We Americans use the word “love” in a variety and mixed number of ways, not all of them having equal weight or value. We “love” college football, hamburgers, french fries, lemon icebox pie, our country, the state we live in, the town we live in, the mountains, the beach, springtime, summer, the fall, some of us even “love” wintertime and a big, beautiful snowfall.
We “love” to play golf, fish, hunt, and work in our yards. We “love” our cars and trucks, our dogs and cats, a friend, a certain TV program, a particular movie, a certain actor, a particular author, a special publication. Teenagers “love” their girlfriend or boyfriend. In grade school we all experienced “puppy love.”
A husband loves his wife and a wife loves her husband. (Note: If I only love my wife in the same way I love a sporting event or banana pudding, I am in deep trouble!). We love our children and grandchildren, our friends and neighbors, the church, the word of God, and our fellowman. Christians are to love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). Certainly this is to be a far different kind of love than the “love” I have for John Grisham, the author of thrilling legal tales!
The New Testament was written in koine Greek (used extensively throughout the Greek-speaking world from the 4th century B. C. to the mid-A. D. 6th century). It was the everyday language of conversation and commerce. The Greeks had a number of words to express what we often try to express by the one word “love.” Much meaning and nuance is lost when only one word is used to describe such a vast, multi-faceted sentiment. The New Testament employs different words in expressing various kinds of “love.” While I do not profess to be a Greek scholar, I am able to read from the scholarship of others and learn the different words that were available in New Testament times to translate the word “love.”
Éros is the word that was used for sensual or passionate love. It is the word from which we get the English word “erotic.” God made humans of two genders: male and female (Genesis 2:18-25). Sexuality is God-given and attraction to the opposite sex is normal. The form of the female body is different from the male body, and as someone said (perhaps Bob Hope), “Viva the difference!” Sexual drives and feelings are to be fulfilled and satisfied in marriage. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4). On the other hand, homosexual relationships are contrary to nature and the way God made us and are therefore severely condemned by God (Romans 1:24-32; I Corinthians 6:9-11).
Phileō (pronounced fil-EH-oh) is the word for brotherly love or the love we have for a friend. It is the first part of the name of Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love.” It refers to tender affection and the enduring bonds of friendship. Phileō cannot be commanded (we cannot be told to like another person), but it can be developed in relationships. It is based on the qualities in another person that we find admirable and attractive and with whom we have much in common. The difference between phileō and agápe (to be discussed below) is illustrated in a well-known conversation between Jesus and the apostle Peter recorded in John 21:15-17. (Note: A good commentary will give an explanation of the two different words translated by the English word “love” in that text).
Storgē(pronounced STOR-gay) is the word used to refer to natural or instinctual affection, the bond of empathy and love that exists among and between family members—parents and children, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc. This, of course, does not mean that agápe love does not also exist in these relationships.
Agápe(pronounced uh-GOP-a) is “the characteristic word of Christianity” (Vine), and is used in the New Testament to speak of God’s love toward His Son (John 17:26), His love for the human race in general (John 3:16; Romans 5:8), and His love for those who have become His spiritual children by faith in Christ and obedience to the gospel (John 14:21). It is the word that expresses the essential nature of God (I John 4:8). It is the love we are to have for God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Agápe is the love that husbands and wives are to have for each other (Ephesians 5:25-29; Titus 2:1-5) (not that the other kinds of love are not also present in this most intimate of all earthly relationships). Agápe is the love we are to have for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35; Romans 13:8), and even for our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). In this sense, love can be (and is) commanded (I John 3:23; 4:21). (We can and must have agápe love even for those we do not like). Agápe is a deliberate choice we each can and must make that earnestly seeks the well-being of others. The divine traits and the becoming behavior of agápe love are set forth in I Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3:12-14. Next week, D.V., we will examine these wonderful characteristics.
While by no means exhaustive, it is hoped that this brief study has been helpful in understanding the different ways in which the word “love” is used in the original Greek of our New Testaments and the significance of the word as it is used in various settings and relationships.
May 4, 2021