Different words for love

The love of God is far above natural love. But the love between a husband and his wife is typical of the love of God for Israel and of Christ for the ecclesia.

In the New Testament Greek, the word for the love of God is agap¯e and the word for natural love is phile¯o. In the Hebrew Old Testament there is just one word, ahab, for both the love of God and natural love.

Agap¯e is described as sacrificial love because it is love of a person contrary to our natural feelings when no cause for love exists. It is best expressed in the words: “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In nearly every place where it is used it is in connection with the love of God.

Phile¯o means to be a friend or to have affection for (denoting personal attachment as a matter of sentiment or feeling).

God’s love for us

Agap¯e love is so bound up with God that we read that “God is love”

[1]. The character of God is love. In the Hebrew, the word ‘name’ has the meaning of ‘character’. God’s Name is revealed in Exodus 34.

In this Name are expressed the qualities of God’s love:

  • merciful
  • gracious
  • longsuffering
  • abundant in goodness and truth. But, He will by no means clear the guilty.

God’s love is a combination of goodness and severity [2].

Our love for others

The apostle Paul defined ‘love’ when he wrote to the Corinthians 3:

“suffereth long” forbears, shows fortitude, is slow to anger
“is kind” shows usefulness, is gentle
“envieth not” does not show misguided zeal, is not jealous
“vaunteth not itself” does not boast, is not a braggart
“is not puffed up” is not inflated, proud or haughty
“doth not behave itself unseemly” is not void of proper deportment, does not act with moral deformity
“seeketh not her own” Paul explained what this means when he wrote to the Philippians 4
“is not easily provoked” is not incited, does not become exasperated
“thinketh no evil” does not take an inventory to estimate or judge
“rejoiceth not in iniquity” does not delight in what is contrary to right, or in impropriety which is repugnant
“rejoiceth in the truth” rejoices in truth as the revealed reality lying at the basis of and agreeing with an appearance
“beareth all things” covers with silence, endures patiently
“believeth all things” has faith in all things in God’s Word
“hopeth all things” hopes, trusts; see Romans 8:24
“endureth all things” bears trials, has fortitude and perseverance, remains behind after others have gone, bravely bears up against suffering.


The love between a husband and wife is a pattern for God’s love for Israel and Christ’s love for the ecclesia. The ultimate expression of God’s love is the giving of His only begotten Son [5] .

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity [love], these three; but the greatest of these is charity [love]” (1 Cor. 13:13 )

Bible references

1 1 Jno. 4:7-10
2 Exodus 20:5; Romans 11:22; 1Cor. 13:6
3 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Philippians 2:4
5 Jno. 3:16; Eph.5:25,28