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What is Love?

aymon de albatrus

When we read these verses and note the word "Love", what type of Love comes to our minds?

For God so loved "Agape" the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 )
Greater Love "Agape" hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 )

The word Love:

In the Western languages the word Love does not clearly distinguish the various meaning of what is intended, "I Love God", "I Love my wife", "I Love a Pizza".  Has the word "Love" the same meaning in these 3 examples?  Certainly not.  Instead in the Greek there are 5 different meanings for the word "Love".

  1. AGAPE
    This is the Love of intelligence,  of reason and comprehension coupled with the corresponding purpose.  Its concept is vastly superior to any other form of Love,  In essence "Agape" is a permanent benevolent attitude toward God and human beings, without any condition, that freely springs out of the Agape God has place in the heart of His own.  It is disinterested love that does not need anything in return. We can only Agape others only if God has firstly filled us up with His Agape. All the other form of love need a reaction, a return to maintain themselves, whilst Agape comes from God and the beneficiaries that are full of it do not need a confirmation from others, being fully satisfied in the Agape of the Lord.

    Expresses Love of personal affection, or of pleasure, including even the relevant passions when required.  It does not involve intelligence or high purposes.  This concept places Phileo at a level inferior to that of Agape.  It is a feeling that finds attraction in another person and it expects a return.

  3. THELO
    Is the desire to do something, to be occupied, to be in prominence.

  4. EROS
    Is sensual and sexual desire, attraction to copulate.  It is physical attraction often confused with Agape and Phileo.  For example, the majority of people marry for Eros, and sometime for Phileo, but rarely for Agape.

    Is affection between brethren, soldiers in trenches, team-mates playing together.

Of these 5 Greek words only the first 3 appear in the NT, Eros and Storge are not there.

The word "Love" and its conjugates appear 290 times in the NT, grouped as follows:

Agape 258 times (90%)

Phileo 31 times (10%)

Thelo 1 time (Mar 12:38) scribes that love to go about in long robes and be respected in the market places.

All references of Love to/from God are "Agape", as all those that God or Jesus refer to love between men.

All the references to the man loving his wife are "Agape", whilst to the woman is requested to "Phileo" her husband and her children in: Training the younger women to have love (Phileo) for their husbands and children, (Titus 2:4)

It is important to know the different meaning for Love in the Bible for we get a better understanding on what God is requiring of us.

For example, in the very famous passage between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17, it would be impossible to understand the real meaning if the nuances of the word Love were not fully understood:

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest (Agapao) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (Phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest (Agapao) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love (Phileo) thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest (Phileo) thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, lovest (Phileo) thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love (Phileo) thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17 AV)

The verb Agapao is the love of intelligence, of reason and comprehension.  This form of love goes far beyond any other type of love.  Phileo only expresses affective personal love of pleasure, including passions, but no intelligence or high motives, placing it below Agapan.

It can never be said that God Phileo this sinful world, as far as phileo is concerned He could only abominate this disgusting world.  Jesus has never asked us to love our enemies in the sense of Phileo.  Himself has never loved His enemies this way.  But, Agapao, yes!  With this form of love God so loved the world  to send his beloved Son to the cross to save His people.  We can love our enemies with Agape, understanding all that is wrong, sanctifying the world, and converting our enemies.

Check John 3:16 and every other references to these two types of love, the distinction is great and remains, the two are never the same.

Now, referring to the above passage, unless the difference between Agapao and Phileo is known the strength of the third question of Jesus is lost.  What cut trough the heart of Peter was the word "Phileo" used by Jesus in the last question: "Phileo thou me" or "have you affection for me?".  When Jesus asked twice the highest love (Agapao), Peter in all humility could only assert the presence of the lower form of love.  But when Jesus checked even the presence of the lower love, that Peter was so sure of its presence in his heart, he had no recourse but to appeal to the omniscience of Jesus.

Peter was grieved deeply by the third question for Jesus questioned even the presence of the lower love in his heart, i.e. Phileo.

When Jesus command us: 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35) To what type of love He is referring to?  Agape, of course.  This is high love, and Jesus is not asking us to do what He has not done Himself, for He says: as I have loved (Agape) you.

Still one would say: "All right, we must Agape, but what is Agape?".

The Bible does not leave us high and dry, for the definition of Agape is found in 1Corithians 13:4-8, 13:

4 Agape has patience, is kind; Agape is not envious; Agape is not vain, is not puffed up;

5 does not behave indecently, does not pursue its own things, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil;

6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth.

7 Agape quietly covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Agape never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 LIT)

13 And now faith, hope, and Agape , these three things remain; but the greatest of these is Agape . (1 Corinthians 13:13 LIT)

Thus, when reading the word "Love" in the Bible, always think at the definition of "Agape" as disinterested and benevolent love expecting nothing in return.  With this understanding the meaning of the verses where "love" appears will have a more deep meaning for you.

The text verses above are a typical practical example.  Love in there is Agape and surely it is difficult for us to put it into perfect practice as done by Jesus and requested of us, due to our rebellious nature.  But we cannot negate the perfection that we must arrive to, for the Lord says: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 )

You would say to me: "Oh man!  Even if I knew the perfection required I cannot ever reach it for I do not have this capacity in me, what must I do?"   The key is to ask the Lord for His Help: But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask from God, who gives to all freely and with no reproach, and it will be given to Him. (James 1:5 LIT)


To fully understand the meaning of Love, one must first understand the greatness of God.

  1. God has created all that has been created out of nothing and there is nothing that exists that God has not created,

  2. God keeps in existence all that has been created and if God were to say: "I got enough of this" all would return to to the nothingness whence all came from,

  3. God is omnipotent and can do all He wants to do and no one can stop His hand,

  4. God is omniscient and there is nothing hidden from him, Past, Present and Future, all is a great big NOW for Him, thus His purposes cannot be changed: For I am the LORD, I change not;  (Malachi 3:6),

  5. Jesus told us what Love is: If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

  6. This is real Love, the Biblical "Agape", the one that God commands to practice toward Himself and men.  With Agape there would be no wars, no divorces, no abortions and no evils, 

  7. With Agape everything lasts, whilst with the other types of love all fails.

Sermon ends here

A short exposition of the Love passages in 1Co 13.

Agape is patient

This refers to Agape which is the love of intelligence and knowledge, not of emotions.

This love makes the mind firm, frees it of infantile passions giving patience and perseverance, removing bouts of rage and resentments.  Agape is slow to wrath when abused, slow to resentment, non rushing in vengeance when offended, but exercise longsuffering and always ready to forgive.

Agape is benign

It has a great heart and seeks every opportunity to do good as the Samaritan.

It is liberal and generous, does good to everybody, even to his enemies and especially to those of the house of God.  Agape is gentle with all men, affable and not sulky, not bad tempered and not upset or bad mannered. Agape is approachable and sensible to the humour of men, it accommodates their infirmities, capabilities, mannerism and circumstances in all it can do that is not contrary to the glory of God, the interests of Christ, religion, his conscience and the good of men.

Agape is not envious

Envy is the result of wanting bad towards others.  Envy brings to competition, which is not from God for He provides for all, abundantly.  Generally when we wish the best for others we participate to their blessings. 

Who has the grace and the love of God and Christ does not envy temporal things since what he has in Christ is by far better than those.  Maybe when in some natural distress one may be tempted, for a moment, to envy the prosperity of the heathen, but this grace does not permit to stay that way long, when considering the excellence of spiritual gifts. 

Agape is not vain, is not puffed up

Agape is humble and does not show off as a peacock or a blown up turkey, but esteems the brethrens better than himself: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. (Philippians 2:3)  

Agape does not seek appreciations but flees from then seeking refuge in God  for the pride.  It is not hard headed or intractable but it is congenial with all, does not criticise nor censures others.  Does not exhibit itself as a prideful peacock, does not vaunt the things he has such as: wisdom, riches, honours, strength or spiritual gifts for it knows that all it has was given by God and these things are for the glory of God and not to be approved of men.  It is not tumultuous, noisy, seditious, a gossiper, nor he goes to parties, nor participate in church factions, but the opposite. 

does not behave indecently, does not pursue its own things

Agape does not, ever, seek to advance itself at the expense of others.  Often neglects itself to favour others.

It gives great attention and weight to it words, from its mouth nothing dirty o corrupted or useless ever comes out.  Nor it commits with actions or signs what is shameful or  despicable.  It does not flatter others to obtain mundane gains or friendship or affections from others.  A man blessed with this grace does not thing that something may be below his dignity, but gives himself freely to serve mankind to promote the honour of religion and to advance Christ.  Such man is not ambitious, but low, meek and humble.

is not easily provoked

Agape does not ever get angry and if it does so, it never looses control but it is  calm, for uncontrolled anger is not in the vocabulary of God.  Agape is not easily offended.  It is not easily provoked to rage, nor to sin, nor to immorality and idolatry.  But it is easily provoked to love and good works that are in perfect accord with itself.

thinks no evil

Agape is not suspicious, nor has malice, passes over the defects of others. Never formulates negative judgement, only when the evidence is overwhelming with reluctance it would accept the evidence.  It is not jealous and thinks always thinks the best of others.  Who has this grace does not think of the evil that is done to him by another, hi forgives as God has forgiven him e forgets all about it.  It is not suspicious of the evil in others, does not indulges in evil conjectures or jealousy without foundations that are contrary to this grace. 

does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth

Agape has no pleasure in seeing other fall as God says:  For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye. (Ezekiel 18:32) and it does all he can to help a fallen brother (James 5:19-20).   It has no pleasure in sin but rejoices when men walk in integrity of character.  Rejoices when the Gospel advances and changes lives. This man is afflicted by his iniquities, the corruption of his heart, his secret sins that nobody knows except himself and God.  Agape is deeply preoccupied of the profanity and immorality of men of the world, and the sins of whom professes to believe, these cut its heart.  Does not rejoice in injustice o lesion done to anybody, even to an enemy, but rejoices in the truth of the Gospel.  Nobody can do anything against truth and it rejoices greatly when someone walks in it for truth opposes iniquity and malignity. 

