Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant
— 1 Corinthians 13:4
Beloved, we’ve talked about two kinds of love: Storge, meaning natural affection, and Eros — erotic love. Both of these are based on our own self interests. But today we’ll look at two more words for love; one that describes the love of friends and another that has its origins in God Himself! Remember, love is a choice! How will you choose to love?
Phileo. To me, phileo is the most enjoyable of all loves. It’s the love that makes marriage so pleasurable, a delight and joy for couples of all ages. It is the love of fond companionship, the love we so long for in our relationships through the years. If we’re not experiencing this love in our own marriages, it’s so difficult not to be envious when we see others enjoying it.
Kenneth Wuest defines it as a “love that is called out of one’s heart as a response to the pleasure one takes in a person or object.” Knowing the definition of “phileo” helps you understand why you can say almost in the same breath that you love chocolate, a sunset, a painting, and someone who is very special to you. It’s a love — a feeling — you must carefully watch, an affection that can be sparked by another outside your marriage in all innocence. Yet as soon as it is recognized for what it is, it must be quickly dismissed or it can lead you into trouble. You can’t believe how quickly phileo can slip into eros! I think this is how people sometimes slip into affairs when it was never in their hearts to even consider another!
Phileo is an “I like you” kind of love that responds to kindness, appreciation, or acts of tenderness. Different than eros, it’s a love that wants to give as well as receive — and yet it doesn’t give merely in order to get. It’s not a “my happiness only” kind of love; it’s more noble than that. It’s an “I want your happiness” kind of love.
Agape. Even so, for all its warm, wonderful, delightful qualities, phileo doesn’t have the “stickability” of agape, the next kind of love we will consider. Why? Because phileo is called out of one’s heart and affections by the qualities in another. So, as with the other loves we have considered already, it is still possible for an individual to say, “I don’t love you anymore” when those appreciated qualities begin to fade for one reason or another. A marriage partner may abandon even the most companionable of phileo love if he or she comes to the conclusion that the price tag for further investment has gone too high. “Yes,” he or she may reason, “we shared some wonderful love together, but I have lost the desire to go the distance.”
Agape is a love called out of one’s heart by the preciousness of the object loved. It’s not that something about the person makes him or her precious. Rather, it is because every human being created by God has worth, value, and purpose. Agape is a love of esteem, of evaluation. It carries the idea of prizing and is the noblest word for love in the Greek language.
Yet for all its value and nobility, it is a word rarely used outside of the pages of Scripture. Within the New Testament, however, it shines off the page at least 320 times. What makes this word so unique? Just this: Agape is not kindled by the merit or worth of its object; it has its origins in the nature of God Himself!
God is love — this kind of love.
God’s love gives and gives and gives — even when the loved one is unresponsive, unkind, unlovable, and unworthy. It is a love that never falters or fails. It is the love that caused God to love us when we were helpless (Romans 5:5-8). It is a love that does not grow weary. Shakespeare captured the spirit of this love in one of his sonnets, when he wrote: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove.... It is an ever fixed mark.”
This, Beloved, is the love we need. This is the love our heart craves. It is the distinguishing mark of true believers through the centuries and in every culture throughout the world. Christians are known by their love...this kind of love. By this love, we are recognized as Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus modeled agape love for us. He is a divine plumb line dropped from heaven by which we might measure our love for others. Agape is a love that proves its existence in demonstrable activity. It’s a love that can be commanded — and obeyed. It is the love of a marriage without regrets. It is priceless. And it is a love that is available to every one of us!
Our Lord calls us to love our mates in this agape way...even if our marriages are no longer what they used to be...even if we never receive love in return.
God is love. He loved us when there was nothing to love and everything to despise. Now He has thrown open the door of His infinite storehouses of love so that you and I might experience it to the full and parcel it out to others. If we begin to understand the extent and nature of His limitless love, we may also begin to grasp how we can become better conduits of this love to those who so desperately need it. And the place to begin, of course, is with your own husband or wife.
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Host, Precepts For Life
Co-CEO, Precept Ministries International
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