Most of us realize that the Bible has a lot to say about love, but God has more to say more about love than many modern Christians know. Hidden behind the English word “love” are various Greek and Hebrew words that don’t all mean the exact same thing. Join AMBrewster as he unveils the Bible’s first two cultural understandings of love as well as the clear commands God reveals in those passages.
The Year Long Celebration of God is a family resource from Truth.Love.Parent., a ministry dedicated to rooting families in God and maturing families for God so they can harvest blessings from God.
Discover the following episodes by clicking the titles or navigating to the episode in your app:
“TLP 128: The Four Family Loves, Part 1 | it’s something we have to do”
“TLP 129: The Four Family Loves, Part 2 | the ‘love’ that takes” (eros)
“TLP 130: The Three Family Loves, Part 3 | the love that should be natural”
“TLP 131: The Three Family Loves, Part 4 | the love that feeds each other”
“TLP 134: What Is Romantic Love?”
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Halloween is one of those events it’s easy to dismiss because you have to try much harder to understand the spiritual significance of the day.
However, you would think that Valentine’s Day would be much harder to dismiss because of the obvious focus on the significant spiritual character trait of love.
And yet, I’ve met people who enjoy Halloween because of the candy and dress up who decry Valentine’s Day. Some do so because they’re not in a relationship, and they’re bitter. Some complain that it’s been highjacked by corporations who have over-commercialized it.
But — honestly — those reasons are poorly conceived. Sure, we may feel that way about Valentine’s, but — as we’ve already established many times — God is to be worshipped for all that He is, and He is to be worshipped every day of our lives.
Yes, it’s true that you needn’t observe all the special days other Christians observe, but if you’re truly born again, then you will celebrate God’s love. If you’re truly a follower of Christ, then you will definitely work hard to love others as you have been loved. And You should do that every day of every year . . . even on February 14th.
Now, the Bible doesn’t require any of us to exchange valentines — truthfully, I haven’t done that for decades. But that doesn’t mean that we should avoid deep, discipleship conversations about love and charity and care and affection just because secular companies happen to sell more chocolate and flowers on that day.
Again, the arguments against Valentine’s are paltry.
It’s my personal persuasion that the more a Christian truly understands God’s love, the more they will want to talk about it and demonstrate it and celebrate it.
So, with that said, we’re going to have two episodes about the different kinds of love. And, yes, there are different kinds of love.
But before we do that, I thought I’d take a moment to share a little-known fact about myself. I have a decent-sized collection of playing cards. It really is a long story, but the sum of it is that I spent a number of years of my life as an amateur and professional illusionist. My forte was street magic, and I did a lot of work with cards. Well, one of my favorite online magic supply companies started commissioning the Bicycle card company to create decks with different designs and purposes. Anyway, I purchased a number, but my friends also started gifting them to me. So, I have over a hundred mint-condition, still in their plastic wrap decks of playing cards.
I’m not sure if you appreciate me any more . . . or less . . . because of that, but it was once a part of my life. I say “once” because I can’t remember the last time I added to the collection, but I also have a hard time parting with them.
Anyway, as always, you should subscribe to this show, leave us a rating and review, and check out CelebrationOfGod.com for all our valuable resources including free episode notes, transcripts, and various tools to help you worship God better and disciple the ones you love.
Love is an interesting word. As my friend, Mark used to say, “I love my wife, and I love pizza, but it doesn’t end too well for the pizza.”
What exactly does love mean? And is there any difference between the words love, like, affection, romance, or care?
And — to complicate matters more — when we open the Bible we find that the English word “love” shows up over 300 times, but what we don’t automatically realize is that there are at least four different words for love. There’s one Hebrew word and at least three Greek words. I say “at least” because people sometimes differ on whether to count the different word forms as separate words.
Anyway, the Greek had about four words they regularly used to describe love because they wanted to differentiate between the different outworkings of that love. And I really appreciate that.
I think modern English speakers are stuck with one word — in part — because we don’t really know what love is. Everyone has a different understanding, so we either need to use a nebulous word that we can interpret however we want, or we’re going to have to have sixty-seven words that describe love in more precise ways as defined by the speaker.
But what man thinks is rarely important. On the other hand, what God thinks is infinitely important. So, let’s open the Bible to discover why God chose to use the words He did.
First, let me start by saying that we are not going to talk about the Greek word eros. It is a Greek word that is often translated “love,” but it’s also not used anywhere in the Bible. I don’t know why, but some pastors have tried to explain that eros is a marital love. However, from my study, that could not be further from the truth. You wouldn’t want that kind of love in your marriage.
I did two whole podcast episodes — one about eros in particular, and one about romantic love. I’ll link both of those in the description of this episode if you’re interested in learning more.
