The New Testament which is translated from Greek, has four Greek words associated with love, Agape (ἀγάπη), Philia (φιλέω), Storge (στοργή), and Eros (ἔρως). In Matt 22:34-40, Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to, “love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength” (Deut 6:4-5), and “love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18).
Agape love is perfect, unconditional, sacrificial, and pure and this love only comes from God. Only God gives us the ability to love him through his Holy Spirit, and he does so because he first loved us (1 John 4:19, John 3:16). His spirit gives us the ability to love all of our neighbors, including our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). It is the Holy Spirit that transforms our hearts so that we can have this kind of love and only those who believe in Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17, Rom 8:5-11). The Old Testament promised this “circumcision of hearts” by God’s spirit in Deut 30:6, Jer 4:4, Ez 36:25-27, Joel 2:28-32, and the new testament confirms that the Spirit has been distributed to followers of Christ in Acts 2:16-21, Rom 2:29, and Col 2:11 for this purpose. When we operate in agape we will love everyone no matter who they are because the holy spirit makes us God’s children. As Jesus said when he gave the command to love our enemies in Matt 5:43-48, “you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
Philia is more love towards one another in a natural sense. The word Philadelphia means “brotherly love”, which is one way to describe it. Even the word philanthropy is based on this word philia. When we naturally care for others, like friends, associates, co-workers, and community members, especially vulnerable people in need, this is philia. Most people will only naturally love people they empathize with or relate to, not their enemies, but those with the holy spirit will mix agape with this so they can love everyone equally.
Storge is familial love. The kind of love parents has for their children and vice versa, as well as what siblings and relatives have for each other. This love is most driven by blood relations and sibling-like bonds. When adding agape as and philia to store this affection extends to siblings in Christ (church members) and other people, going beyond just one’s own relatives and family-like peers.
Eros is where we get the word erotic and is the romantic/sexual love of a married couple. This love is the love that procreates life, functioning as the “seed” for families and the continuation of life in general. This love can be abused and turned into lust in order to manipulate others to satisfy the hormonal impulses of our flesh.
Jesus defines the proper context of this love in Matt 19:4-6 when he quotes Genesis 1:27 and Gen 2:24 by saying, (NLT) “Haven’t you read the Scriptures? They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
The best way to follow this model and keep the two together is to build it on the foundations of agape (God’s holy spirit powered love), philia (compassion for a fellow human), and storge (as foundations of a new familial union).
All of these kinds of love should be stacked together in different stages and contexts of our lives. As children, we are introduced to storge by our parents, and philia when we make friends and meet others. Eros becomes a natural desire for most of us around puberty. However, agape is only available to those who respond to God’s agape love, because we love [in agape] because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
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