Love-Phileo And Agape.
The N.T. contains a couple of Greek words that in English are translated as love. A good place to go is where we find more than one of these Greek words used in the same context. For example, this difference is brought out most significantly in a passage that concerns Peter, in John’s epistle. Near the end of his epistle, John records the following conversation with Peter. Jesus asked Peter if he had ‘agapas’ for him. Peter responds by saying he had ‘philo’ or brotherly love for him. Again Jesus asks Peter if he had agapas for him, and again Peter says that he had philo for him. Then after giving him an example of agapas, namely to shepherd his sheep, he then asks Peter if he had phileis for him. We then read that Peter is grieved by this, and he then says again, “you know I philo you” (v. 17). Agape love is something more than phileo.
Then in his first letter Peter uses both ‘philadelphian’ or brotherly love, and ‘agapesate’ at 1:22, and it also emphasizes this distinction. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love (philadelphian) of the brethren, love (agapesate) one another fervently with a pure heart. As Peter began the work of feeding Christ’s sheep, Peter came to understand what it meant to have ‘agapate’ for him (1:8). Agape involves sacrifice. He later says that we must have ‘agapesate’ for the brotherhood (2:17). Interestingly he also refers later to what appears to be a poem or hymnal abstract when he talked about those who ‘agapan’ life (3:10). Paul also made this point. “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to ’agapen’one another” (I Th. 4:9).
There are more occurrences in John’s first letter than in any other book. When the apostle John wrote that we should not love the world (that is, the kosmos, or the whole created order), he uses the word agape. The reason we are not to agape the kosmos is because agape is reserved for our relationship with the Him. To agape the kosmos is to make an idol out of what the Creator has made. However, we are to have agape for his church, because it is agape that we share with Him. This ‘agape(s)’ is in Christ Jesus (I Tim. 1:14; II Tim. 1:13). ‘Agapev’ is what the man of God must pursue (6:11). ‘Agapes’ is what we have been given, along with power and self-control (II Tim. 1:7). Husbands are to have ‘agapate’ for their wives (Eph. 5:25), but wives are to ‘philandrous’ their husbands (Titus 2:4). Phileo is affection, agape is sacrifice.
John, in recording Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus, criticizes them that they had left their first ‘agapev’ (2:4), and it is this ‘agapen’ that the church in Thyatira is commended for (3:19). Jude prays that ‘agapen’ along with mercy and peace, might be multiplied for his audience and us (Cf. II Jn. 3). He also exhorts them to keep themselves in this ‘agape’ (v. 21). Endurance and sacrifice is what James refers to in his reference to ‘agaposiv’ (1:12). This is also what characterizes the believer’s relationship to God (2:5). ‘Agapeseis’ also characterizes what we are to have for our neighbour (2:8). This also is emphasized by Paul in his letter to Philemon (vv. 5, 7). However, there are more occurrences of agape in John’s letters than the rest of the NT put together, not including its occurrence in Revelation and his gospel.
John’s references in his letters to agape begins with I Jn. 2:5 where the agape of God is perfected in those who keep his word. Agappate is what we are not to have for the kosmos (2:15). The agapen of the Father is seen in that we are called his children (3:1). Again, it is agapomen that we should have for one another in his family (3:11 Cf. vv. 14). He then gives the best definition and understanding of agapnv we will find. “By this we know agapnv, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (3:16 Cf. v. 17-18, 23; 4:7-12, 16-21; 5:2-3; II Jn. 1, 5-6; III Jn. 1). Agape is something only made possible among humanity, because God had agape for his people, seen most clearly in the sending and sacrifice of His Son.