“It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Love is the foundation—the very heart—of the Christian life. However, we must be cautious. The word “love” is used carelessly in our culture, with virtually no concern for what God means by love. As Paul says in the Philippians passage above, our love must be directed by “knowledge and all discernment.” We must not allow our life or work to be directed by a distorted definition of love.
There are three different words for love in Greek, and each word means something different in scripture.
- Eros is based on feelings and is me-oriented.
- Philia is based on shared interest and is we-oriented.
- Agape is Christ-centered and others-oriented.
Eros. It is from this word that we get the word “erotic,” but it means much more than sexual feeling. This is “feeling” love, and it is me-oriented. “I love pizza” means that a person really likes the taste of pizza. “I love that song” means that a person enjoys a particular piece of music. “I love to compete and win” means that a person enjoys the thrill of competition and achieving victory.
Eros is directed towards things or people or situations that make us feel good. For example, when we are being influenced by eros and we say to someone: “I love you,” we mean “I love you because of how you make me feel.”
The foundation of this type of love is some characteristic in the other person which pleases us. If the characteristic would cease to exist, the reason for the love would be gone. The philosophy of eros is that being loved depends on being attractive or beneficial in some way to another person. Because of this dependency, eros would be considered a conditional type of love.
Philia. This is brotherly love. It is friendship. It is the kind of love that is based on shared interests, common goals, or personalities that just seem to get along well. It describes affection, fondness, or liking another person. It responds to appreciation, respect, and kindness. It involves giving as well as receiving; but when it is greatly strained, it can collapse in a crisis.
It is a higher-level love than eros because it is freely chosen. And whereas eros is me-oriented, philia is we-oriented.
Agape. This is the noblest word for love in the Greek language, and it is the word that scripture uses for God’s love for us. It is also the kind of love the Lord calls to exercise toward others. It is the word which Paul uses in Ephesians 3 when he prays that we would be “rooted and grounded in love.” It is used approximately 320 times in the New Testament.
Agape goes beyond passion. It goes beyond natural affection. It is not kindled by the merit or worth of it’s object, but it originates in it’s own God-given nature. It loves when the object is unloveable. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
It is the kind of love that acts and sacrifices on behalf of others, even at great cost. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Thomas Aquinas described it as “to will the good of another.”
Eros is good if exercised within the boundaries of God’s principles. By all means be passionate about winning (and hate losing). By all means enjoy music and pizza and a beer. By all means enjoy the feelings of romantic love. But do so in alignment with God’s kingdom.
Philia is also good if exercised within the boundaries of God’s principles. By all means enjoy friendship and fellowship and companionship. By all means enjoy the shared purpose and goals of a true team. But do so in alignment with God’s kingdom.
Again, eros is me-oriented. Philia is we-oriented. Agape is others-oriented.
The key is to be rooted and grounded in agape.