The Bible Uses Four Different Words to Describe ‘Love’
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We use the word “love” for many things. We might say, “I love dogs; I love school; I love my girlfriend; I love my work; and I love to travel.” We use the word “love” every time! We don’t discriminate.
However, Greek has four different words that expand the meaning of what we call “love.”
First, the word “Storge” might be translated as the word “like.” Think “I like chicken; I like my car; I like chocolate ice cream; or, “I like my dog.”
Next, the word “Eros” refers to erotic sex or erotic love.
“Philos” basically means “close friend.” It describes “brotherly love.” This is also the word often used to describe marriage between husband and wife.
Finally, “Agape” is a love of deepest intimacy, vulnerability, sacrifice, and devotion. It is used to describe the intimate love of God. Agape is the word Jesus used whenever He talked about love!
Agape is sacrificial, giving love that demands nothing in return: “For God so “agape’d” the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16, paraphrased). Agape loves the unlovable. Agape never quits.
Jesus Evaluated Peter’s Love Level
Let’s read John 21 again, swapping out the words Jesus and Peter actually used for “love.” Notice that Jesus used “agape” twice and then switched to “philos,” while Peter used “philos” throughout.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love (philos) you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “’Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philos) you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love (philos) me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him the third time, “Do you love me (philos)?”
He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (philos) you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
I remember once being head over heels in love with this girl named Janet. Finally, I got up my courage and said, “I love you with all my heart. I worship the ground you walk on.”
She said, “I like you a lot.” My seven-year-old heart was crushed.
When He got to the third question, Jesus lowered the bar from “agape” to “philos,” asking if Peter even loved him like he would love a brother. Peter said, “Well, at least I love you like a brother. I think…”
With that evaluation out of the way, Jesus began to transition Peter from fishing for men to shepherding God’s flock.
Phileo love is not enough to impel a life of obedience, service, and self-denial for Christ.
Phileo did not do it for Peter. It won’t do it for us either.
There is no shortcut. Loving Jesus and serving Him takes agape love.
By the way, eventually, Peter’s agape love for Jesus led him to Rome, where he preached the gospel with whole-hearted-agape devotion. Peter was crucified upside down, in honor of his Lord.
If Simon Peter can develop a heart full of agape love for Jesus Christ, then, so can we. And here’s another Biblical example we can learn from...
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