The first biblical word I want to discuss is called . . .
However, just like eros, the root word storgē doesn’t appear anywhere in Scripture.
On the other hand, two forms of the word do show up in three different verses, so we’re going to start by discussing the Greek understanding of the word and then look at the three passages where the Bible uses it.
Are you ready?
Here we go.
Storgē is interesting because this love has its basis in one’s own nature. Storgē is a natural affection or natural obligation. Even infants who don’t possess the ability to cognitively exercise their selfishness feel this affection.
It’s a natural movement of the soul for husband, wife, child, friend, or pet. It’s a quiet, abiding feeling within a person that rests on something close to him about which he feels good.
It’s also interesting to note that anyone can feel storgē. You don’t have to be a Christian to feel this love for another person.
Now, that doesn’t mean this love is not true love or that it’s some sort of perversion. God created us with an instinctual affection for things around us. Children feel it most strongly with their parents. Pets can also receive this love from their humans. Any of you who’ve ever lost a pet understands storgē.
But here’s the unique thing about storgē -- for the most part, it's usually unconditional. It doesn’t matter if the baby’s parents are good people or not, the baby storgēs them anyway because it’s simply a natural response to those to whom we feel close.
But this "natural" affection isn't always natural. And with that, let’s jump into Romans chapter 1.
Here’s a quick overview of verses 18-26. Basically, the passage tells us there are people who know Truth about God, but they reject that Truth and follow their own hearts. It’s a scary passage because in verse 26 it says that God gives them up to dishonorable passions. He allows them to destroy themselves. And then we get to verse 28 where God gives them up even more. And one of the character traits of someone who’s been given up by God is that they become “heartless.”
In the Greek it would sound like astorgē. When you put the letter “a” in front of something — generally speaking — you negate the root word.
So, here in Romans 1, the word astorgē means “without natural affection.” In fact, that’s how it’s translated in the King James. The New American Standard translates it “unloving.”
But before we discuss the implications of astorgē, let’s look at the one other verse were astorgē is found.
For that we turn to II Timothy 3.
In this passage, Paul is explaining to Timothy what the world will be like in the last days.
The passage sounds an awful lot like Romans 1. Paul says that as time goes on more and more people will reject God. As people reject the Truth of God, they will exercise more and more of their depravity. And again we find the word “heartless.”
That’s our word astorgē.
So, what does it mean that people can be without natural affection?
Well, these are the only two times in the whole Bible where this word is used. That means that much of what we can learn will come from these two passages.
And — as we already mentioned — storgē is a natural, instinctual love. It’s an extension of God’s common grace to us. But it appears that repeatedly rejecting the Truth of God removes a person from this grace of God.
Ephesians 4:17-19 sheds some more light on this: “17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
Having a hard heart caused their minds to be dark and futile, and they became alienated from God. And because of that they eventually became callous. A callous is a tough layer of skin that’s built up because of repeated friction. I have callouses from playing the guitar, the martial arts, and working in the garden.
But God is saying that because of the repeated friction of coming in contact with God’s Truth and rejecting it, a person can become callous in their spirits. This causes them to give in to sensuality and greed and impure lifestyles.
So, it’s clear that we lose our natural affection — our storgē -- by repeatedly refusing to submit to God.
And here’s the last verse where a version of this word appears. In Romans 12:9-13 we read,“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Okay, so the word “love" was used a number of times, but only one of those “loves” is the word for which we’re looking. It’s translated “love” at the beginning of verse 10: “Love one another with brotherly affection.”
But what’s interesting about this word is that it’s a mix of two of the Three Biblical Loves.
The Greek word is philostorgos. It’s a combination of storgē and philos, and philos means “beloved, dear, and friendly.” That’s the next love-word we’re going to discuss.
What’s interesting is that we’re being commanded to have this love-hybrid. Now, remember, Storge is nowhere commanded of us because it’s considered a natural affinity, and the biblical author chose not to use the word phileo.
So, what’s being commanded here, and what’s the implication?
Well, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul is commanding us to exercise a devotion that should be natural among believers. In fact, the New American Standard Bible translates philostorgos as “devoted.”
All of this to say, whether we’re born again or not, we should all exhibit the natural affection for family that God created us to have.
But once you’re born again into a new, spiritual family, God expects that there will be a new kind of natural affection for our fellow believers.
Now, let’s move to our second love of the day.
There are a bunch of people from a little place called Philadelphia that know more about this word than perhaps they realize.
The name, Philadelphia means “the city of brotherly love.” And “brotherly love” is how most people understand phileō.
Although that definitely speaks to the familial nature of this love, it’s not restricted to families and close friends like storgé often is. Anybody can have this love for anyone else — saved or unsaved, related or not.
