In the Greek of the N.T. the verb to love, AGAPAO, occurs some 135 times. Seldom is this word found in secular Greek writings. Why is this? With a little discernment one discovers something of great importance. God’s love required a special word, and it is highlighted throughout the N.T. writings. What sort of love is depicted by AGAPAO?
God’s love flows from Himself, regardless of the receiver. “God so loved the world that He gave . . . ” God’s love is impartial, unselective, flowing outwards to the needy world of humanity.
The impartiality of God’s love towards the most wicked of men may be seen in these three devastating examples. Manasseh, king of Judah ruled for half a century in flagrant disregard of God’s laws, but was taken captive to Babylon, where he repented, and God restored him. His prayer may be found in the Apocrypha. Nebuchadnezzar was an autocratic king, acting in total disregard of anything he found displeasing. Whom he would, he slew, and whom he would he kept alive. But he was “put out to grass” for seven years, and on return to sanity declared his allegiance to the God of Heaven. His testimony is found in Daniel. Saul of Tarsus was hell-bound to destroy anyone and everyone who followed the teaching of the Nazarene. But dazzling light struck him blind just outside Damascus. He repented, and became an Apostle.
But there is a more common sort of love, found liberally in all Greek writings, using the verb PHILEO. In the N.T. it is found some 22 times. He who loves someone is generally found to do so because of what he receives from that person. We see pleasurable, acceptable characteristics in a person, and it brings forth our PHILEO love. Therefore PHILEO is reciprocal love, selective, based on what the eye sees, and the ear hears. A man may see something wonderful and attractive in a woman which leads to marriage. But the marriage will only last for years if he then learns to love her with AGAPAO love.
In John chapter 21 the dialogue between the Lord and Simon Peter is a beautiful example of the difference between AGAPAO and PHILEO. Unfortunately many translations fail to distinguish, and use “love” to translate both.
Here is the passage showing the original. John 21:15.
So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (AG) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (PH) You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (AG) Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (PH) You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (PH) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (PH) Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (PH) You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.
One can now understand Peter’s distress when Jesus asked whether he even loved Him in the PHILEO sense.
My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me; Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be. O who am I, that for my sake My Lord should take frail flesh and die?