Is all love felt by humans the same as the love of God? The Greeks had five different words that were translated “love.” They are:
Eros – This is an animal level of love from where we get the word erotic.
Philantropia – human kindness from where we get the word philanthropy.
Storge – means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.
Phileo – brotherly love, simular to storge.
Agapao – used in the New Testament to describe God’s affections toward mankind.
W. E. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words states:
and the corresponding noun agape (B, No. 1 below) present “the characteristic word of Christianity, and since the Spirit of revelation has used it to express ideas previously unknown, inquiry into its use, whether in Greek literature or in the Septuagint, throws but little light upon its distinctive meaning in the NT. Cp., however, Lev_19:18; Deu_6:5.
“Agape and agapao are used in the NT (a) to describe the attitude of God toward His Son, Joh_17:26; the human race, generally, Joh_3:16; Rom_5:8; and to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly, Joh_14:21; (b) to convey His will to His children concerning their attitude one toward another, Joh_13:34, and toward all men, 1Th_3:12; 1Co_16:14; 2Pe_1:7; (c) to express the essential nature of God, 1Jo_4:8.
“Love can be known only from the actions it prompts. God’s love is seen in the gift of His Son, 1Jo_4:9-10. But obviously this is not the love of complacency, or affection, that is, it was not drawn out by any excellency in its objects, Rom_5:8. It was an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself, Cp. Deu_7:7-8.
“Love had its perfect expression among men in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2Co_5:14; Eph_2:4; Eph_3:19; Eph_5:2; Christian love is the fruit of His Spirit in the Christian, Gal_5:22.
“Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments, Joh_14:15, Joh_14:21, Joh_14:23; Joh_15:10; 1Jo_2:5; 1Jo_5:3; 2Jo_1:6. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God.
“Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all, Rom_15:2, and works no ill to any, 13:8-10; love seeks opportunity to do good to ‘all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,’ Gal_6:10. See further 1 Cor. 13 and Col_3:12-14.” * [* From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, p. 105.]
In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant “love” and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential “love” in them towards the Giver, and a practical “love” towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others to seek the Giver. See BELOVED.
Phileo and Agapeo are used often in the New Testament and it is these two that I hope to make a distinction about and maybe clear up some confusion as to what God desires in His saints. Here is something that George Davis and I wrote on this subject.
There is an exchange between Jesus and His disciple Peter that is very telling if we take the time to consider how it applies to us as His disciples. Jesus was very demanding with Peter. He would not let him get by with just a half answer. Have you ever had the Lord ask you the same thing three times? Believe me, it gets your attention when He does and you should also be grieved as Peter was.
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [agapao] Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileo] You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [agapao] Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love [phileo] You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love [phileo] Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love [phileo] You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”
This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 21:15-19, NKJV).
Jesus agapao(ed) Peter, but Peter could only phileo Jesus. Agapao was not there in his heart. I think it did come later, though, after he was filled with the Spirit at Pentecost. It is as if Jesus was asking Peter three times, “Do you agapao love me, Peter? I agapao you! Are you willing to deny all of your self-interests and love Me more than these… your boat, your nets, even this great catch you just received? Peter, phileo love is not enough to be a true shepherd of My sheep. You said you would never deny me, but I am asking you to deny yourself! You must tend My sheep with agapao love as I have love you. Your life is no longer your own. You can no longer dress yourself in what you like and step out and strut your stuff in the power of your old nature. You must be so bound by My love that you cannot help but lay down your life for my flock and love them like I do. Brotherly love is not enough. It will fail you in this work. You must agapao Me and my flock and become a slave of them all, not seeking ever again your own self interests. You must die, Peter. Your old man will not make the grade in what I am binding you to and where I am leading you.”
Yes, Simon did eventually lay down his life for his friend Jesus. Tradition has it that when he was older he was indeed bound and taken where he had formerly been unable to go. Tradition has it that after years of embracing the cross in his heart, it came to pass on that faithful day in Rome that Peter hung upside down on a literal cross for the love of his friend Jesus, asking to be crucified downward because he reasoned that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as had his Lord and Friend. So it is with the utmost respect that we now call him Peter. What devotion! What greater love is there than this? Was Peter a stone? Undoubtedly! Was He the Rock? No! But he looked an awful lot like Him. We see in that name Peter the process by which God aligns lively stones to the Cornerstone. Jesus builds His church with such stones.