When the New Testament was being written, there were four primary Greek words to describe the concept of “love”: 1) eros, 2) stergo, 3) phileo, and 4) agape. These four words conveyed four very different types of love. I want to talk to you today about these four different types of love; then I’ll tell you which of these four is the type of love the Holy Spirit wants to produce in your life.
The first word for “love” in the list given above is the Greek word eros, which is the Greek term for sexual love and where we get the word erotic. In Greek culture, this word referred to sensual, carnal impulses to satisfy or gratify the sexual desires of the flesh. It shares a common root with the word erao, which means to ask, to beg, or to demand. This confirms that eros is not a giving type of love; rather, it denotes a sexual demand. It is not a love that seeks to give or to please someone else, but a carnal love that seeks the fulfillment of its own desires.
It is very interesting that this word never appears once in the New Testament, not even in the context of sex in marriage. Even in Greek culture, the word eros represented a carnal, raw, base, low-level craving, yearning, ache, or appetite for sexual fulfillment. This type of “love” is so flesh-based and so far removed from the level of love that God expects of believers that it is never included in New Testament language.
In the New Testament, regardless of whether the context is friendship, brotherhood, or romance, all believers are urged to continually operate from the perspective of agape love, which is a love more focused on giving than it is on receiving. Because the word eros primarily describes a self-satisfying, self-gratifying, self-seeking, self-pleasing type of sexual appetite found mainly among unbelievers or those who are focused on themselves, it is not the type of love that believers should aspire to in their marital lives.
The second word for “love” mentioned in the list above is the Greek word stergo. The word stergo primarily pictures the love that exists between parents and children or the love that exists between members of a family. One scholar has noted that on occasion, the word stergo portrayed the love of a nation for its ruler or even the love of a dog for its master. Consequently, the real idea of the word stergo is that of devotion.
Although the word stergo does appear in the New Testament, it is very rarely used. We find it used in a negative sense in Second Timothy 3:3, where the King James Version translates it “without natural affection.” This suggests a time that will develop in the last days when strong family ties and devotion to one’s family will deteriorate. By using this word in a negative sense, the apostle Paul warns that one of the principal signs of the last times will be the deterioration of the family and of traditional family values.
The third word for “love” is the Greek word phileo, which describes affection— such as the affection felt between a boyfriend and girlfriend or the affability shared between two friends. It carries the idea of two or more people who feel compatible, well-matched, well-suited, and complementary to each other. Although this word describes the attributes of friendship, it is not representative of the highest form of love, which is agape. Other words derived from the word phileo are numerous. Here are a few of them:
- Philadelphia: a compound of phileo and adelphos, the Greek word for a brother. When these two words are compounded together, it means brotherly love.
- philodonos: a compound of phileo and edone, the Greek word for pleasure. When compounded together, it means one who is a lover of pleasure.
- philoxenos: a compound of phileo and xenos, the Greek word for strangers or foreigners. When compounded together in this form, it carries the idea of one who loves to be hospitable.
- philoxenia: similar to the word above, which means one who loves strangers. However, the word philoxenia places more emphasis on love for the person in need of hospitality.
- philanthropia: a compound of phileo and anthropos, the Greek word for mankind. Compounded together, it means one who loves or who is kind to mankind.
- philarguros: a compound of phileo and arguros, which is the Greek word for silver. Compounded together, it means one who is covetous or one who loves money.
- philosophia: a compound of phileo and sophos, which is the famous Greek word for wisdom. When these two words are compounded together into one, it becomes the word philosophy, which is a love of wisdom.
The fourth word for “love” is the word chiefly used in the New Testament to depict the love of God. This is the Greek word agape—and it is this word that Paul uses in Galatians 5:22 when he writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love….” This is what I call high-level love, for there is no higher, finer, or more excellent love than agape love.
In fact, the word agape is so filled with deep emotion and meaning that it is one of the most difficult words to translate in the New Testament. Trying to explain this word has baffled translators for centuries; nevertheless, I will now add my attempt to clarify the meaning of this powerful word.
Agape occurs when an individual sees, recognizes, understands, or appreciates the value of an object or a person, causing the viewer to behold this object or person in great esteem, awe, admiration, wonder, and sincere appreciation. Such great respect is awakened in the heart of the observer for the object or person he is beholding that he is compelled to love it. In fact, his love for that person or object is so strong that it is irresistible.
In the New Testament, perhaps the best example of agape is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In the phrase, “For God so loved the world,” the word “love” is the word agape.
This means when God looked upon the human race, He stood in awe of mankind, even though man was lost in sin. God admired man; He wondered at man; He held mankind in the highest appreciation. Even though mankind was held captive by Satan at that moment, God looked upon the world and saw His own image in man. The human race was so precious to God and He loved man so deeply that His heart was stirred to reach out and do something to save him. In other words, God’s love drove Him to action.
You see, agape is a love that loves so profoundly that it knows no limits or boundaries in how far, wide, high, and deep it will go to show that love to its recipient. If necessary, agape love will even sacrifice itself for the sake of that object or person it so deeply cherishes. Agape is the highest form of love—a self-sacrificial type of love that moves the lover to action. In contrast:
- Eros is a self-seeking love.
- Stergo is limited only to one’s family.
- Phileo is based on mutual satisfaction and can feel disappointed.
Agape is a love that has no strings attached. It isn’t looking for what it can get, but for what it can give. Its awe of the one who is loved is so deep that it is compelled to shower love upon that object or person regardless of the response. This is the profound love God has for the human race, for He loved man when he was still lost in sin with no ability to love Him back. God simply loved mankind without any thought or expectation of receiving love in return.
When you love with such a pure love that you expect nothing back in return, it is impossible for you to feel hurt or let down by the response of the recipients of your love. You don’t love them for the purpose of getting something in return; you shower them with love simply because you love them. This kind of love is much higher than eros love that is based on selfishness; stergo love that is restricted by limitations; or phileo love that is rooted in mutual satisfaction. These three types of love are what I call low-level love, but agape is high-level love. It is a love that has no strings attached, a love that loves simply and purely—the God-kind of love.
In First John 3:16, we are urged to possess agape for each other. It says, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This plainly means that we are to love and appreciate each other just as fully and freely as God loves us.
The Father loved us to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ agape drove Him to lay down His life for us. In the same way, we are to agape our brothers and sisters to such a high extent that we would be willing to lay down our lives for them. If we are truly operating in agape and they don’t respond in like fashion, it won’t offend or hurt us. We are not looking for what others can do for us; we are simply focused on how to love others with no strings attached. Therefore, the way other people respond to us has no effect on our desire to shower them with agape love.
Further explaining the role of agape in our lives, John said, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (v. 18). The word “love” is again the word agape, which tells us that when agape is at work, it is a force so strong that it demonstrates itself with deeds and actions. This is not an empty love that talks but does nothing. It is a love that does something, just as God loved us and then did something to save us from our lost and sinful condition.
This is the love that Paul urged us to follow after when he wrote in First Corinthians 14:1, “Follow after charity [agape love]….” The word “follow” is the Greek word dioko, which means to hotly pursue.
It was a hunting term that pictured a hunter following the tracks of an animal until he finally gets his game. This means that attaining this high-level love doesn’t come easy. If we want to attain agape love and regularly walk in it, we must hotly pursue it! It must be the focus and the aim of our lives.
If agape is the basis of your sexual relationship with your spouse instead of eros, you will always seek to serve and please your spouse rather than being self-centered and focused only on your needs. If agape is the basis of your family relationships rather than stergo, you will always remain devoted to your family, regardless of the disappointments that may occur along the way. And if agape is the basis of your friendships rather than phileo, you will be a faithful, immovable friend for life rather than a come-and-go friend who is faithful only as long as you get what you want out of the relationship. In fact, if agape is the driving motivation of your life and the force behind all your relationships, it will make you to be the best, most devoted, faithful, and reliable friend anyone has ever known.
You may ask, “But how can I possess such love? Is it really possible for me to regularly exhibit such love in my life for other people?” If you were seeking to walk in the kind of love that originates in the power of your flesh, it would be impossible, for flesh is selfish and self-focused and therefore cannot love that highly. But because the seed of God’s Word has been sown into your own human spirit, the potential for this divine love is within you all the time. Now it is up to you to shove the flesh aside and release the love of God from down deep inside. If you will let the Spirit of God release it from your heart, you will discover and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit called “love.” This high-level love is already inside you. Now it’s time for you to free that love and allow the Holy Spirit to manifest it in your life!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Lord, help me turn my attention to Your kind of high-level love and make it a part of my daily life. Forgive me for those times when I’ve fallen into low-level, “you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” love that gets easily offended. Help me climb up to the higher realms of love that You desire to be manifested in my life. Holy Spirit, it is impossible to continually walk in this kind of love in the power of my flesh, so I turn to You to awaken this divine love inside me and to help me manifest it in my life.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I am hotly pursuing agape love in my life. I want to attain this high level of love and regularly walk in it, so I treat this fruit of the Spirit like it is one of the most important aims of my life. Because the seed of God’s Spirit and Word is sown in my own human spirit, I have the potential for this divine love within me all the time. So right now I determine to shove the flesh aside and release the power of God from down deep inside. Because agape is the driving motivation of my life and the force behind all my relationships, I am the best, most devoted, faithful, and reliable friend anyone has ever known!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of one person who has loved you with real agape love at some point in your life? What kind of impact did that “no-strings-attached” kind of love have on you?
- Would others say that agape love operates in you or that you have strings attached to your demonstrations of love?
- What can you do to move up into God’s high-level agape love? Think it over, and write down your ideas of what you need to do to leave behind the place of low-level love and move up to God’s higher realm of agape love.
Agape is a love that has no strings attached. This kind of divine love isn’t looking for what it can get, but for what it can give.