The word “love” has been stolen by the world and used to describe any activity based on emotional feelings, including the most degraded, animalistic behaviour; it is used as an excuse to validate the depraved lusts of mankind. But Christians should turn to the scriptures to understand what Biblical words really mean in the mouth of God.
There are four words translated from the Greek as “love” – agape, phileo, storge and eros. Although they are all translated into English as ”love”, each word has a particular meaning that signifies a unique, qualitative difference. Christians need to understand this.
Agape is the love that God has for mankind, as set forth in John 3:16. It is willed love, love determined by an act of will, rather than the outcome of a feeling; after all, looking at what mankind has come to, would God feel good about it?
No, God’s love is not prompted or inspired by any moral virtue or excellence in its object; it is an exercise of His Divine will, made without any cause except that which lies in the Divine nature.
God has made known the quality of this agape in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8); or, as John put it; “In this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).
Thus, the quality of this love is seen in God’s sacrificial gift of His Son; agape is sacrificial love, an offering of self as a sacrifice for another; the putting of others’ interests ahead of our own. It is the love the followers of Christ Jesus are meant to have for one another (1 John 4:11); indeed, it is the “new commandment” of the New Testament (John 13:34). The first and greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to love the Lord God with all your heart soul and mind; “…a second is like it; love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Agape towards the brethren is not prompted by feelings, nor does it run with natural affections or inclinations; after all, Jesus said, even the tax gatherers love those who love them (Matthew 5:46). Just as God loves mankind irrespective of the existence of any loveable qualities, so we, too, are to love those with whom we are put together.
Fundamentally, agape can only be the fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within; it will only be the supernatural outcome of the one who is abiding in Christ; it transcends all other Christian virtues and, if agape is not present, we are empty and unprofitable vessels indeed (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Phileo, on the other hand, is love for brethren, love for friends and, as such, is a product of feelings. It has a distinctive character of its own, which is best expressed in the relationship of the Father and the Son. We read that the Father loves the Son in both forms, agape from His will (John 3:35) and phileo from His feelings (John 5:20).
Phileo, unlike agape, is not commanded of men by God; it is not the expression of will, but natural affection and tender feelings and does not require the inspiration or impulse of the Holy Spirit. This is best exemplified in the dialogue between the Lord Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17. In His first two questions, Jesus used agape and Peter’s response is phileo. This seems to suggest that Peter, not yet having received the Holy Spirit, was not able to comprehend the quality of agape. Jesus then used phileo, which Peter had used in his response to the question; “Do you agape Me?” Peter’s love was certainly based on natural affection and tender feelings; not yet, until the Spirit came, could he know agape.
Strorge is familial love; that is the natural love that exists between family members. It is not used in the Bible, except in the negative, astorge, (Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3), where it is translated as “without natural affection”, generally meaning of parents for children or children for parents. Sadly, astorge is a common condition in today’s world.
Eros is the fourth Greek word translated as “love”. It does not appear in the Bible at all, and derives from Greek mythology; Eros was a god, the son of Aphrodite, and was armed with arrows that caused people to fall in love. His Roman equivalent is Cupid.
Eros has come to mean fleshly or sexual love and is thus the root word for the word “erotic”. It was totally associated with fleshly desire and, by the time of the New Testament, the word “eros” had become so debased that it is not used in the New Testament at all.
In the modern world, there is much talk about “love”, but what is meant is “eros”, which in most instances, might better be translated as “lust”. That is not to say that sexual love, of itself, is impure or sinful; it is the gift of God to those who, under His Lordship, have taken on the sacrificial commitment of marriage and parenthood. But it is in this sphere that the natural sinful nature is manifest because it focuses primarily on the satisfaction of self, whereas storge, phileo and agape, are associated with relationships to others.
Although the Bible devotes one book to the blessings of the erotic – the Song of Solomon – it is figurative. Paul warns us against the idolatrous nature of the erotic; “Put to death, therefore, the members of your earthly body; immorality, impurity, passion, evil lust, and greed; which amount to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).
Outside of marriage, eros becomes distorted and sinful. So “love”, as it is called, can be many things in the world; but the believer needs to rightly understand it as, going from the base to the pure, eros, storge, phileo and agape.
