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Love: What is AGAPE love? 

Gary Googe Mar 04

In the Greek language of the Bible there is more than one word used for love.  AGAPE [AGAPAO—the spelling of the verb form] is the one most commonly used. But how is this love defined? What exactly does it mean? First, it is a mental attitude love.  Actions can and generally do flow from it, but the word itself is only to do with an attitude, a way of thinking. It is a love totally dependent upon who and what the subject is, not its object.  On the other hand, there’s another kind of love that is called PHILOS [PHILEO = the verb form] love.  It is a love dependent upon its object, not the subject.  It is determined by the admirable or attractive attributes of its object.  This is why it is sometimes called friendship love.  The name for the city of Philadelphia comes from this word—PHILOS, meaning love, and ADELPHOS, meaning brother.  Originally it was said to be the city of brotherly love.  We may talk about loving our city, loving our country, loving a beautiful sunset, or loving a certain food.  But in all such things it depends upon the attributes of the object of this love.  In the use of AGAPE, it doesn’t depend on such things at all.  The focus is totally on the attributes of the one expressing the love.  Which one of these types of love do you suppose God commands in the marital relationship? It is AGAPE, not PHILOS.  It can be wonderful when PHILOS love is developed, but that’s not the one that’s commanded because we have no control over the kind of response we may get from the expression of our love.  The friendship love—PHILOS, may or may not develop even if the best of AGAPE love is expressed.  Take for example God’s love for mankind.

John 3:16

16 For God so loved [AGAPAO] the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [Emphasis added]

Does everyone respond favorably to this love? Unfortunately, not just some but most people do not, even though God has demonstrated His love [AGAPE] from His perfect character for all people.

Romans 5:8

8 But God commendeth his love [AGAPE] toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners [as having been unbelievers], Christ died for us. [Emphasis added]

I’ll never forget sitting in seminary classes where there were professors who promoted the teaching of what is called Reformed Theology or Calvinism. There I learned that these people have their own made-up definitions for a variety of words.  For instance, to them “world” and “all” don’t mean anyone or everyone without exception.  To them it means only the ones preselected of God are the objects of His love.  Furthermore, to them Christ didn’t die for the sins of all, only the preselected or the predetermined, the ones they speak of as “the elect.” But there too, they have their own definition as to what it means to be one of God’s “elect.”  What unbiblical nonsense these people believe and promote! For a correct understanding of these, you can find articles about them on this website.

Predestination:  Does God predetermine who’s going to Hell?

Election:  What should we believe about this?

Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection provide the possibility and the opportunity for any and all in the world of mankind to be saved, not just some.

1 Timothy 2:4-6

4 Who will have [THELO = desires] all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. [Emphasis added]

Other passages of Scripture speak of this wonderful work He did for all of us.

2 Corinthians 5:21 

21 For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added] 

It is when this righteousness of His is applied to us that we become acceptable to Him.  God’s provision for such through the work of Christ by His death, burial, and resurrection should cause anyone and everyone to respond favorably to Him.  We were all in desperate need of His salvation when Jesus Christ went to the cross and died for us ALL, paying the complete penalty for our sins.

2 Corinthians 5:14  

14 For the love [AGAPE] of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead [dead spiritually]: [Emphasis added]

Other verses like this next one we’ll note are ignored, distorted, and sometimes even despised by these people.

2 Corinthians 5:19

19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [Emphasis added]

This was all done as an expression of God’s AGAPE love.  This verse is clearly telling us all the world’s sins were held against and judged in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness was then and there provided for all people.  However, to gain the righteousness of Christ for salvation to be provided, one must believe it.

To say that this love of God “constrains us” [2 Corinthians 5:14] is to say that when we’re mindful of what God did for us in Christ, it serves to deter us from sinning, causing us to want to please Him.  This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to spend time studying His word every day, not just once in a while or on Sundays.  Please notice King David’s words about this.

Psalm 119:10-11

10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. [Emphasis added]

For more information about this, please see my articles about it.  Here are the names of two of them.

Temptation:  How can it be resisted?

Bible:  How important is it to you?

The greatest of all commandments is said to be for us to have a love for God.

Matthew 22:36-37 

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love [AGAPE] the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. [Emphasis added]

It is by learning about Him through the study of His words that our love for Him is developed.  The more you get to know God, the more you are going to see why you should love Him. He does wonderful things for all of us every day.  The more you become cognizant of this, the more you’re positioned to love God.  You really can’t love [PHILEO] someone personally without knowing them.  Knowing God should cause us to want to develop a love for Him.  This is why our Lord made this statement during His earthly ministry—

John 14:15

15 If ye love [AGAPE] me, keep my commandments. [Emphasis added]

Unlike then, in our time today, He presents His commands to us through His words from His heavenly ministry, rather than His earthly one.

2 Corinthians 5:15-17

15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.

Verse sixteen speaks of Christ’s teaching in His earthly ministry vs. His teaching of His heavenly ministry through the apostle Paul.  There are important differences in the two.

17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. [Emphasis added]

The great “love chapter” of the Bible is said to be 1 Corinthians 13.  Let’s note how this AGAPE love is defined there for us.

1 Corinthians 13:3-7

3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [AGAGE = love], it profiteth me nothing.

The word charity was a word for love in the old English. As you know, the word is not used to mean that in our time, but even expressions of charity as we use the word today can represent expressions of love.

