Forthright Magazine

A short handbook on love

Regardless of economics, race or status, people value love and recognize love shapes what is good and true. However, in the English language we face a problem. We use love so broadly it looses clarity. I love ice cream. I love my dog. I love my spouse. I love my friends.

What do we mean when we say “I love ____?” Fortunately, the Greek language has different words for communicating ideas about love. This can provide us clarity when thinking about love. it can enable us to communicate more efficiently, as well as give us insight into the New Testament’s message, since the New Testament was written in Greek.


Storge involves the love and affection bond between family members. It describes the deep connection and care that can exist between family members.


Eros is probably what most people mean when they announce with a smile, “I’m in love.” This type of love covers desire ranging from queasy stomachs and warm fuzzy feelings to strong sensual passion.

There are a couple of very interesting characteristics about eros. First, it is dependent upon circumstances. When people lights are low and a couple is enjoying a delicious meal peppered with gracious conversation, eros grows. However, when someone is yelling, slamming doors or throwing things, eros vanishes. Since we are not in control of our circumstances nor how others treat us, eros is fickle.

Second, this type of love is also determined by each person’s perspective. If someone perceives a particular quiet evening dinner with candles as being undesirable manipulation, eros will not appear.

Although eros at times might make us feel like we are on cloud nine, because it is so fickle and dependent upon perception and circumstances, it is not a reliable basis for building a deep and meaningful relationship. Although eros is exhilarating, this is not the biblical word used for love.


We recognize philia and its meaning from the name Philadelphia, that is, the city of brotherly love. Philia is the love of friendship as well as what you enjoy.

Although philia is wonderful, it too is unreliable since it is also held captive by the sifting sands of situation as well as by ours and others’ perceptions and expectations. Unfortunately, we probably all know of a friendship which waned or was severed because of time, distance, harsh words, or how someone interpreted another’s actions.

When the New Testament refers to friendship, what people enjoy doing, or what they value,  it can use this word. John 11:3; Matthew 6:5; James 4:4


Agape pertains to the decision to proactively seek someone’s wellbeing. Since it is not a knee jerk reaction to circumstances nor does it require positive feelings, agape is capable of acting in a hostile environment where feelings might even be negative.

Thus, unlike the previous two types of love, agape is not limited to being held hostage by its environment and another’s perspective. The reason why agape can soar above these other forms of love is because it is based upon one’s own decision which is under our control. Thus, agape always remains within our power to exemplify, even when we may not feel like seeking another’s wellbeing.

For example, when Jesus commanded people to agape their enemies he did not issue an impossible command. Rather, Jesus’ command reveals his intention that disciples should exude goodwill toward all. Luke 6:35

The New Testament is full of examples and teachings that illustrate the nature of agape. A few of these teachings include: God loved (agape) us by sending his Son in spite of the fact people would kill him because humanity needed what Christ could offer John 3:16 God sought our wellbeing.

If a person possess both material resources and the love (agape) of God, that person will take care of others in need. 1 John 3:17 
Just as Christ through love (agape) acted on behalf of the church, so too the Christian husband is to be motivated by love (agape) to act on behalf of his wife. Ephesians 5:25-29

If it were not enough that the proactive nature of agape has the power to rise above its environment, it can also empower passion and friendship! Thus when a spouse chooses to speak and act toward the mate with agape, these actions and words contribute toward creating the loving environment where both eros and philia can thrive!

Many are not impressed when someone announced that he or she accurately understands biblical doctrine. What does grab people’s attention is when disciples demonstrate genuine agape. Jesus taught his disciples that the world would know they were his disciples if they would show agape toward one another. John 13:35

The foregoing observation does not diminish the value of healthy doctrine. It simply acknowledges that living out the healthy teaching about agape enables others to begin to appreciate the value of healthy doctrine.

*For the sake of simplicity, both the noun and the verb form of each Greek word is represented by its noun form. Thus agape refers to both agapē (noun) and agapaō (verb).


Barry Newton
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