The Greeks were a lot smarter than we are. They had four words for the expression of love while we just have one. I know we are able to express our love with various adjectives (I love you a million times, etc.) but to the Grecian world, four different distinct words were used for love. We say, “I love you and strawberries”, or “I love you and Aunt Susie”, or “I love you and our dog Shep.”
Let’s look at the Greek words and this may help us to differentiate about the word love and its different meanings.
EROS is a Greek word that describes sexual love. Husband and wife sexual relations are ordained of God. Paul writes, “Let the husband live in the intercourse affection with his wife, and likewise also the wife unto the husband . . . (Conybeare) The wife cannot claim her body as her own; it is her husbands (NEB), and likewise also, the husband has not power of his own body but the wife . . . do not withhold sexual intercourse from one another (Mof) . . . so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (I Corinthians 6:3-5). The term “Eros” was the god of sexual love in Greek mythology. Our word erotic expresses in English a strong desire for sexual satisfaction.
STORGE is a Greek word that describes family love. A husband loves his wife, and the wife returns that love to her husband. Parents love their children and children learn to love their parents. The word is used twice in the New Testament. Both times it is in reverse, “WITHOUT natural affections (Romans 1:31; II Timothy 3:3). When Paul spoke of ‘without natural affections’ he was dealing with incest. It is natural for parents to love their children (storage), but unnatural for parents to express that love in an overt sexual way (incest or without natural affections).
PHILIA is a Greek word that describes friendship love. This word for love is found more than seventy times in the New Testament. It refers to a deep friendship that is supported by strong affections and emotions. The Bible says, “Jonathan loved David as his own soul” (I Samuel 18:1). The Bible speaks of ‘how Jesus loved Lazarus’. A good friend may be closer than a blood relative. When Paul said, “Let brotherly love continue”, he was speaking of the Philia love.
AGAPE is the Greek word for God’s love. It appears 224 times in the New Testament. It is a choice and a ‘stable’ love that has the ability to invade and dominate the thinking and direction of the heart and mind. It would never hurt or wound another person. It puts the concerns of the one loved before self. It is not tied to sentiments or emotions or sexual expressions because it is foundational to all of these. John says, “Whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him . . . He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause of stumbling in him” (I John 2:5,10).
In the early 50’s, we were moving from a small congregation in Florida to a smaller group of Christians in Georgia. We had nothing. No money, no furniture, a broken down 1936 Ford. We had each other and two young boys and a dog. It was a long trip that day. The car’s radiator was more like a sieve. We stopped repeatedly to fill it with water from a canal or drainage ditch. The kids were sick with colds and the dog had diarrhea. The short trip took 13 hours. As the new preacher and his family driving into town, we were a mess. I prayed, “O Lord, please not a party, not a party”.
Following instructions we stopped at a brother’s house. Just saying ‘hello’ was a real chore. One of the older men looked my way and said, “Are you ready?” I nodded but thought, “O Lord, not a party!” The Ford had to be pushed off. Embarrassing! We stopped by a new house where numerous cars were parked all around. My fears were coming to pass. We four passed the door. The house was new and newly furnished. The heater was on. Lights brightened every room. Carpets warmed the floors. The master bed was sheeted and turned down with a quilt. Beautiful pictures were on every wall. A number of people had gathered and were busy in the kitchen. The vinyl was beautiful. Food was decorating every table. The fridge was full and the first thing I spotted was a pound of real butter. The pantry was running over. We didn’t know what to think. Our minds were in a whirl. What was happening? We didn’t know.
Then it happened. The elder of the group smiled and said, “This is all yours. We love you and now we’ll have to go.” We stood on the porch and watched the last car disappear in the night. We went inside and fell to the floor. We were crying and couldn’t stop. They love us – they really love us! AGAPE! The perfect love.