Philos and Agape - Two Different Loves
The New Testament uses two different Greek words to express the idea of love. Philos and agape have distinct nuances in meaning but they also seem to overlap a bit. They are sometimes used in ways that make them almost interchangeable, yet they are separate.
Typically, the word philos is used to indicate a brotherly, friendly, casual type of love. People who work together, cousins, fellow travelers and even people from the same town have a philos love for each other. It’s kind of a way to say, “we are friends because we have something in common.” Philos means something closer to “I like you” instead of “I love you.”
Agape, on the other hand, is a love that one chooses to give to another. Because the will is involved, it is usually a deeper and more committed love. Look at these two Bible verses. The first one illustrates philos by using the word friend while the second verse shows how agápe expresses a devotion with commitment.
“AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.
“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.”
Philos is characterized by contentment and friendship. Agape is a committed and sincere love characterized by devotion and desire.
This is a difficult distinction for you and I to make because the Greeks and Romans experienced love differently than us. We see love as being primarily an emotion. To the ancients it was more of a relationship. When you and I talk about love we think in terms of feelings and desires. The ancients were talking about relationships of nearness and closeness. Those are similar things but not quite the same, are they?
Now that we see why we have a hard time understanding these two words, let’s take a look tomorrow at what they each tell us about God and His love.