The Three Loves

I was having a discussion with Robert about love, being “in love,” and what that all meant. I’ve long been of the opinion that love can be qualified using the three types of love that were present in the Greek language and are found in the Bible. The words are Agapeo, Phileo, and Eros.

Eros is an easily-understood one: it’s where we get our word “erotic.”It is the sort of physical/emotional/sexual love that one feels toward someone they desire. It does not mean lust, though it can lead to it. It is simply that attraction.

Phileo is a strongly emotional, heart-felt affectionate love. It’s the sort of love you might have for not just a spouse, but a sister, or a best friend.  It’s that attachment, that affection, that bond that people have.

Agapeo is a willful, spiritual, deliberate love. It lacks the passion of phileo, but instead has a deliberation that gives it a firmer ground. It is not better or worse because of this, it is simply different. (It is not, as commonly touted, necissarily a “True” or “God” love. There’s a good explanation of it at the Acts 17:11 blog.)

What interests me is where these loves come together.

In Scripture, there is a dialogue between Peter and Jesus, after his resurrection, where Peter is asked if he loves Jesus. It goes like this:

Jesus asked, “do you agapeo me?”
Peter replied, “I phileo you.”
Jesus asked, “do you agapeo me?”
Peter replied, “I phileo you.”
Jesus asked, “do you phileo me?”
Peter replied, “I phileo you.”

This was after Peter had lacked the will to stand up for Christ at the trial, but felt bitterly depressed after doing so. His confession to Christ was that while he loved him with all his heart, he lacked the will at that time to say he could agapeo. I think it was a spiritual victory, for Peter, in that he had finally identified that truth about himself. Later on it became clear that he had both phileo and agapeo for Christ. The passion and fire of phileo found a sturdy ground in agapeo,  and it was then that he became the bold apostle that he is remembered to be.

When phileo mixes with eros, we end up with a sort of love that is not in itself bad, but easily lends itself to disasterous situations. We’ve all seen those all-too-common passionate, but groundless relationships – they usually end up abusive or self-destructive, and are the cause of the high divorce rates we see. They have that fire and attraction to begin with, but without a firm grounding it peters out and dies.

The conclusion I came to with Robert is that only when all three come together can a relationship really be successful.  You must have all three parts there: the eros attraction to each other, the phileo affection and passion to drive it, and the agapeo determination and grounding to stick with it, “until death do you part.”

Any thoughts?

2 thoughts on “The Three Loves”

  1. Can’t agree with you more…

    Sadly, a huge majority of all relationships that happen these days are all about the Eros or the Phileo or both.

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