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.
(John 5:20)

For the Father himself phileos you because you have phileoed me and have believed that I came from God.
(John 16:27)

2 thoughts on “Phileo”

  1. I posted this once before but it never showed up.

    The protestant and evangelical flavors of Christianity stress the mental relationship with Jesus. Often they almost seem to fear the emotional. I was taught that love is a choice or an action not an emotion. While there is an element of truth in this emotionless love is a pretty barren sort of thing. Imagine if you told your wife ‘I love you but without any emotions’. How would that go over? We are spirit, soul, and body and God wants us to worship Him, have relationship with Him on all three levels of our being.
    If you think about ‘the God kind of love’ it must include emotion, tenderness, kindness – love. The greater, agape, must include the lessor, phileo. Can you imagine that He ever said ‘I don’t feel anything for these people but I am going to chose to love them. He is love. In a sense He chose to love us when He chose to make us but it was out of emotional love that He did make us. When I think of the difference between agape and phileo it is not that of willpower (btw have you read ‘Desiring God’s Will’ by Benner? It has some excellent insights into our struggles with will.) it is that agape does not depend on the object of love. It flows entirely from the lover. God, as perfect love, does this from His nature. We have His nature but do this only in Him. The choice I can make is not through the strength of my will to love someone who I do not. But rather, it is to allow God to love someone through me.
    One last observation. I have noticed that not infrequently in our relationships we get confused. We lose the ability to feel love for those we have loved. I have seen this most often in marriage, but it is true elsewhere as well. Many times people have come to me and said ‘I just don’t love her/him anymore. I don’t feel anything.’ In this case I do not believe that they have lost love. They have just gotten emotionally confused. Sometimes they are looking for sweeping, romantic feelings and miss the gentler everyday love. More often they are lusting so strongly after someone or something else that love is drowned out. At any rate, I have found in these cases that if they will practice the act of loving the other person the feelings will return.

  2. Great thoughts, Will.
    We seem to be very reluctant to believe God is emotional. I know I grew up preferring no emotion to the ones that sometimes disturbed the peace around me. But shutting down our emotions leaves us half alive (or half dead) and very much out of touch with our Father, who is very emotional, and gave to us that part of himself, that we might know him more deeply.

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