Love is word that perhaps had been defined emotionally, philosophically and intellectually. Yet, in the Bible, it is an English word taken from “three” Greek language. And when we talk about love today, it can mean love to someone or to a mate, love to a parent or a child; it can also mean deep friendship or “liking” for a person or to a thing; it can also mean sexual love. The following are the Greek translations of the word “love.”
Eros, which means sexual, romantic and selfish love; Phileo, which means brotherly love toward someone or something and Agape, which means unselfish love and the deepest love among the three, which is based on doing good things for another person. Both agape and phileo are used in the Bible and can sometimes cause confusion.
An example is in John 21: 15-17, where it shows the difference between agape and phileo.
Joh 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
Joh 21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Joh 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Apostle Peter denied Jesus Christ three times (Matthew 26:44; Matthew 26: 69-75). The above verses in John 21: 15-17, is a conversation happened after the resurrection of Jesus. Coincidentally, this is the third time He has showed Himself to the Disciples. (John 21: 14) Jesus is reminding Apostle Peter about his three denials, which He has told to Peter before the trials, sufferings and crucifixion. Jesus is reminding Peter with this three-time questioning of him.
Unfortunately, the English translation hides an important part of the three questions. Let’s take a look with each of Jesus’ questions and Peter’s responses. We will translate Agape as love and Phileo as like to make the meaning clear. “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon. son of Jonas, lovest (agape) thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord thou knowest that I like (phileo) thee.” (John 21:15)
What we miss with the English is that Peter is answering with a different word. Jesus is using “agape,” which is sacrificial love. Peter is answering with “phileo,” brotherly love. “He saith unto him again the second time, Simon Son of Jonas, lovest (agape) thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I like (phileo) thee.” (verse 16)
This is a repentant Peter. He implied before Jesus’ death that his devotion was so great for Jesus that it was greater than all the others (Matthew 26:33, 35). In his first question, Jesus asked if Peter had agape greater than all the others. Peter could only answer that he had phileo for Christ. In this second question, Christ has dropped the “more than these,” lessening the requirement. Peter still only answers he has phileo for Jesus. This is a humble Peter who now recognizes his weakness. Now we can see why Peter was grieved with the third question. “He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, Do you like (phileo) me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Do you like (phileo) me?” (verse 17).
Christ had dropped the requirement to only brotherly love, which Peter had been saying all along.
In Mark 12: 30-31 we can find the Greek word “agape” as the love of God. “And thou shalt love(agape) the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment. And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love(agape) thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. ” Here the word Jesus used for love is “agape.”
In 1 John 5: 2, we find, “for this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” Here, again, the word for love is the Greek word “agape.” It is also repeated in 2 John, stating, “this is love(agape), that we walk after his commandments.” (2John 1:6)
In James 2: 8, it says, “if you fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, thous shalt love (agape) thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.” So we see that love — as translated from the Greek word Agape — is keeping the commandments of God. It is not just FEELING good but it is DOING good for: “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).