Can Love Promote Helpfulness?

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To Promote Helpfulness, "Love" Is Too Much and Not Enough

"All you need is love," said the Beatles in a classic pop song. But if your aim is to get people to help one another more, "love" is either not enough or too much.

Let's have a look at love. First, we have to specify. We don't mean romantic love here. We want to examine the "love your neighbor" kind of love. A useful way to get to the root of that is to look back through the time tunnel at ancient Greece.

One Greek word for the "love" in question bears an obvious relationship to our word "philanthropy". The word "philanthropia" (feel-ahn-throw-PEE-ah) is defined by Zodhiates this way:

"Love for man, benevolence, philanthropy.

"It's that disposition which does not always think of self, but takes thought for the needs and wishes of others. It denotes that apparent and ready goodwill usually manifested in a friendly, considerate demeanor, and (especially in the practice of hospitality) readiness to help, tenderheartedness, cherishing and maintaining fellowship. The philanthropist (in this original Greek sense) serves his fellow citizens, protects the oppressed, is mindful of the erring, gentle to the conquered, and self-renouncing in reference to his rights."

You can see here that helpfulness is included: "... readiness to help ... serves his fellow citizens." But there are other aspects, too. So if you're promoting philanthropy in this original Greek sense, people could take it as motivating helpfulness. Or they may take it as just goodwill. Or they may take it as meaning just a considerate demeanor or tenderheartedness. They might even take it as motivating a readiness to help. Fine, okay, you're ready, but are you actually helping? "Love" is not enough to carry the specific load that "helpfulness" does.

On the other hand, perhaps you can see that if you're promoting "love" in the sense of "philanthropia", and your goal is to get people to help one another more, what you're actually doing is like taking a multi-symptom cold medicine when your only symptom is a stuffy nose. "Love" is too much. "Helpfulness" is more focused.

To take aim at increasing helpfulness, promote "helpfulness"!

Now let's turn to the classic Greek word that may be more familiar to you: "agape" (ah-GAH-pay). The first thing to note is that none of the modern definitions of "agape" found at the reference website Study Love actually has "help" or any of its derivatives.

In the ancient definition written by the Apostle Paul, the approach is to break "agape" down into a number of components. English translations don't show it, but all of the components are present-tense verbs.

One of those components is "chresteuetai" (khray-STEW-eh-tie), translated "[love] is kind". "Chresteuetai" is the present tense of the verb "chresteuomai" (khray-STEW-aw-mie), which is in turn derived from the noun "chrestos" (khray-STAWSS) which means "useful". "Chresteuomai" is defined by Zodhiates as "To be kind, obliging, willing to help or assist."

Again, "love" is too much. It includes this "kindness", which is a good thing to push. We don't mean to knock that. But it includes a whole lot more, e.g., patience, humility, unselfishness. Again, it's like a shotgun remedy, targeting a lot more than helpfulness.

And "love" is not enough. Of the many English versions that translate the agape component "chresteuetai", only one actually includes a "help" word. It's rather charming, I think you'll agree:

"You get good heart fo help da odda peopo."

It's not plain English, as you can see. It's the Hawaiian Pidgin version. If you need me to make it a little clearer, here: "You get good heart for help the other people."

Here we see that "love" is not enough. You get a "good heart", and you're willing. It includes an attitude, but "helpfulness" clearly includes the action. The word "chresteuetai" probably has more to contribute to our thinking, but it doesn't zero in on our target.

Promoting love has an important place, but, once again, if you're taking aim at an increase of people helping one another, promote "helpfulness"!


Hawai'i Pidgin Bible. Wycliffe Bible Translators, 2000, 2009.

Study Love.

Zodhiates, Spiros. Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament. AMG Publishers, 1992.