Ancient Greek has four distinct words for love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē. Agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for one's children and the feelings for a spouse. It was also used to refer to a love feast. Agape is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children.
"A love feast". How fitting. Have you ever seen a baby- a brand new baby and said something like "Oh my goodness! Look at that adorable baby! I just want to eat him up!!!!!" Maybe that's just me...well, if you haven't it's that compulsion to see something so wondrous, so new, so unscathed and literally want to consume it. It's actually a real phenomenon called "dimorphous expressions" It's a way for our bodies to regulate overwhelming emotions.
When we get a good feeling that's almost too good, our body counters it with an opposite response-like the desire to eat a cute baby or when we cry tears of joy. Agape is possessed and expressed by our Heavenly Father and is perfect in its intent, wholly unconditional, and totally incomprehensible. It truly is difficult for humans to fully wrap their minds around this kind of love because we cannot embody the fullness of agape in our flesh.
A Suitable Replacement
The closest thing I can equate to agape love, is the love a parent has for their child. Or the desire to nibble on the cheeks of a niece or nephew. Agape love is what compelled God to do what Abraham didn't do (Genesis 22:1-18)- sacrifice his son; offer Jesus' life as a suitable and appropriate replacement for each and every one of our imperfect, often sinful lives; past present, and future.
After Peter's denial and the subsequent resurrection, Jesus and peter had an interesting exchange regarding agape (wholly unconditional love) and phileo (brotherly love; think Philadelphia). I'm going to paraphrase the story, inserting the appropriate translation for "love", but you can find it in John 21:15-17
Jesus- Peter, do you agape me more than all these disciples here?
Peter- Yes Lord, you know I phileo you.
Jesus- Then feed my lambs.....Peter, do you agape me?
Peter- Lord , you know that I phileo you.
Jesus- Take care of my sheep.....Peter, do you phileo me?
Peter- Lord, you know everything, you know I phileo you.
The Honest Answer
Peter was surely taken by surprise by the boldness of Jesus' question and we observe him cautiously answer the first time. Notice the second time Jesus asked the question he simplified it by omitting 'these disciples'. The third time Jesus asked, he simplified his question even more and Peter, knowing better than to errantly respond with agape, and fully aware how his mouth had very recently gotten him in trouble (i.e. denying Jesus three times) again answered honestly with phileo.
What a tense exchange. I can almost see Peter, clench-jawed feverishly looking for an out to this line of questioning but getting no reprieve. In order to reinstate Peter as a leader, Jesus needed Peter to know the depth of love that Jesus had for him (enough to die on a cross) and the depth of love Peter would in turn need to have for the "lambs and sheep". Peter, could only answer with phileo because the depth and width of agape is almost, if not, unfathomable to our human minds. God's love for his children is an unmatched, resounding, jealous love that he desires to pour out upon us.
When you have overwhelming emotions be they positive or negative, what is your initial response?
Do you allow space for your emotions or do you stuff them down in places where they can't be experienced? Why?
Like Peter, a lot of us have issues with the concept of agape. Can you recall an instance where you experienced God's agape love in your life? Describe it.
Have a conversation with God about love. I encourage you to share your misconceptions of love and allow space for him to speak the truth about his perfect agape to you.
Keyword Biblical Lookup:
the Father's love, Agape, Phileo, Jesus and Peter, Unconditional Love, Love
Feelin' kinda strange? Compelled to do something but don't know what? Check this post out. It might just help you make sense of things.