Category: Greek words for Love

God’s love, as described in the Bible, is clearly unconditional in that His love is expressed toward the objects of His love (that is, His people) despite their disposition toward Him. In other words, God loves because it His nature to love (1 John 4:8), and that love moves Him toward benevolent action. The unconditional nature of God’s love is most clearly seen in the gospel. The gospel message is basically a story of divine rescue. As God considers the plight of His rebellious people, He determines to save them from their sin, and this determination is based on His love (Ephesians 1:4-5). Listen to the Apostle Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).

Reading through the book of Romans, we learn that we are alienated from God due to our sin. We are at enmity with God, and His wrath is being revealed against the ungodly for their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-20). We reject God, and God gives us over to our sin. We also learn that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and that none of us seek God, none of us do what is right before His eyes (Romans 3:10-18).

Despite this hostility and enmity we have toward God (for which God would be perfectly just to utterly destroy us), God reveals His love toward us in the giving of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the propitiation (that is, the appeasement of God’s righteous wrath) for our sins. God did not wait for us to better ourselves as a condition of atoning for our sin. Rather, God condescended to become a man and live among His people (John 1:14). God experienced our humanity—everything it means to be a human being—and then offered Himself willingly as a substitutionary atonement for our sin.

This divine rescue resulted in a gracious act of self-sacrifice. As Jesus says in John’s gospel, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is precisely what God, in Christ, has done. The unconditional nature of God’s love is made clear in two more passages from Scripture:

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

It is important to note that God’s love is a love that initiates; it is never a response. That is precisely what makes it unconditional. If God’s love were conditional, then we would have to do something to earn or merit it. We would have to somehow appease His wrath and cleanse ourselves of our sin before God would be able to love us. But that is not the biblical message. The biblical message—the gospel—is that God, motivated by love, moved unconditionally to save His people from their sin.

  Let’s look at how the Bible describes love, and then we will see a few ways in which God is the essence of love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a). This is God’s description of love, and because God is love (1 John 4:8), this is what He is like.

Love (God) does not force Himself on anyone. Those who come to Him do so in response to His love. Love (God) shows kindness to all. Love (Jesus) went about doing good to everyone without partiality. Love (Jesus) did not covet what others had, living a humble life without complaining. Love (Jesus) did not brag about who He was in the flesh, although He could have overpowered anyone He ever came in contact with. Love (God) does not demand obedience. God did not demand obedience from His Son, but rather, Jesus willingly obeyed His Father in heaven. “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31). Love (Jesus) was/is always looking out for the interests of others.

The greatest expression of God’s love is communicated to us in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Romans 5:8 proclaims the same message: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We can see from these verses that it is God’s greatest desire that we join Him in His eternal home, heaven. He has made the way possible by paying the price for our sins. He loves us because He chose to as an act of His will. Love forgives. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, what does it mean that God is love? Love is an attribute of God. Love is a core aspect of God’s character, His Person. God’s love is in no sense in conflict with His holiness, righteousness, justice, or even His wrath. All of God’s attributes are in perfect harmony. Everything God does is loving, just as everything He does is just and right. God is the perfect example of true love. Amazingly, God has given those who receive His Son Jesus as their personal Savior the ability to love as He does, through the power of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1, 23-24).

What is storge love?

The ancient Greek language had four words to describe different types of love: agape, phileo, eros, and storge. Only two of these Greek words are used in the New Testament, agape (self-sacrificial love) and phileo (brotherly love).

A third type of love, eros, expresses sexual love, but the word is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. The fourth Greek word for love is storge, which relates to natural, familial love such as the love between a parent and child. In the New Testament, the negative form of storge is used twice. Astorgos means “devoid of natural or instinctive affection, without affection to kindred.”

Romans 1:31 describes sinful humanity as having “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” The Greek word translated as “no love” is astorgos. The other instance of this word is found in 2 Timothy 3:3, where it is translated “without love.” Paul warns that one mark of the “terrible times in the last days” (verse 1) is that people will lack natural love for their own families.

In Romans 12:10 we find an interesting compound: philostorgos is translated as “be devoted.” The word combines philos and storge and means “to cherish one’s kindred.” Believers in Christ, children of the same heavenly Father, are to “be devoted to one another in love.” As part of God’s family, we should show loving affection toward each other and be prone to love. Philostorgus is used only once in the New Testament, and that’s in Romans 12:10.

What is phileo love?

