Love — Four Types in the Bible

Published March 19th, 2015 by Dirk Waren

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Understanding the four types of love in the Bible is very enlightening. Let’s look at the four Greek words for love and what the mean, as observed in the Bible:

1. Storge Love

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Storge love is family love, which includes the bond, affection and loyalty that develops between family members. Although the word itself, storge (STOR-gay), is not found in the original text we see numerous examples of this type of love in the Bible, like Martha & Mary’s love for their brother Lazarus in John 11.

Of course, the opposite of storge love can develop between family members, which is when relatives develop hatred for each other. A couple of obvious examples are Cain & Abel (Genesis 4:1-11) and Joseph & his jealous brothers (Genesis 37).

2. Phileo Love

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Phileo love is friendship love or brotherly love, like the platonic affection/respect of David and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:25-26). Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” was named after this type of love. You could say that phileo love is storge love applied to non-family members. There’s an element of affection, respect or bond despite the fact that they’re not kin. The word phileo (fil-LAY-oh) can be found some 25 times in the original Greek text of the New Testament whereas the noun form, philia (fil-EE-ah), appears only once (which is why we’re using phileo here and not philia).

Jesus’ phileo love for Martha, Mary and Lazarus is a good example of this form of love, as observed here:

5 Now Jesus loved (phileo) Martha and her sister and Lazarus…

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved (phileo) him!”

John 11:5, 35-36

3. Eros Love

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Eros love is phileo love between members of the opposite sex and includes a romantic element, but it doesn’t refer to shallow sexual lust. Although the word eros (eer-ROSS) doesn’t appear in the original manuscripts there are many examples of this type of love in the Scriptures. One overt example can be observed in the amazing Song of Songs. Here’s a passionate expression of love from this book where the man is speaking to the woman:

show me your face,
    let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
    and your face is lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

4. Agape Love

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Agape love is purely practical love or love-in-action and is therefore not dependent on liking/respecting a person. It’s usually described as divine love, which is true since “God is love,” but it’s really just practical love or love-in-practice regardless of bond/respect/affection. In other words, you can agape love someone for whom you have zero kinship (storge love), esteem/rapport (phileo love) or romantic fondness (eros love). Note the biblical definition:

Love (agape) is patient, love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Paul gave this definition of agape love by the Holy Spirit to encourage believers to practice agape love. Notice that he doesn’t say anything about having warm feelings or respect toward the other person when applying agape love. Why? Because agape love refers purely to practical love, which is distinguished from storge love (familial love), phileo love (friendship love) and eros love (romantic love), each of which involve some type of connection, closeness or warm feelings. It’s easy to walk in love toward people for whom you have kinship, respect or affection, but it’s not so easy when you don’t.

Think about it like this: The most famous passage of Scripture says “God so loved (agape) the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Do you think this means that God has warm, fuzzy feelings for all the tyrants, warmongers, abusers, God-haters, rapists, murderers, molesters and perverts out there? Do you think he’s up there with dreamy eyes saying, “Oh, I just so respect and love these wicked people!” Of course not. The passage is referring to agape love—purely practical love. The Father was practicing love when he had his one and only Son die for our sins; so did the Son when he willingly laid down his life. This opened the door for reconciliation and eternal life through spiritual rebirth. God made the first move, humanity didn’t. The question is, how are we going to respond to his incredible example of agape love?

Those who respond positively to God’s agape love and accept the gospel immediately enter into his storge love since they are born into God’s family (1 John 3:9). These are candidates for becoming the Lord’s friend, which has to do with phileo love and the favor that comes with it. As noted, phileo love refers to friendship love or brotherly love. Consider Jesus’ statement to his disciples:

“You are my friends if you do what I command.”

John 15:14

According to this verse not everyone is Jesus’ friend, not even every believer, who is part of God’s family and therefore possess his storge love. Christ’s friends are limited to those who practice what he commands. This refers to believers who respect the Lord enough to know his Word and put it into practice, as well as obey the directions of the Spirit. God’s grace (favor) for salvation is for all and is unmerited; it is simply received through humble repentance and faith (Acts 20:21), but this doesn’t mean we can’t increase in favor with God after we receive salvation. Why do you think the Scriptures say that Jesus—who is our example—grew in favor with God just as he grew in favor with people (Luke 2:52)? Why do you think Peter encouraged us to grow in the grace (favor) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, just as we are to grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18)?

Sad to say, these simple truths are blasphemy in some circles of Christianity. It’s both ignorant and shameful.

My point is that agape love is purely practical in nature and therefore you don’t have to feel any warmth or respect toward the person or people with whom you share it. In short, agape is love-in-action and has little to do with affection, that is, liking the person. This explains how we can fulfill Jesus & Paul’s instructions to love our enemies (Luke 6:27 & Romans 12:20-21). Do you like your enemies, that is, phileo love them? Do you respect them? Of course you don’t. But this isn’t a problem because we are not commanded to phileo love our enemies, but rather to agape love them. Are you following?

