‘Agape’ is a word often used in sermons. We hear from our pastors that it is unconditional love, but we don’t hear the details of that. Our secular culture tells us to ‘follow our hearts,’ and our churches (and Christian dating books) seem to be pushing back by telling us that love is not a matter of feelings it is a lot of hard work. But, is that true? Let’s look at the New Testament for some answers, looking at some of the Greek words for ‘love.’
Please note that the references below are taken from Strong’s Concordance, specifically from the Greek section, and that the two digit numbers correspond to a specific Greek word for ‘love.’ Also note that the majority of the verses used are taken from the HCSB version of the Bible.
25 – Agapao – found in John 21 –
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” (‘Agapao’ is used the first two times Jesus asks Simon Peter this).
Definition of ‘Agapao’ –
-To love (in the social or moral sense)
5368 – Phileo – found in John 21 –
Simon Peter: “‘Yes, Lord,’ he said to him, “You know that I love you.”‘
Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” (this third time Jesus uses ‘Phileo’ instead of ‘Agapao’).
Definition of ‘Phileo’ –
-To be a friend to
-Fond of as to an individual or object
-Have affection for as in personal attachment
-A matter of sentiment or feeling
In Strong’s Concordance (from which the above definitions are found), we found the following comparison between Agapeo (25) and Agape (26) –
“…while 25 is wider, embracing espec. the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty, and propriety… the former being chiefly of the heart and the latter of the head” (Strong’s 76).
It is in 1 Corinthians 13 (the famous love chapter) that we find the word ‘agape’ used.
26 – Agape –
-Love-feast of charity
The Apostle Paul, in 1 Cor. 13, says that this Agape love is:
-Does not envy
-Does not boast
-Is not proud/conceited
-Is not rude (does not act improperly)
-Is not self-seeking (is not selfish)
-Is not easily angered/provoked
-Keeps no record of wrongs
-Does not delight in evil (finds no joy in unrighteousness)
-But rejoices with the truth
-Always protects (bears all things)
-Always trusts (believes all things)
-Always hopes (hopes all things)
-Always perseveres (endures all things)
-Love never fails/ends
As James Strong put it, agape and agapao are, respectively, a matter of the head and heart. Agape is ‘affection’ and ‘a love feast of charity.’ It is not just a matter of duty, it is also a matter of delight. And that delight includes affection, which, if I may say bluntly, is a matter of feelings. Perhaps in an attempt to pull us away from the secular world’s ‘follow your heart,’ our Christian leaders have neglected to show us that this Christ-like love is both a matter of the heart/affection/feelings as much as it is head/action/sacrifice. Let us love through both our head and our heart. Let us choose to love, and let us also choose to feel.
Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.