rejoicing with truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping in all things, and enduring through all things. In contrast, agape does not envy, boast, or rejoice in wrongdoing; it is not arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or resentful. Most importantly, agape does not end. It will not fade away like philia. Agape is not based on circumstances and will never end.
To love the Lord is to follow Him wherever He leads, to obey Him whatever He asks, and to trust Him whatever the trial. To love Jesus is to reflect the love that God has for us, for “this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son” (1 John 4:10). To love the Lord is to care for the ones He loves (1 John 4:19; see also John 21:16).
Agape is not based on emotion but on the will. Each characteristic of agape is a deliberate choice to act in a certain manner. Thus, when Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15), He was teaching that loving Him would be a demonstrable action, not an emotional feeling. If Jesus is to be loved as He commanded, then a conscious choice must be made to act according to the pattern described in 1 Corinthians 13. Jesus was clear that loving Him is a service (John 14:15, 21, 23, 28) and that disobedience is evidence of a lack of love (John 14:24). Therefore, to love Jesus is to willfully act in such a way that our devotion to Him is proved through our actions toward Him and our obedience of Him.