This shows why agape love is often defined as “unconditional love” since it is purely practical in nature and, again, not dependent upon liking an individual or on how well they treat you. Here’s an example: I was at my desk in my den and had a few greeting cards ready to mail out on the side of my desk. Carol came in and noticed that one of the cards was made out to someone who’s been known to treat us—particularly me—with contempt and slander. She said, “Oh, what a warmhearted soul you are!” I explained to her that it wasn’t a big deal because I’m empowered by the spirit to love those who hate me without cause. It’s been my regular practice for years. My flesh may not want to do it, but I strive to be spirit-controlled and not flesh-ruled. The main reason some believers have difficulty in doing this is because 1. they’re not walking in the spirit and therefore not producing the fruit thereof, the primary fruit being agape love (Galatians 5:19-23), 2. they’re not baptized in the Spirit or 3. if they are, they’re not praying in the spirit because praying in the spirit charges the believer up and empowers us to agape love our enemies and “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20-21).

By the way, when I refer to walking in love, I’m not referring to just the gentle variety. There’s something called tough love because agape love “is kind” and “does not delight in evil.” Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for people is to boldly confront the evil that has infected them, like Paul when he openly rebuked Peter for his legalism (Galatians 2:11-14) and Christ when he radically cleared the temple while yelling, pushing over tables and cracking a whip (Mark 11:15-18 & John 2:13-16). Some Christians think they’re walking in agape love by being nicey-wicey doormats when, in fact, they’re being cowardly and enabling evil to persist.* I should hastily add that this isn’t an excuse to be a rash fool who’s overly gung-ho with confronting and rebuking, which is abusive and usually results in unnecessary strife.

* For more information on this rarely-heard topic see the teaching Gentle Love and Tough Love at the FOL site.

Needless to say, if you want a more effective love walk, keep yourself filled with the Spirit by praying in the spirit and fanning into flame the agape love that’s necessary to practice it.

Phileo Love is Not Necessary to Agape Love Someone

With this understanding, you don’t have to have phileo love for people — affection — to agape love them. Why? Because agape love refers to practical love and has little to do with affection, that is, liking the person. This explains how we can fulfill Jesus & Paul’s instructions to love our enemies (Luke 6:27 & Romans 12::20-21). Do you like your enemies, that is, phileo love them? Of course not. But this isn’t a problem because we are not commanded to phileo love our enemies, we’re told to agape love them. Are you following? This explains why agape love is often defined as “unconditional love” since it is practical in nature and, again, not dependent upon liking an individual or on how well they treat you.

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However, I should stress that agape love does not refer to only the nicey-wicey kind of love. Agape love is love-in-action and refers to doing the kind thing, the good thing for the person in question. Are you truly being kind or good by condoning something that will eventually ruin or destroy a person? Or, worse, enabling them? This explains how Jesus — who was love because “God is love” (1 John 4:8) — was able to chase the fools out of the temple with a whip, yelling and throwing over tables (Mark 11:15-18). Or when he rebuked Peter as “satan” (Matthew 16:23). His actions may not have been nice, but they were kind and good because they benefited the people. See the teaching “Gentle Love and Tough Love” here for more details on this.

In light of all this, allow me to point something out that you won’t hear very often: God is agape love and so He loves (agape) the world, just as the most popular passages states, John 3:16 (quoted above). What this means is that God is extending practical love to all human beings even though unbelievers are unregenerated “objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-5). I was only saved and “made alive with Christ” because of God’s great agape love!

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But God doesn’t phileo love everyone, that is, have tender affection for them. He doesn’t have a close bond with everyone. For instance, do you think God is up there observing the many pedophile priests and saying, “Oh, I just have so much warm affection for these sick perverts?” Do you think the LORD was close buddies with Hitler? Of course not.

Come Near to God and He will Come Near to YOU

The Bible says that the Father phileo loved Jesus when Jesus was on earth (John 5:19-20). Why? Because Jesus imitated the Father, that is, he was godly — like God. As such, Jesus grew in God’s favor (Luke 2:52). We too can grow in God’s favor by coming near to Him (James 4:8, 2 Peter 3:18 & Eph. 5:1).

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Think about it in terms of a “teacher’s pet”, in  a positive way. The pupil is the teacher’s pet because she honors the teacher and is compliant. She does her homework and strives to do well on tests. If she offends the teacher she readily apologizes. The teacher will naturally have phileo love for such a student — affection and respect — but not for a student who’s aloof and shows contempt. Of course the teacher will care about the latter student because the noble teacher unbiasedly cares about all his students. He wants each one to learn, mature and be successful in life. But when the student is foolish and disrespectful there’s only so much the teacher can do. The teacher will walk in agape love toward such students — practical love — but the teacher will not have phileo love for them. Why? Because they’re fools who regard the teacher with contempt. All the teacher can do is continue walking in agape love toward them — including praying for them, and even tough love when appropriate — in the hope that they’ll positively respond at some point and turn from their folly.

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As amazing as it sounds, YOU can grow in God’s phileo love! “Come near to him and he will draw near to YOU.” It’s an axiom — a universal law. Strive for a closer relationship with your Creator. Cultivate a more intimate prayer life, which is simply talking with God. Paul instructed us to “pray without ceasing,” which indicates a 24/7 bond of communion (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Love God by obeying his instruction, both the general instructions from the written Word and the specific instructions of the living Word, the Spirit of Christ (1 John 5:3). As you do this you’ll grow in God’s favor just as surely as Jesus Christ did when he was on earth (Luke 2:52) and others as well, like Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26). Peter put it like this:

But grow in the grace (i.e. favor) and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:18

Just as important as it is to grow in the knowledge of the Lord, it’s also vital to grow in God’s grace; that is, his favor.

DO IT.


FOL The Four Types of Love

For more details watch this video.


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