The Bible speaks of two types of love: phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms and appear at different points throughout Scripture. The Greek language also had terms for two other types of love, eros and storge, which do not expressly appear in the Bible.

To better understand phileo love, we need to take a brief look at the other types of love. Storge is an affectionate love, the type of love one might have for family or a spouse. It is a naturally occurring, unforced type of love. Some examples of storge love can be found in the stories of Noah, Jacob, and siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

As its name indicates, eros is passionate or sexual love (eros is the source of the English word erotic). While eros is important within a marriage relationship and is created by God (see Song of Solomon), it can also be abused or mistaken for storge love. The Bible is clear that sexual immorality (out-of-control eros) is a sin (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Agape speaks of the most powerful, noblest type of love: sacrificial love. Agape love is more than a feeling—it is an act of the will. This is the love that God has for His people and that prompted the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, for our sins. Jesus was agape love personified. Christians are to love one another with agape love, as seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Finally, we have phileo love. Philia refers to brotherly love and is most often exhibited in a close friendship. Best friends will display this generous and affectionate love for each other as each seeks to make the other happy. The Scriptural account of David and Jonathan is an excellent illustration of phileo love: “After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. . . . And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:1-3).

Since phileo love involves feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, we do not have phileo love toward our enemies. However, God commands us to have agape love toward everyone. This includes those whose personalities clash with ours, those who hurt us and treat us badly, and even those who are hostile toward our faith (Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:44). In time, as we follow God’s example of agape love for our enemies, we may even begin to experience phileo love for some of them as we start to see them through God’s eyes.

What is agape love?

The Greek word agape is often translated “love” in the New Testament. How is “agape love” different from other types of love? The essence of agape love is self-sacrifice. Unlike our English word “love,” agape is not used in the Bible to refer to romantic or sexual love. Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, for which the Greek word philia is used. Nor does agape mean “charity,” a term which the King James translators carried over from the Latin. Agape love is unique and is distinguished by its nature and character (see: Meaning of Agape Love).

Agape is love which is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself. The apostle John affirms this in 1 John 4:8: “God is love.” God does not merely love; He is love itself. Everything God does flows from His love. But it is important to remember that God’s love is not a sappy, sentimental love such as we often hear portrayed. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely (us!), not because we deserve to be loved, but because it is His nature to love us, and He must be true to His nature and character. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross, where Christ died for the unworthy creatures who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), not because we did anything to deserve it, “but God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The object of God’s agape love never does anything to merit His love. We are the undeserving recipients upon whom He lavishes that love. His love was demonstrated when He sent His Son into the world to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to provide eternal life to those He sought and saved. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for those He loves.

In the same way, we are to love others sacrificially. Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us, or even hate us, as the Jews did the Samaritans. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own. But this type of love does not come naturally to humans. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love—that agape—can only come from its true Source. This is the love which “has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5). Because that love is now in our hearts, we can obey Jesus who said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. As I have loved you, you should also love one another” (John 13:34). This new commandment involves loving one another as He loved us sacrificially, even to the point of death. But, again, it is clear that only God can generate within us the kind of self-sacrificing love which is the proof that we are His children. “By this we have known the love of God, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are now able to love one another.

Unlike English, in which  the word “love” means many different things, the Greek uses three words  to describe the range of meaning that our word “love” conveys. The first  word is eros, from which we get the English word ‘erotic.’  Eros is the word used to express sexual love or the feelings of arousal  that are shared between people who are physically attracted to one another. By  New Testament times, this word had become so debased by the culture that it is  not used even once in the entire New Testament.

The second Greek word  for love is phileo, which forms part of the words ‘philosophy’  (“love of wisdom”) andor philanthropy (“love of fellow man”). This word  speaks more of the warm affection shared between family or friends. Whereas  eros is more closely associated with the libido, phileo can be  more associated with the emotions, or the heart (metaphorically speaking). We  feel love for our friends and family, obviously not in the eros sense,  but a love that motivates us to want to treat them kindly and help them succeed.  However, phileo is not felt between people who are at enmity with one  another. We can feel phileo love toward friends and family, but not  toward people whom we dislike or hate.

Different from both of these is  the third Greek word for love, agapao, typically defined as the  “self-sacrificing love.” It is the love that moves people into action and looks  out for the well-being of others, no matter the personal cost. Biblically  speaking, agapao is the love God showed to His people in sending His Son,  Jesus, to die for their sins. It is the love that focuses on the will, not the  emotions or libido. This is the love that Jesus commands His disciples to show  toward their enemies (Luke 6:35).  Eros and phileo are not expressed to people who hate us and wish  us ill; agapao is. In Romans 5:8,  Paul tells us that God’s love for His people was made manifest in that “while we  were still sinners [i.e., enemies], Christ died for us.”

