Love, Agapao and Phileo

God is Love

“She hath done what she could” (Mark 14:8).

— James Parkinson

Love for one another is revealed by works. Love is a good and desirable characteristic in all people, yet there are degrees of love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ASV). By the grace of God, Jesus Christ died once for all, and did “taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). However, Jehovah also said, “I loved Jacob; but Esau I hated” (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). It is not that Esau’s descendants had been obliterated, but simply that Jacob’s descendants had received much greater blessings.

Jesus distinguished types of love: “Jesus saith to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, Lovest1 thou me more than these?’ He saith unto him, ‘Yes, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’ He saith unto him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ (16) He saith unto him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, Lovest thou me?’ He saith unto him, ‘Yes, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’ He saith unto him, ‘Tend my little sheep.’ (17) He saith unto him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, 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 knowest2 that I love thee.’ Jesus saith unto him, ‘Feed my little sheep’ ” (John 21:15-17 RVIC). The first two times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him with agape love (the higher form of love: godly love, heartfelt love, shown here in bold). Peter replied that he loved Jesus with phileo love (still a high form of love: lovingkindness, mercy). The third time, Jesus stepped down to what Peter could do. (See “Postnote on the Words Meaning ‘Love.’”)

(1) Greek, agapao (to love with Godly love), here, and in the question of verse 16 only. The other word for love in verses 15-17 is phileo (to love with family love).
(2) Or, perceivest

“Thou shalt love (Hebrew, ahab) Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” Deuteronomy 6:5). This commandment to love (Greek agapao) God above all is also cited in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30-33, and Luke 10:27.

Faithful Women who Exhibited Deep Love

Rebekah shows us an example of unselfish love (Genesis 27). Awaiting the birth of Esau and Jacob, Jehovah had told Rebekah, “Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels: And the one people shall be stronger than the other people; And the elder [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob]” (Genesis 25:22-23). When the two were grown, Jacob bought the family birthright from his twin brother Esau.

Rebekah remembered that Jacob was entitled to Isaac’s blessing of the firstborn, though Isaac planned to give it to Esau. What was she to do? Rebekah determined to have Jacob impersonate Esau to gain the blessing. She instructed Jacob to get two kid goats for Isaac’s meal, and for hair to cover Jacob’s two arms. Jacob protested that if Isaac discovered that he had been deceived it would “bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing” (Genesis 27:12). Rebekah then manifested her deep love for her son and said, “Upon me be thy curse, my son; only obey my voice, and go fetch me them” (Genesis 27:13).

Things went according to plan, and Jacob received the primary blessing. When Esau learned of the deception, he determined that after their father died, he would kill Jacob. Rebekah heard of Esau’s plot and had Isaac send Jacob away to find a wife among his second cousins. Although Rebekah never saw her son Jacob again, her unselfish love for him saved his life.

In the Days of the Judges

Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge in Israel when she told Barak to raise the troops against the oppressive king of Canaan. Barak declined unless she would go with him. She showed her mercy toward him, and her love for Israel, by going with him.

When Naomi lost her husband as well as both sons, she left the land of Moab to return to Bethlehem. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, loved her and chose to go with her. With supreme love, when Boaz and Ruth had a son, they credited it to Naomi and her deceased husband Elimelech (Ruth 1:15 ff., 4:13 ff.).

The Unnamed Wise Woman (2 Samuel 20) Centuries later, when David was king, his handsome and proud son, Absalom, became angry with his half-brother and proceeded to kill him. He then fled to a foreign country. Three years later, David was persuaded to declare a pardon; so, Absalom returned. Absalom then conspired against his father, and David fled Jerusalem. In the subsequent battle, Absalom was slain by his cousin Joab (though against King David’s expressed will). David returned to Jerusalem as the king once more.

Then a Benjamite named Sheba, described as a man of Belial (i.e., a master of worthlessness) attempted to convince the tribes to revolt against David. He was chased by Joab, the head of David’s mighty men, into Abel, a small city in the northernmost part of Israel. The siege began with a battering of the town’s wall.

An unnamed wise woman of the city of Abel asked to speak with Joab, which she does. She began by praising the history of the small city and assured Joab that she was one of many of its people who were peaceable and faithful. She asked, why he wanted to destroy a city that was respected by other cities in Israel, the inheritance of Jehovah.

