A strong faith and a true hope are nothing if separated out from love. Unfortunately, in the English language, the word love has become a sterile catch-all, losing a great deal of the beauty held within the nuance of the words from which it originates. In the Greek New Testament, there are two words which are translated as love: philo and agape. “As to the distinction between agape and philo: the former, by virtue of its connection with agamai, properly denotes a love founded in admiration, veneration, esteem, like the Latin diligere, to be kindly disposed to one, wish one well; but philo denotes an inclination prompted by sense and emotion.”
Thus, agape love is actually a very different type of love than philo. Philo love is a temporal love, one based in emotion; this is your sexual love, the desire-of-your-heart love, the love of the moment. However, the agape love is neither temporal, nor is it really even emotional; some might even call it a transcendent love. The agape love, exclusive to the Bible, is the love which is most closely related to God.
One of the great problems in the English tradition is how we lose a great deal of meaning when we meld the two into one. Within the Christian context, it leads to so many problems. I can think of the televangelist asking the gathered, “Do you feel God’s love?” Unfortunately, that changes what the love relationship is between man and God. It is not a temporary feeling. It is a long-term calm.
When you mix the temporal, emotional love with the powerful, transcendent love, we reduce God to good feelings and warm thoughts. God’s love is more than a mere emotional experience. To be honest, this is where people have used emotion to take advantage of others. Because it feels good, it must be the right thing to do! The love that you have from God is much more than that.
I think of it in many ways. The day after Groundhog Day, I will celebrate 33 years since my first surgery on my stomach and esophagus. As a nine-year-old boy, I knew one kind of love, and that came from my parents. To be more specific, I can think of the love my mother demonstrated to me by staying with me during all of my surgeries. I know it was not pleasant, and I know I was not always pleasant, but no matter what the condition or what the pain was causing me to say or do, she was there. By the time I was a teenager and no longer would admit to wanting her there, she stayed anyway. That is an example of agape love. There is no emotional or momentary reward; however, the love that came with the feeling of safety and care transcended the moment.
God’s love is like that. God is there when you want God, when you need God, and even when you don’t think you need God. Just take a look at the laments found in the Old Testament. As you read the cries, which are quite vicious at times, you can begin to hear this powerful expression of love. Moreover, you can begin to see the powerful love relationship with God.
We started this journey looking at 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” At the foundation of our relationship is faith: knowing, seeing, and realizing God’s presence in our life. Out of our faith comes hope, which lifts us out of despair and into a life with new meaning. In faith and hope, we experience God’s agape, the love that surpasses a temporal emotion and is a constant presence in our life.
While we cannot ever fully understand this love, we know this love is there, and as a community, we are called to share in it!
 Thayer, J. H. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, MA)
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen