Various forms of Love. There are four different Greek words for love, and the distinctions between them are important to understand. The four words are: Eros, Storge, Philia, and Agape.
- Eros. This is love in a romantic sense; e.g. love between husband and wife. It the most “fiery” type of love, but also the most shallow type of love. The word ‘eros’ is not found in the Bible, so I will not spend much time on it. The word itself is not found in the scriptures, but the concept is. We read of romantic attraction between the couple in Song of Solomon, and it is not a reach to say that romantic love was present there.
- Storge. This is love in a family sense; e.g. the love of mothers and fathers for their sons and daughters, and the love of children for their siblings and parents. The word ‘storge’ in the positive form is not found in the Bible, but the negative form is found twice – in Rom. 1:31 and in 2 Timothy 3:3 – where ‘astorgos’ is translated “without natural affection”.
- Philia. This is love in a friendship sense. The noun ‘philia’ and the verb ‘phileo’ originate from the Greek term ‘philos’, meaning “beloved” or “dear”. This type of love has give-and-take. It includes loyalty, virtue, equality, and familiarity. It is deeper than romantic love, which is why David says of his best friend Jonathan; “thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (2 Sam. 1:26). As Christians, we are to love one another with ‘philia’ love (Romans 12:10)… it is a love shared by the family of God. This word occurs twenty-five times in the New Testament! Note that brotherly love is always governed by divine love (2 Pet. 1:7).
- Agápe. This is love in a divine sense.
Agápe love is sacrificial and unconditional. It is selfless in that it gives and expects nothing in return. It is the love of a settled disposition. It is the highest of the four kinds of love. An example would be God’s love for us in sending His only-begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16). If He only thought of Himself, He would never have done it (Job 34:14-15). The word for “Agápe love" is sometimes translated "charity"; e.g. 1 Corinthians 13. The English word ‘charity’ actually helps us understand what love really is. We might ‘say’ we love somebody because they love us back, but that isn’t the idea. Charity is when you give to somebody in need knowing there is no way they can repay you. Only the divine nature, in which the believer participates, has the capacity to love this way. Divine love always has God as its object. This word occurs one hundred and forty-two times in the New Testament!
Agápe or Divine Love. God’s love in its fullest sense is the “Agápe love”. Love is verb as well as a noun. A common mistake is to think of love as a feeling. When God commands us “to love” He does not mean that we should “have a feeling”. He means that we are to make a decision to look upon and act upon another with favor, without expecting anything in return.
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34
“To love” is an act of the will, regardless of how one feels. To say, “I love you” means “I’m committed to you and I will always act a certain way toward you no matter what.” It is independent of feelings. Feelings are a result of the disposition. When I learn that God has taken a position of charity toward me, and nothing in the universe can ever alter that position, I get a feeling… I feel loved. Furthermore, I feel a responsibility to reflect that love to Him and to others. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It doesn’t start with a feeling, it starts with an action.
||– No reason; i.e. sovereign grace
– GOD IS LOVE
– He is the source
– He gave His Son for me
– He chose me
– He looks upon me with favor
– He shows me daily mercies
||– I love because He first loved me
– Toward God: Obedience to God’s word… this is how I show Him love
– Toward Others: I show love (actions of charity) to my brethren, to lost sinners, the fatherless, widows, etc.
Love and Light. These two words describe God’s essential character in different aspects. God is said to be light (1 John 1:5) and He is said to be love (1 John 4:16). To "be" something is far deeper that to "do" something. For example, God loves (John 3:16, etc.) but the expression "God is love" has a much deeper thought. Believers are commanded to "walk as children of light" and we are also said to be "light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:8). Light is the state and character of the divine nature, which we share by new birth. But believers are never said to be love. This is because love is a motive, a sovereign source that cannot emanate from man. God is sovereign in His love (agápe). As creatures, we are not sovereign. Only God Himself can be love, can be that source. We are privileged to be channels through which that love flows out. Hence, we are exhorted to “walk in love” (Eph. 5:5) and “love one another” (1 John 4:12). If it weren't for the Source, we could never love others with that same settled disposition; "we love because he has first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Light, on the other hand, is a fixed state of purity, and it is characteristic of our new nature.
God’s Love and the Manifestation of It. God’s love is perfect, but it’s perfection is realized by its being poured out on you and me… the elect. God’s love doesn’t require a cause or worth in the object; “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God’s love transforms us, makes us one with Christ. Christ’s place before God is our place (1 John 4:17). Christ Himself is our life (Col. 3:4). His glory is our glory (John 17:22). His inheritance is our inheritance (Rom. 8:17). His acceptance is our acceptance. We are loved with the same love wherewith the Father loves the Son, and are brought to share in their communion. This fact is to great to keep hidden… Jesus will have it made known to the world “that thou hast loved them as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23). His love is “perfected” in us (1 John 4:17). But God’s love is not manifested in us… it is manifested in the cross (1 John 4:9). It is not in the creation of the universe, nor in the dispensational testing of man, nor even in the tender care over His sheep that His love is fully made known. It is only and fully declared in the death of Christ. There, God’s love caused Him to pour out His holy wrath upon His beloved Son as a man in three dark hours. Nothing can measure up to that. We can estimate neither (1) the seriousness of our sin, nor (2) the greatness of God’s love apart from the cross. Thomas Kelly expressed the former:
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.
J. N. Darby expressed the latter:
“There is no accounting for His love; there is no estimating it. The thing most of all dear to Him was the Son of His bosom, and Him He gave. There is no limit to His love. He has given me Christ, and there is no end to what I have in Him. The Son of God given for my sins, He goes down into these depths and brings up life “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” How can I know that God loves me? By looking at the perfect object of His love, and this gives me rest. Why? Because in Him I see how wondrous is the love that sent down His Son to give me eternal life, and be a propitiation for my sins. If I have not rest, what I need is a deeper sense of sin. I must learn what sin is at the cross; and then I shall see the love that has met it and suffered for it, and thus my soul gets rest.”
The great point is this: you don’t know someone’s true disposition toward you until it is acted upon. God’s love would only have remained a “theory” (respectfully speaking), unless Christ had carried it forward into full manifestation at the cross.
Our “Responsive” Love. As we have already remarked, our capacity to love is formed by our knowledge of God’s love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We come to God as sinners without one plea, but we find a heart of love vast as the ocean, and willing to meet our need. Then our hearts overflow in response to Him. God has chosen to make obedience to His word the greatest test of our love for Him. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments” (1 John 5:2). “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
- The Love of God, the Love of Saints, and Overcoming the World. J. N. Darby. Collected Writings, Volume 28, page 285
- The Love of God. J. N. Darby. Collected Writings, Volume 16, page 294
- Love and Light J. N. Darby. Notes and Comments, Volume 4, Page 233