4 Charity suffereth long [it is not short-tempered], and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself [it is not self-promoting], is not puffed up [arrogant],

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly [rudely], seeketh not her own [selfish], is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity [ANOMIA = lawlessness], but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. [Emphasis added]

The bottom-line summary to all this is to say we should treat people the way we’d like to be treated.  In the time of His earthly ministry our Lord put it this way—

Luke 6:31-32

31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.

He then went on to say this—

32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. [Emphasis added]

In our times the word love is often used quite flippantly.  Everyone speaks of it but very few have a true and correct understanding of it, let alone a will to apply it in all relationships.

In America people celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Some people go out of their way to make it a romantic time.  But the expression of love shouldn’t be determined by a holiday.  We find in Scripture that it’s to be ongoing, as I know it is for some.

The word, AGAPE for love appears over 600 times in the King Jame Version of the Bible.  It is a subject so many of the authors of Scripture mention or discuss one way or another.  Here are some representative examples of this AGAPE love.

1 John 4:8b, 10, & 16b

8b …for God is love.

10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

16bGod is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. [Emphasis added]

God not only expresses this love, but we are told He IS love.  Here it is said to be a part of God’s essence, His being. Therefore, it should not surprise us when we are told that He has manifested His love toward us by sending a Savior for us Who would deliver us from God’s wrath.  Never doubt that God has a deep and abiding love for YOU! This is a matter of fact no matter how sinful you’ve been.  If this was not true, He would not have died, paying the full penalty for your sins on the cross of Calvary so that you would have the opportunity to accept His work for you by faith and be saved.

Romans 5:8-11

8 But God commendeth his love [AGAPE] toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Having received His provision by accepting what He did, we as believers need not ever worry about having to experience the expression of God’s wrath.

9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood [having been credited with the righteousness of God (justified)], we shall be saved [SOZO = saved or delivered] from wrath through him [by faith in Christ’s work on the cross].

10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled [by grace through faith in Christ’s work], we shall be saved by his life [His resurrection life].

Never confuse all this with what is often called universal reconciliation. EVERYONE is not going to Heaven; only those who have accepted by faith Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the sole basis for their salvation.

11 And not only so, but we [as believers] also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [having accepted Christ’s work for our salvation]. [Emphasis added]

Though he certainly didn’t understand the meaning of it at the time, Abraham got a look at this when God told him to offer his son as a sacrifice at a place called Mount Moriah.  His faith was credited to him for salvation because he simply did as he was told.

Genesis 22:2

2 And he [our Lord] said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. [Emphasis added]

Clearly, to love God represents our willingness to give of our best and most precious in service to Him.  And, again, He’s given us the best of reasons to think this way.  We certainly don’t deserve such.

Again, Romans 5:8

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [Emphasis added] 

We even know we can now never be separated from Him and His love.

Romans 8:28 & 37-39

28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love [AGAPAO]  God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 

37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Emphasis added] 

What greater promise could we ever have than that! Anyone who ever questions God’s ongoing love for them just hasn’t been reading the Scriptures. But, of course, these truths must be believed if they’re to make a difference in one’s life. If you’ve not been believing them, why not start now? You have much to gain from it.

Again, John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [Emphasis added]

A place in Scripture where we can see the value of knowing the difference between AGAPE love and PHILOS love is seen in a conversation our Lord had with the apostle Peter. By not knowing the Greek text, one could never know or get a full understanding of what all was being said.

John 21:15-17

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [the verb form AGAPAO of the noun AGAPE = mental attitude love] thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love [AGAPAO] thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

Now note the change in words Peter makes in this next verse and again in verse seventeen.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [AGAPE] thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love [PHILEO = an intimate friendship love] thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest [PHILOS] thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest [PHILOS] 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. [Emphasis added] 

What if the Lord were to ask you this question, how would you reply? Do you have the deeper PHILEO love or is it only an AGAPE love? To be “friends” with someone, you must know them.  And how is it that we come to know God? It is not by you talking to Him in prayer, even though that is something all we need to be doing.  The only way to gain an intimate knowledge of God is by Him talking to you through the teachings of Scripture.  This is why we’ve been commanded to be diligent in that.  Here’s how Peter put it in his writings.

2 Peter 3:18

18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. [Emphasis added]

But in the verse just prior to this, even Peter stresses the importance of going to the writings of the apostle Paul for this, something Christendom has almost completely ignored.

2 Peter 3:15-16

15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other unto their own destruction. [Emphasis added]

Here’s how our apostle Paul put it.

2 Timothy 2:15

15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]


The major part of what you’ve just read in this article is a breakdown of the meaning of AGAPE love.  Now that you have some understanding about how God loves you, what does this tell us all about the way God wants us to treat others? Aren’t we supposed to function as His ambassadors, His personal representatives?

2 Corinthians 5:20

20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. [Emphasis added] 

This means that as believers we are to represent Him to the people in “our world.”  The Bible says we’re to follow the teachings and the example given to us by Paul.

1 Corinthians 4:16

16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. [Emphasis added]

1 Corinthians 11:1

1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. [Emphasis added]

Ephesians 5:1

1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; [Emphasis added]

We’re to “follow God,” but we do that now by following the teachings of the apostle Paul.

Philippians 3:17

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. [Emphasis added]

The only way this can be done is for a person to become a serious student of the Bible rightly divided.  If you don’t know or you’re not sure exactly what that means, please see my articles about it.  Here’s a list of a few of them on this website.

4Us2Us:  What does this mean?

Bible:  How important is it to you?

Bible:  How should one study it?

Bible:  Where should a person begin studying?

What a wonderful difference it will make in your life if you will make the effort to learn these things! If you will, your love for God and for people will make a huge difference in your life and the lives of others for both time and eternity.

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