“This mystery is great; but I am speaking in reference to Christ and the ecclesia” (Ephesians 5:32).
After Jesus had washed the feet of His disciples as a demonstration of the nature of divine leadership and authority, He went on to prepare them for His departure. In doing so, He drew upon Jewish culture and tradition.
As shown in the typical story of Abraham, the father sends His messenger to choose a bride for his son; on finding her he presents her with gifts on behalf of the son. The son and the intended bride meet and, with the approval of both fathers, they are betrothed; that is, one mind and one heart. The son then returns to his father’s house to prepare a place for his bride; when he has done that he comes and receives her to himself and takes her away and they become one flesh.
This was the Jewish tradition that derives from the teaching of the Law and Jesus enacted this cultural tradition when preparing the disciples for what lay ahead:
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; otherwise I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you, and when I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again, and will receive you to Myself, in order that where I am, there you should be also” (John 14:2-3).
The Father had already given these disciples to Jesus (John 17:6) and now, Jesus is saying, they are, in effect, betrothed to Him. In the case of all of those having faith in Christ since that time, however, the Holy Spirit, as the Divine Messenger, has been sent by the Father to those He has chosen to quicken their dead spirits into life. In responding to that call, we become betrothed to Christ Jesus. We are to be one mind and one heart with Him. From the time of choosing until the time of the marriage supper, we are being prepared, in this world, for life in the Father’s house.
All of these things also point to what is expected of followers of Jesus Christ in relation to their own marriages in this world. Paul teaches that marriage is an allegorical representation of the relationship between Christ and those the Father has given to be His; that is why departing from the relationship is viewed as adultery, betraying the Betrothed.
Looking at the teaching on marriage relationships and the respective responsibilities of husbands and wives, it is obvious that it is fashioned on that of the nature of the life-giving relationship between Christ and His people. As to husbands, their responsibility is clear:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the ecclesia and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
“Husbands, love your wives, and do not become resentful towards them” (Colossians 3:19).
This is not Hollywood “love”, but agape, the love that Christ has for us; it comes from the will, not the feelings. Feelings, after all, can change, but a willed love, like that of Christ, remains steadfast and true. This is a huge responsibility on husbands, honoured mainly in the breach.
Husbandly love is sacrificial, reflecting the sacrifice of the Lord; just as He laid down His life for us, so husbands are meant to lay down their lives for their wives and children; not necessarily as did Jesus on the cross, but in the same way He laid down His life every day to obey the Father and to minister to His people. Few husbands have such a vision for husbandly service and sacrifice, or even consider it to be what is demanded by the scriptures, but if the husband will not fulfill his responsibilities, then it cannot be expected that his wife will have any regard for hers.
As to wives, their responsibility is just as difficult and contrary to the prevailing zeitgeist:
“But as the ecclesia is in subjection to Christ, thus also the wives are to be in subjection to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24).
“Wives, be in submission to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18).
“Submissive to their own husbands…..” (Titus 2:5).
Wives –“……… a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God; being in subjection to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:4-5).
“Likewise, you wives, being in subjection to their own husbands……” (1 Peter 3:1).
Latter day evangelical feminism has made this teaching on marriage repugnant to most modern women and, as a consequence, it has been deconstructed so as not to mean what it does mean. “Subjection” may seem a harsh word, but the Greek hupotasso means just that; subordinate to, under firm control, submissive to etc.. Moreover, the word is used because the apostles are describing the marriage relationship in the terms of a believer’s relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was a time when each one of us didn’t know Christ; we were born unbelievers and, although He knew us and loved us, we did not know Him or submit to Him.
Thus, we received none of the blessings of that love with which He loved us. But, once we knew Him and bent the knee to Him, we were able to experience His love and receive the blessings that were always there, but unknown to us. So it is with husband/wife relationships; the key to releasing the husbandly gifts that every man is born with, is submission.
It is a Biblical principle; we must go down before we can go up; we have to come out before we can go in.
Wives tend to focus on the responsibilities of the husband; husbands tend to focus on those of the wife; but the fact is that each person in the marriage must focus on the teaching that applies to them, not their spouse. As long as we are looking at our spouse, we are neglecting that which we are called to do.