So, regardless of the people involved, phileō is a companionable love. It speaks of affection, fondness, or liking between two or more people. In fact, phileō requires at least two people because it’s a love that feeds the love in others.
Phileō responds to kindness, appreciation, and love when it’s offered by another. Let me put it this way — when I pour water from one cup into another, it naturally fills the other cup.
The water level rises in the second cup because the first cup took the time to pour into it. And then the second cup pours that water back into the first and they keep feeding each other.
Phileō works much the same way. As love is poured from one person into another, the amount of love in the second person rises and pours back into the first. Of course — unlike cups — when we pour love into others, our own store of love should not be diminished. Nowhere in Scripture do we learn that people have a “love tank” that needs refilling. People who communicate those ideas are not functioning off a biblical understanding of love.
So, it’s imperative that we don’t misunderstand how all this works.
Humans are so instinctively filled with eros that the concept of unselfish love for others — with absolutely no ulterior motives — is fanciful.
Yet, we should never phileō others simply because of the “future love” we hope to get from them. If that’s our goal, that’s eros. And we shouldn’t phileō others simply because they showed us love and we want more. That’s no better than eros.
So, you may be wondering, “Is it possible to have a sinful phileō?” The unfortunate answer is, “Yes.”
Storge can’t really be sinful. It’s instinctual and natural. The sinful thing would be to not have storge at all.
But with phileō, it itself can be sinfully used.
Jesus points this out to us in Matthew 6:5. He was teaching about prayer, and He said, “When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love [phileō] to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
He shared a similar sentiment in Matthew 23:6. In that passage He was condemning the same group of people by saying they “phileō the place of honor at feasts.”
And Revelation 22:15 takes it even further when it refers to people who phileō and practice falsehood.
And it’s very interesting to note that in Matthew 26:48, Judas said the guards would know who Jesus was because Judas would phileō Him. Phileō can mean simply “kiss,” and I don’t believe a kiss was ever used in a more diabolical way than it was the night Judas betrayed God.
Like we noticed earlier, phielō has a natural give and take about it. Phileō is cyclical, and that means it can be fed by any number of things. The Pharisees loved to pray in public because it was fed by the praise they received. They also liked the best seats at the feast because of the popularity and honor and prestige that was poured into them. There are many that love falsehood because of the perceived “benefit” that flowed into their lives when they lied.
So, what does all of this mean?
Well, like everything else in life, God’s perfect creation has been twisted. What was created to be holy and unselfish, can be tainted.
We’re supposed to phileō because that’s how God created it. He wants to use that love to call phileō out of those we love. And, as the person we love pours phileō back into us, it strengthens the phileō we have for them.
This is why it’s brotherly love; it’s companionable love. It works with the love in others to bond and intertwine. That’s how it’s meant to work in a perfect world.
Yet we live in anything but a perfect world, and everyone in your family is imperfect. So, we’re going to look at six warnings and then discuss how we can live out this love at home.
Now, I recognize that we’re going a little longer today, and that’s okay. Let’s finish up with some practical application for Valentines.
In regard to storgē.
1. God created all of us to love our family members and close friends with a natural affection. That means that if we’ve lost that love, there is a serious problem . . . with us.
2. This natural affection can only be lost as we repeatedly choose to disobey God’s Truth. We need to diligently search our hearts and get biblical counsel if we discover that we no longer care for people for whom we should have natural affection.
3. If you and your family members are born again, God actually commands you to exhibit philostorgos for your born again family. As a biblical counselor, it grieves my heart to see how many professing Christians no longer “love” their family members. They can’t stand them. They act and talk so hateful. It breaks my heart for all of the obvious relational carnage they’re creating, but — more importantly — they’re directly disobeying God.
And our last observation is . . .
4. This natural affection for other believers can also be lost only when we choose to disobey God’s Truth. This doesn’t just affect our families. It affects our churches and all relationships within the body of Christ.
Therefore, we should be using this season of celebration to reevaluate our love for our physical and spiritual families. We should be rooting out any sins in our lives because we know they’re destroying the love I should have.
Now, let’s discuss . . . phileō.
Here are five warnings.
1. Warning number one has already been discussed. We must not show others love simply so we can benefit from it. That’s fake love.
2. Our second warning is this — phileō grows when another invests in us. That means that phileō can grow even if storgé or sinful attention is being poured into us. Storgé is pure and beautiful, and it should call phileō from us and then call phileō from the other person. But phileō that grows from sinful affection alone is tricky.
Sinful, selfish affection may do and say all the same things that phileō may do and say, and we’d be none the wiser because we can’t see another’s motivation unless they expose it.
Be careful that you keep high biblical expectations in your life and in other’s lives so that you can help others be honest about their love.
3. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean they’ll phileō you back. This has a significant implication — Don’t be so certain that your love will right all wrongs. People are still free moral agents to do as they please.
I Corinthians 16:22 says, "If anyone has no [phileō] for the Lord, let him be accursed.”
The obvious understanding is that God has so abundantly poured love into us, anyone who would not reciprocate that love is not His child and will be accursed.
You’d think that if God Himself is pouring phileō into someone’s life, they would have to reciprocate. But it’s still a choice.
4. If our love is merely phileō, and nothing else, it can gradually become strained and weakened when the other person stops pouring love into us — or doesn’t reciprocate. In a worst case scenario, it can collapse in a crisis.
5. Don’t think that the love that phileō pours into others is only ever hearts-and-rainbows-and-flowers.
In Revelation 3:19, Jesus says, “Those whom I [phileō], I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” We see two important truths here. One is that phileō is prepared to do the uncomfortable thing. It’s willing to reprove and discipline. And two, when the love of Jesus is being poured into us, that should draw out of us a phileō response — specifically zeal for right and repentance for wrong.
Alright, so those are the warnings. Now let’s talk about how we can increase the phileō in your’s and your disciplee’s live during Valentine’s.
1. Make sure you phileō God first.
Consider Matthew 10:37: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
If we aren’t phileō-ing God more than anyone else, there will be problems. So, make the love of God your first priority.
2. Don’t phileō what doesn’t matter.
John 12:25, “Whoever [phileōs] his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Revelation 22:15b talks about “Everyone who [phileōs] and practices falsehood.”
If we shouldn’t be loving our family more than we love God, then there should be no place in our lives for loving things that God hates.
If you want to cultivate phileō in your life, be sure to stop loving unkindness, disrespect, laziness, impatience, and lust.
3. Don’t accept the phileō of the world.
John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would [phileō] you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Listen, if the world loves you . . . there’s a problem.
If we phileō God, then we have the promise that the world will hate us. And if the world loves us then the world views us as being one of them. And that should never be if we’re followers of Christ.
So, if you want to grow in the bonds of love, be sure not to reciprocate the phileō the world uses to tie you to themselves.
Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t love the world — that we don’t love unbelievers. That’s not true at all. But we definitely must be careful that we’re pouring the right love into them.
4. Accept every aspect of the phileō of God.
Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Sometimes the love God will pour into us will be delightful and comfortable. It will consist of joy and fulfilled promises and blessings. But sometimes that phileō will be uncomfortable. Don’t reject it.
God’s using that correction to make us who we need to be.
Our dislike for correction is tied to two sinful thought patterns. First, we often don’t want to go the direction God wants us to go, so a correction that gets us back on God’s track takes us away from our own.
And second, sometimes we don’t like correction just because we’re prideful and don’t like to be told we’re wrong . . . even when we know we’re wrong. And this can happen even when we’re happy to be on the right track.
That’s why we get angry when we’re corrected. And since neither of those reasons are any good, we should take this admonishment and realize that correction from God and our other authorities and fellow disciples is a sign of love. It’s good. It should make us happy that we can get back to following Christ after drifting toward sin and destruction.
And lastly . . .
5. Don’t settle for phileō.
John 21:15, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I [phileō] you.’”
Like I already pointed out, storge is an unconscious affection. Phileō is called out of us by the love of others and feeds that love in return, but there is a love that far outshines phileō.
The passage I just read was part of a longer conversation Jesus had with Peter after His resurrection.
Jesus asked Peter two times if he loved his Lord. But Peter did not use the same love-word Jesus did. Jesus was calling Peter to a deeper, unconditional love, but Peter knew he wasn’t ready for that.
And he wasn’t. Presumably, it was at this point or a little later that Peter truly submitted his life to Christ and became a genuine follower.
My point is, phileō is a good start, and it’s a wonderful blessing when used the right way, but it can’t compare to the love we’re commanded to have over 300 times in the New Testament; the love we’re going to discuss next time.
Thanks for joining our study of biblical love. I hope this episode was insightful and helpful for you. And — if you already knew about these two biblical forms of love — I pray it was a timely reminder as we approach Valentine’s Day.
Wouldn’t it be great if, this year, for the first time, we actually worshipped God on Valentine’s? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if our preparation caused us to love God more and love others more? Would’t that be worth celebrating?
If this episode was a blessing to you, please rate and review us on iTunes and Facebook and share this it with your fiends.
Next time we plan to discuss the purest, most divine love humans can experience. It’s God’s love in us, and I’m really excited to talk with you about it.
I’ll see you then!
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a dynamic, holistic resource that utilizes the Bible, our holiday calendars, and even the most average moments of the most normal days to equip Christians to worship God all year long
and disciple others to do the same.
AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.