If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Love. In the English language, this one word has a multitude of meanings. We love Jesus. We love our spouse. We love our family. We love our car. We love our pets. We love chocolate. If we are followers of Jesus, we love our neighbor. Love, love, love…
Seems to me that in some respects, the word love is over-used or misused in our vocabulary. English has a shortage of words to convey the various feelings of “love.” What I feel for my family is not the same as what I feel for chocolate. My family brings me joy, fills my heart with affection and feelings of tenderness. Chocolate tastes really good and I cling to the reports that say a little dark chocolate is good for me. I really like that my car is cute and gets pretty good gas mileage, but it seems a bit odd to me to use the same word for how I feel about it that I use to describe to my feelings toward Jesus. I don’t love my neighbor the same way I love my children.
In English, there are a variety of meanings for the word love. The Bible, too, contains different meanings for this same word: Agape, Philia, Eros, and Storge. Let’s take a look at these four Greek words and how they are used in the Bible.
Agape (uh-GAH-pay): self-sacrificing and unconditional love. It is the divine love of God – his for us and us for him. It is this type of love that sent Christ to the cross to die for our sins so that we may experience the full, complete, unmitigated love of God. It is a love that doesn’t count the wrongs done, the sins committed. This is the meaning of the word love most used in the New Testament. It is the kind of love described in the opening verse above. This is the word used by Jesus when he commands his followers: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30-31, Matthew 22:37-39, see also Deuteronomy 6:5) ” “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12-13) If we are honest with ourselves, Agape is a difficult concept, hard to put into practice.
Philia (FILL-ee-uh): affectionate attachment such as that of close friendship. It is a “brotherly” love and Christians are called to engage in this type of love: “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10) “A friend loves at all times.” (Proverbs 17:17) Philia is generally mutual but can, at times, be conditional, although, in reality, followers of Jesus should never place conditions on any type of love.
Storge (STOR-jay): family love, the bond between parent and child, brother and sister. Although this word doesn’t appear in the Bible per se, examples of this type of love are found especially in the Old Testament: “Honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12). It is the kind of love that Jacob had for his sons, Mary and Martha had for their brother Lazarus, and James and John (the sons of Zebedee) had for each other.
Eros (Air-ose): physical, sensual love between a husband and wife. This Greek word is not found in the Bible, but the concept is clearly evident in the marital relationship set up between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain.” (Genesis 4:1) This is mutually exclusive physical love shared between two deeply committed and emotionally connected people.
Philia, Storge, and Eros are fairly easy for us to understand and practice in our lives, but it is Agape that we find the most difficult. Although God shows us Agape continually, we sometimes have trouble accepting and sharing that same love with one another. As followers of Jesus, though, we are commanded to do just that.
Your sister in Christ,