God is love.
What can be said after that? Does love exist apart from God? Is God more than love? Is it possible for humans to love?
The English word, love, is used all over the map. I love you. I love Disneyland. I love cookies. I love action movies. I love paying taxes.
If you used the Greek words—phileos, eros, agape—only philos would be used in the examples above. It was the most used term in the ancient Greek world and was appropriate to use of the gods. The idea of phileos is love of other people, brotherly love. Eros referred to sexual circumstances.
While all three terms were used in the Greek translation of the OT, eros is never used in the NT. The third word, agape, was little used in Greek writings and had a vague if pleasant meaning. Probably within months, the first followers of Jesus—they called it being in the Way—began to adopt agape as meaning that unique love that can only be ascribed to God and His Son.
Verse 9 of John’s Gospel reading literally has: As loved me the father so love you, remain in the love. The first two uses here is agapao which has the sense of great or much love. The last use is agape, love in the plural, love-feast.
Christians quickly began to equate love from God as the most powerful form of love. Because they believed Jesus to be God’s Son, his love was just as powerful. Jesus commanded us to practice that same agape love.
Think about the word practice for a moment. No one goes to the Olympics and wins the 400-meter race without some practice. No human can agape without practice.
It is interesting that in the first 12 chapters of GJohn, he used agape and philos almost interchangeably. The rest of the Gospel stresses agape love.
Look at this passage from John 21:15-17. When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you agape me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I phileo you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you agape me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you phileo me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you phileo me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I phileo you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. NIV
This is clearly an opportunity for Simon to express his love and devotion to Jesus whom he betrayed three times before the crucifixion. It is tempting to argue that Jesus asked for agape love, but Simon could only admit to phileo. The problem is that the conversation did not occur in Greek. Most likely, they spoke Aramaic, less likely Hebrew. Each language has only one word that is translated as love. John was just doing his thing of mixing the two terms in the Greek.
What is most important in this passage is that Peter’s love is one which makes it possible to follow Jesus’ command to feed and care for Jesus’ sheep. If Simon loves fellow humans (phileo) he will also love Jesus (agape).
The is instructive for all of us. How can I love a God I cannot see, touch, or hear? I love Him by loving the people He created.
If you read the first two chapters of Genesis, clearly, God created the universe for us. Not in the sense that He built a playground and then left us to it, but in the sense that He wants to share this playground with us. He gets to watch our joy as we see, understand, and grow within the playground. He gets to share Himself with us and lead us back to that perfect place He first created for us.
We can only return there by loving every human on earth as much as God does.
Be righteous and do good.