So, moving from  the base to the pure, we have eros, phileo, and agapao.  This is not to denigrate eros as sinful or impure. Sexual love is not  inherently unclean or evil. Rather, it is the gift of God to married couples to  express their love for one another, strengthen the bond between them, and ensure  the survival of the human race. The Bible devotes one whole book to the  blessings of erotic, or sexual, love—Song of Solomon. The love between a husband  and a wife should be, among other things, an erotic love. However, a long-term  relationship based solely on erotic love is doomed to failure. The ‘thrill’ of  sexual love wears off quickly unless there areis some phileo and  agapao to go along with it.

Conversely, while there is nothing  inherently sinful with erotic love, it is in this sphere of love that our sinful  nature is made most manifest because it primarily centers on the self, whereas  phileo and agapao focus on others. Consider what the Aapostle Paul  tells the Colossian church: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is  idolatry” (Colossians  3:5). The Greek word for “sexual immorality” is the same word from which we  get ‘pornography’ (Gk. porneia), which essentially covers the  gamut of sexual sin (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality,  etc.).

When shared between husband and wife, erotic love can be a  wonderful thing, but because of our fallen sin nature, eros too often  becomes porneia. When this happens, human beings tend to go to extremes,  becoming either ascetics or hedonists. The ascetic is the person who completely  eschews sexual love because its association with sexual immorality makes it  appear evil and therefore must be avoided. The hedonist is the person who sees  sexual love without restraint as perfectly natural. As usual, the biblical view  is seen in the balance between these two sinful extremes. Within the bonds of  heterosexual marriage, God celebrates the beauty of sexual love: “Let my lover  come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. I have come into my garden, my  sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my  honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. Eat, O friends, and  drink; drink your fill, O lovers” (Song of Solomon 4:16–5:1). But outside of biblical  marriage, eros becomes distorted and sinful.

Agape, and its verb form agapao, is one of the several Greek words  for love. The Bible also mentions phileo, or brotherly love, and refers  to eros, erotic love. The Greeks also spoke of storge, which is a  love between family members.

Agape love is a little different. It  is not a feeling; it’s a motivation for action that we are free to choose or  reject. Agape is a sacrificial love that voluntarily suffers  inconvenience, discomfort, and even death for the benefit of another without  expecting anything in return. We are called to agape love through  Christ’s example: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk  in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering  and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians  5:1-2).

We are to agapao God (Matthew  22:37), our neighbor (Matthew  22:39), and even our enemies (Matthew  5:43-46). We are not to agapao money (Matthew  6:24), darkness (John 3:19), or  men’s approval (John  12:43).

The New Testament has over two-hundred references to  agape love. Here are a few.

Matthew  24:12: With increased lawlessness in the end times, concern and caring for  others will fade.

Luke 11:42:  The legalism of the Pharisees, even their sacrifices, did not reflect a love of  God.

John 13:35:  The Christian life is characterized by sacrificial agape love.

John 15:9-10; Romans 13:10: When we  agape love God, we show it by obeying His commandments because His  commandments teach us how to love others.

John 15:13:  The greatest demonstration of love anyone can give is to die for his  friends.

John 17:26Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22Agape love comes from God, not our own effort.

Romans 5:8; Revelation  1:5: It was agape love that caused Jesus to sacrifice Himself for  us.

Romans  14:15; 1  Corinthians 8:1: It is not loving to lead another into sin.

Colossians 3:19: Men are  called to show agape love to their wives.

James 1:12; 2:5: Love of  God will result in rewards in heaven.

2 Peter  2:15; 1 John 2:15:  It is possible to sacrificially love something that is not godly.

Although 1 Corinthians 13 is known as the chapter on love, there is no book  that speaks more about agape than 1 John. Two important themes come out  of 1 John. The first is that it is inconsistent and false to claim we  agape love God while not agape loving other believers. We cannot  love God without loving brothers and sisters who also love Him. The second is  that it is inconsistent and false to claim we agape love God if we don’t  obey Him. It is impossible to love God while ignoring what He says. The two are  inextricably connected, as Galatians  5:14 says: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement,  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”