The Definition of Love

Two great Bible words are used: The word phileo means “to have ardent affection and feeling,” or a type of impulsive love, and the other word agapao means to have esteem or high regard.

In the discourse between Jesus and Peter in John 21:15-17, there is a play upon these two words. Jesus asks, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” (esteem me?) But Peter replies, “Thou knowest that I love thee” (have ardent affection for you).

Then Jesus asks, “Simon, lovest thou me?” (have ardent affection for  me?) Peter responded that his love was phileo love—a love that held Jesus in high esteem and which was more than a fleeting feeling. The word agape is the characteristic term of Christianity. 

Agape is used in several different ways in the Bible.

  • Agape love indicates the nature of God’s love toward His Son, John 17:26; toward the human race, John 3:16, Romans 5:8; and toward those who are believers, John 14:21.
  • Agape love conveys God’s will to Christians about their love for one another as proof to the world of true discipleship, John 13:34-35.
  • Agape love can be known only from the actions it produces, as seen by God’s love in the gift of His Son, 1 John 4:9-10.
    • Love found its perfect expression in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christian love is the fruit of the Spirit in the believer: Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
    • Love enables us to obey God’s commandments: Psalm 119:32, “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” 

According to the Bible, we are “as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal without such love: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (I Corinthians 13:3).

  • Love never fails, but always flourishes. Read 1 Corinthians 13.
    • In verses 1-3 we see the motive of love.
    • In verses 4-7 we see the definition of love.
    • In verses 8-13 we see the action and attitude of love.

What is our motive for love? Love never dies; love is never defeated; love is never disillusioned; love is never disappointed because love is eternal.

“Love looks beyond the bounds of time and space, Love takes eternity in its embrace.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

One of the reasons there are so many divorces in our culture is because we have forgotten how to love and what love really is. This is the kind of love that holds two hearts together no matter what. Christ never ceased to love and you cannot do anything to keep Him from loving you. Why? No sin is beyond His love! Love is about sacrificial giving and sanctimonious living.  Please read 2 Peter 1:5-10.


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Hans Nikoley, GSBC Professor

Bro. Nikoley emigrated from Germany to the United States with his family at age 13. He served full time in the Nevada Air National Guard for six years. At age 32, He was saved, and in 1977, he graduated from Bible College. He pastored for over 31 years, 27 of them at Pomerado Road Baptist Church in Poway, California. Bro. Nikoley has served at Golden State Baptist College in the Bible Department and also as the Student Employment Director since 2007. He and his wife Mary have two children and have been married for 58 years.