True Love
John Telgren

After doing a word study on the word, “love,” I found some interesting facts. In Hebrew, like English, there is one word, “ahab,” that expresses all the different ranges of meaning for love. In Greek, there are several. The two most common ones are the “agape” group of words and the “phileo” group of words, which includes such words as, “phileo” – to love, “philos” – beloved, friend, “philema” – token of affection, usually a kiss, “philotheos” – lover of God, “philanthropia” – love for mankind, “philoxenia” – love of strangers, hospitality, “philadelphia” – brotherly love, “philostorgos” – familial love, and a number of other such compound words.

What I found is that, contrary to what I have heard others say in the past, there is not as sharp a distinction between phileo and agape as I have thought in the past. In both Biblical and non-Biblical literature, these two words are sometimes used almost interchangeably. Here are a couple of Biblical examples:

“Now as to the love of the brethren (philadelphia), you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love (agape) one another” (1 Thess. 4:9).

“Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren (philade-phia), fervently love (agape) one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).

The Biblical writers do not always use the “agape” group of words when they tell us to love.

If anyone does not love (phileo) the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha” (1 Cor 16:22).”

“Let love of the brethren (philadelphia) continue (Hebrews 13:1).”

“Be devoted (philostorgos) to one another in brotherly love (philadelphia)” (Romans 12:10).

“Greet one another with a kiss (philema) of love (agape)” (1 Peter 5:14).

This sheds some light on the old notion of “I don’t have to like you, but I do have to love you.” This stemmed from a misunderstanding of what Christian love is all about. Agape does not bear such a sharp distinction from phileo, which means that agape does not rule out the idea of warmth and kind affection. There is a reason why we hug each other in God’s family. There is a reason why we sometimes hold hands. There is a reason why we can call each other in the middle of the night when something is wrong. There is a reason why we help each other financially, emotionally, and spiritually without hesitation.

God loves (phileo) us (John 16:27), and therefore we love each other. We are all “philoi,” beloved friends to each other in the Lord. We are family, which is why several passages speak of us having “brotherly” love for each other. When we become a Christian, we become part of a new family (Mark 3:31-35). Our Father is God. Our brothers and sisters are other Christians. We are related to each other by blood. But this is not like the blood of our ancestors; it is the very blood of Christ Himself. As a result, we are Christian “philoi” (friends).