The following is an excerpt from my book, Marriage God's Way by Scott LaPierre.
The English language has a single word for “love.” A man uses the same word to say he loves football, working on his car, and his wife. For his wife’s sake, let’s hope he loves her differently from the way he loves football or automobiles. A wife in turn might say that she loves shopping, her husband, and her children. Obviously, the love we have for things we enjoy is different from the love we experience in relationships. And even within our relationships, we recognize we love our parents differently from the way we love our spouses. We love our children differently from the way we love our pastor or fellow church members, our co-workers, or our clients.
The New Testament is written almost entirely in Greek, a language that contains a number of different words for love. Here are four of them:
- John 3:16 For God so loved (apape) the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever will believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
- Ephesians 5:25—Husbands, love (apape) your wives, just as Christ also loved (apape) the church and gave Himself for her.
- God has for the world
- Christ has for the church
- Husbands should have for their wives
Because of the frequency of agape in the New Testament, Christians are most familiar with it; however, the other Greek words for love are worth knowing as well. Understanding the other words for love allows for a better understanding of agape.
Here are brief explanations of each...
Eros is the only Greek term for love that is not referenced directly in Scripture. The word refers specifically to physical attraction or romantic love. Even though the word does not occur in Scripture, the principle of it is revealed, especially in Song of Solomon, a book largely committed to the topic of physical intimacy and attraction.
Storge refers to natural affection, or familial love, such as the way a parent feels toward a child or the way siblings feel toward each other. I would say loving my family is one of the top things I learned from my father.
The word storge is not used in Scripture in its simple form, but the word astorgos is used twice. Astorgos is storge with an “a” in front of it, making it the opposite—without love or without natural affection. The Apostle Paul uses it when he states that people will not “retain God in their knowledge [therefore He] gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness [including being] unloving (astorgos)” (Romans 1:28, 31). Paul uses the word again when he writes to Timothy: “In the last days perilous times will come: for men will be...unloving” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3).
In both instances Paul was not simply saying that people are unloving. He was saying people will lack the natural love or affection family members should have toward each other. A biblical example of astorgos (the absence of storge) would be Cain’s murdering Abel. A present-day example would be mothers’ murdering their babies in the womb. An abortion is the height of astorgos, or lacking natural love, because even in nature mothers fiercely protect their offspring.
Storge is also used once in Scripture in combination with a third form of love, phileo: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love” (Romans 12:10). The words “kindly affectionate” are a translation of philostorgus in the original Greek, a word that combines phileo and storge. Within the context of Romans 12, it is referencing the family affection brothers and sisters in Christ should have for each other.
Phileo can be defined as strong affection. Most commonly, this applies to affection or kindness between friends. When Jesus wept at Lazarus’ death in John 11:36 the Jews said, “See how He loved (phileo) him!” Phileo also forms part of the words “philosophy,” an affection for wisdom, or “philanthropy,” an affection for fellow man. The church of Philadelphia, mentioned in Revelation 3:7–13, literally means “the church of brotherly love.” When people consider themselves close friends, phileo is the affection they have for each other.
But phileo does not always have a positive connotation. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus accuses: “[The religious leaders] love (phileo) to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets.” Their strong affection was directed at receiving the adoration of men.
This is an excerpt from my book, Marriage God's Way by Scott LaPierre.