Joab replied that he had nothing against Abel, but only against the worthless Sheba who had taken refuge there. He said, “Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city” (2 Samuel 20:21). The wise woman answered Joab that their allegiance to King David would be shown by throwing the head of Sheba over the wall to him. She went into the city and persuaded the people to do as she had spoken (2 Samuel 20:22). The siege was immediately lifted, and Joab returned to Jerusalem. Thus, this wise woman saved all the people she loved in the city (2 Samuel 20).

An Unnamed Slave Who Loved Her Master (2 Kings 5:1-18)

Naaman was captain of the army of Syria (Aram). He was a great soldier and officer but was also a leper. Previously, the Syrian army had taken a young maiden captive, who then served Naaman’s wife. With lovingkindness, the young maiden captive suggested that Naaman should go see the prophet (Elisha) who was in Samaria, the capital of Israel, so he might be healed.

However, the chief military officer of one nation does not just go visit the capital of another nation without official papers and a substantial gift. So, the Syrian king sent a letter to King Jehoram, son of Ahab, saying, “Behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:6). Jehoram’s response was disbelief and suspicion. Leprosy was deemed to be incurable. He concluded that the king of Syria “seeketh a quarrel against me” (2 Kings 5:7). But Elisha heard of it and intervened. He said, “let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel” (verse 8).

As Naaman arrived at Elisha’s home and stood at Elisha’s door, the prophet sent a messenger out to meet him and instruct him to wash seven times in the River Jordan, some 25 miles to the east. Naaman was certain that the rivers near his capital city of Damascus were cleaner than the Jordan river and he left in a rage. But Naaman’s companions persuaded him to follow Elisha’s simple instructions, and, as a result, Naaman was healed. His skin became like that of a child. Naaman’s words are significant: “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15).

By the lovingkindness of an Israelite maiden, Jehovah God was glorified in the eyes of a mighty warrior and of his foreign household.

A Faithful Woman Who Risked Her Life

Jehosheba (Jehovah’s oath) shows us an example of true love. When Ahaziah, king of Judah, allied himself with Ahab’s son Joram, king of Israel, both kings were slain in battle. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, seized the throne and murdered her potential rivals — the sons of Ahaziah. But Jehosheba, sister of Ahaziah, took Jehoash, the infant son of Ahaziah, and hid him and his nurse in the Temple of God (2 Kings 11, 2 Chronicles 22:10 ff.).

Jehosheba risked her own life because she loved her infant nephew, and doubtless because she also loved the nation of Judah. (Seven years later, Jehoiada the priest had Athaliah slain, and had the young Jehoash made king.)

A Woman Forgiven

A sinful woman came to Jesus at the home of a Pharisee, washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointing them, and wiped his feet with her hair. She was apparently seeking forgiveness. The Pharisee promptly honored Jesus but scorned the woman as unworthy of attention. Jesus said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:36-50). (agapelove is used in both cases.) There is a profound lesson in this for each of us. We are to show our appreciation for our Lord’s mercy by being merciful to others for whom Christ also died (1Timothy 2:6).

Counsel for Christian Women Today

All these faithful women have given us examples of how love is pleasing to our God. Likewise, all believing women today are to be a similar example of love to their children and teach them what is right. Paul adds, “She shall be saved through her child- bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:15 ASV).

POSTnote on the Words Meaning “Love”

When God said, “I loved Jacob; but Esau I hated” (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13), it is to contrast what God did for Jacob with the impoverishment of Esau. Esau today is the southernmost part of Jordan, the poorest part of Jordan. The word for “loved” in Malachi 1:2 is ahab/ahav, corresponding to agape in Romans 9:13. Both signify the highest form of love: unselfish love, godly love. In Matthew 22:37, the Greek word agapao is the verb form of agape. (The Hebrew word ahab is used ~200 times, the Greek words agapao 143 times, and agape 116 times.)

By contrast, phileo love is still a high form of love: lovingkindness, mercy; cognate: filial love. The Greek word for Peter’s “love” is phileo, corresponding to the Hebrew word chesed in the Old Testament (e.g., 1 Chronicles 19:2 ASV, where “David said, I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me”). (The Hebrew word chesed is used ~235 times, the Greek word phileo 25 times.)

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