AGAPAO and PHILEO: To Love and to Be Attached To

John 21:15‑17  •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It is not surprising that our correspondent is little satisfied with the usual explanation. The true difference seems to be simple. Αγαπάω is the generic term for loving, and is applicable in all directions-to superiors, inferiors, and equals. It is said of God's feeling toward man, and of man's toward God. It is predicated of God's love to the world in giving His only-begotten Son, and of Christ's love in giving Himself for the Church. On the other hand, φιλώ seems to be a narrower word, and properly implies special affection and endearment. Hence it is often used to describe the outward sign of fondness and also vaguely that feeling which produces the habit of certain actions, though this last is true of αγαπάω also. Both are said of God's love to His Son. The notion that αγαπάω denotes reverential love, and φίλέω mere human affection, is untenable. We are not called to love our enemies reverentially (Matt. 5:43, 44; 6:2443Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:43‑44)
24No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)
). Nor was it thus that Christ loved the rich young man; nor will it be pretended that God reverentially loved the world. Yet this is not a tithe, perhaps, of the absurdity that attends such a thought. As little can φιλέω be reduced to the purely human regard of the heart. It is not so that the Father loves the Son or even us; nor can anything be more opposed to the true scope of 1 Cor. 16:2222If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. (1 Corinthians 16:22); Titus 3:1515All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen. <<It was written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretians, from Nicopolis of Macedonia.>> (Titus 3:15); Rev. 3:1919As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:19), &c, where φίλέω occurs.
It would rather appear that while the Lord thoroughly judges Peter's confidence in His own love to Him, He not only hears Peter's declaration of His true and near affection for Him, but Himself takes it up the third time, and that this, flashing on Peter s three-fold denial, went to his very heart, and drew out the deeply-felt and humble confession that it was only the Lord's omniscience which could at all discern such affection. It may be added that in the first case, the Lord's word is, “feed my lambs,” in the second, “shepherd, or rule, my sheep,” and in the third, “feed my sheep.” Peter's last answer appeals to the Lord's knowledge, both subjective, οῖδας, and γινώσκεις, objective.