Defining Love: Agapeo, Phileo, and Storge
What Does the Bible Say?
February brings thoughts of love. Stores have large displays of pink and red hearts promoting cards, candy and flowers for the one you love.
But is that really what love means?
There are four Greek words for love: agape, phileo, eros and storge. Only three of them appear in the Bible.
It is important to understand what these words mean and how they differ and where they are used in the Bible.
Definitions of Greeks Words for Love:
Agapeo: Unconditional love; the love of God in the renewed mind in manifestation
Phileo: Love between friends
Storge: Love of family; Parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. In a very close family, agape is felt as well.
Agapeo: The Greek word that refers to the love of God, one of the kinds of love we are to have for people, is agape. Agape is the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12, 16).
Agape love is the “action model” of love. It is the free choice we make to love the free will and deliberate choice
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness and Temperance; against such there is no law.”
Agape love is shown in the character of the Christian life in relation to those around us.
Phileo: The next Greek word for “love” is phileo, which means “to have a special interest in someone or something, frequently with focus on close association; have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.”
You can agape your enemies, but you cannot phileo them.
John 21:15-19 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
After being raised from the dead, Jesus met Peter. This exchange illustrates the difference between agape and phileo. Here is a simplified version.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (agape) me more than these [fish?].
Peter: Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you…love (agape) me?
Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.
Jesus: Simon…do you love (phileo) me?
Peter: [Grieved] “Lord…you know that I love (phileo) you.”
Jesus first asked Peter if he loved him with the love of God, a love that may require sacrifice. Peter’s response to Jesus was trying to find out if Jesus still considered him a friend.
Storge: The third Greek word is storge, which is the love and affection that naturally occurs between parents and children, can exist between siblings, and exists between husbands and wives in a good marriage.
It occurs in in the word, philostorgos, which is a compound word made up of philos (the noun form of phileo) and storge.
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
There are many examples of family love found in Scripture. In Genesis, Noah showed storge in the love and mutual protection with his wife, their sons and daughters-in-law. Jacob showed storge for his sons. And the strong love the sisters Martha and Mary had for their brother Lazarus is an example of storge.
Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (, NIV)
As followers of Jesus Christ, we enter into the family of God. Our lives are bound together by something stronger than physical ties—the bonds of the Spirit. We are related by something more powerful than human blood—the blood of Jesus Christ. God calls his family to love one another with the deep affection of storge love.
So as you celebrate this Valentine’s Day, remember the great agape that God has for each of you and show great phileo for one another.
Defining Love: Agapeo, Phileo, and Storge What Does the Bible Say?