Much has been made of the difference between the two Greek words for love…
Phileo is used for human friendship, brotherly love, the affection of a mother for her child.
Agape is used for the “God kind of love” – unconditional, self sacrificing, eternal.
Impressionable child that I was, many years of this teaching created in me a sense that God does not love me with that tender, affectionate, fatherly love. Though his love led him to the greatest possible sacrifice for me, I never imagined that he felt that love. He willed his love and I ought to will love to others. Do the deeds and the feelings will follow.
That may be true, but I didn’t often experience it. Love for God and love for difficult people remained a struggle of the will.
But God was kind to me. My heart was hard and brittle from years of trying to will everything. Then he broke my heart with his sweet phileo. Long story short: A couple of years of preparation through the words of a dear friend, then one precious hour in his heavenly embrace. He spoke to my heart and changed forever what I know of his love. Washed away years of stuffed pain and anger into a pool of tears on the floor. I was undone.
A while back, I looked into the agape/phileo business, and found it was not quite so clear cut. How cool is it that John, the disciple Jesus phileoed, sneaks in a few hints of Father’s tender affection for us…
For the Father phileos the Son and shows him everything he is doing. And he will show him even greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.
For the Father himself phileos you because you have phileoed me and have believed that I came from God.