Agape quietly covers all things

Agape is practically a cover, as Peter says: and above all things having fervent love to yourselves, "because love will cover a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)

Agape does not expose the brother in public, ma gives spaces to the brother to confess his sins in private.  Agape is always ready to communicate with the brother and to reconcile any wrong.  Agape does not break relations with others, only upon gross sin and that with sad reluctance.  Carries the burdens of fellow Christians thus fulfilling the law of Christ that is the law of love.  Agape covers the infirmities of weak believers, the blame, the world's persecutions and "many sins", not by closing an eye or having them suffered by the brother, but by bringing the brother to recognise to privately recognise the error.  Agape forgives the sins against itself with a love mantel hiding them form others.

believes all things

Agape is not obtuse or stupid, but prefers to believe, to hope and to endure.  Agape does not do away with prudence but seeks always the good behind the appearances.  Believes anything that there is to be believed.    Agape believes all that God says in his Word, all His truths, all His promises and even believes against hope totally depending on His power, faith and all the perfection of God. Certainly is does not believe in every spirit, every preacher or every teacher, but every word of man that is in accordance with Scripture.  The man of Agape is willing to believe every good thing reported of men but is not willing to readily believe bad reports on men unless these are plainly evident.

hopes all things

Even when all the hope is gone Agape hopes against hope to find the good that is to be hoped for. Hopes in the fulfillment of all God's promises, Hopes in the delight of Him, hopes in things not seen and are future, hopes in Heaven and eternal joy, hopes for more grace and glory here, hopes in the best of men, hopes in all those that profess belief, even of evil men that they will be better and taken to repentance, hopes for those that have fallen but now repentant. 

endures all things

Agape endures all that is disagreeable to the flesh, all the afflictions, tribulations, persecutions and even death for the sake of the elect, for the sake of the Gospel and especially for the sake of Christ. 

Agape never fails

Agape may fail in its exercise, as other graces, it may even be abandoned, but will never be lost.  Its fervor may peter out, it could cool down due the prevalence of sin, could be choked by error and heresy penetrating like cancer, could be obstructed by too much interest in the world that stifle the Love for God and Christ and brethrens, but this grace will never fail in its principles, it is a a immortal and incorruptible seed surviving the most violent temptations and the most painful desertions, yet Agape carries on. 

but the greatest of these is Agape 

Agape is the expression of the love of God, the divine image in the creature and the mutual relation between God and us.  To have Agape is to know God: And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)  God is eternal and as God is the biggest being and He is Agape is the greatest of all affections.  When all the saints will meet in Heaven, they will live in the perfection of Agape to its maximum height, truly perfect in every way.  What blessed situation to live in perfect harmony with everyone, in full view of our marvelous Lord.  Agape is the expression of the Kingdom of God and of His saints.

Table  of LOVE definitions in the New Testament

Love appears 290 times, grouped: (Agape = 258;   Phileo = 31;   Thelo = 1)

Strong Key





This is the Agape of intelligence,  of reason and comprehension coupled with the corresponding purpose.  Its concepts is vastly superior to any other form of Agape,  In essence "Agape" is a permanent benevolent attitude toward God and human beings, without any condition, that freely springs out of the Agape God has place in the heart of His own.





G25 agapao (v)


1) of persons
1a) to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly
2) of things
2a) to be well pleased, to be contented at





G26 agape (n)


1) brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence
2) love feasts


Charity 1Co 13



feast Charity








Expresses Agape of personal affection, or of pleasure, including even the relevant passions when required.  It does not involve intelligence or high purposes. This concept places Phileo at one level inferior to that of Agape.  It is a feeling that finds attraction in another person and it expects a return.



G5360 philadelphia (n)


Love between brothers and sisters, brotherly love, love between brethrens in Christ.

brotherly Love

brotherly kindness

love for the brethrens






G5361 philadelphos (a)


Love brother or sister in a wide sense, love one as a brother, amore a a fellow country men, as an Israelite, as a Christian loves Christians.

love for the brethrens


G5362 philandros (a)


love husband (Tit 2:4)

love their husbands


G5363 philanthropia (n)


love for humanity, benevolence


love toward men




G5365 philarguria (n)


love of money, avarice (1Ti 6:10)

love of money


G5368 phileo (v)


1) to love
1a) to approve of
1b) to like
1c) sanction
1d) to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend
2) to show signs of love
2a) to kiss





G5388 philoteknos (a)


Love own children (Tit 2:4)

love their children




The desire to do a thing, want to do, show off



G2309 thelo (v)

{thel'-o} or

ethelo {eth-el'-o}

1. to want, have in mind, intention

2. to be resolute or determined

3. to desire,

4. to want to do; to have pleasure to do

5. to be delighted in, to have pleasure


want/would want


love to Mar 12:38


list of wishing