Having stayed home from Sabbath services for three out of the past four weeks (our group is meeting in a room that triggers an allergic reaction – can take half the week to recover), I have had a chance to do more thinking and writing than usual on the Sabbaths. This week, I thought I would take the opportunity to begin a personal blog that I’ve been planing for some time.
I was reading John 16 and 17 yesterday as part of my pre-Passover routine, and two of my favorite passages stood out:
“At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.” – John 16:26-27
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” – John 17:22-23
Agape and Phileo
One thing I find fascinating about these verses is that two different Greek words are used to describe God’s love for us. Of the Greek words for love, the one we talk about most in the church is agape (Strong’s G26, ἀγάπη). This is the word used when John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The most commonly used basic definition is that agape means Godly love.
But this is far too simple an explanation. Another commonly word used for love in the NT is phileo (Strong’s G5368 φιλέω). It and the related philos mean “to love .. to have affection for someone … with the idea of overweening fondness … Specifically, to kiss” (Zodhiates). There is no easy distinction between the usage of the two words, because agape and phileo are both used in various places of man’s love towards God, God’s love towards man, and inappropriate attachment to earthly things. Zodhiates writes that, in general, agape involves perceiving the needs of the one being loved and meeting that need, “not according to the object’s concept of need, but that of the one who loves.” Phileo implies having common interests and a friendship with the object of one’s love.
Back to John 16 and 17
The word used for love in John 16:27 is philos. What this verse is saying is that the Father Himself has common interests and friendship with those who love and believe in His Son. This is the same word translated ‘friend’ in the verse where is says Abraham “was called the Friend of God” (James 2:23). In this context, it is certainly not a lesser love than agape. Philos is an incredible kind of love to share with the creator of the universe.
In John 17:23 the word used for love is agape when Christ says that the Father “hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” If John 16:27 doesn’t touch us to the heart, this should. God shares the exact same love that He has for His Son, the One Who gave up eternity to pay the penalty for sin, with us. Even knowing all the sins we’ve done and thought and said, He loves us that much.
This love is one of the chief messages Christ wanted to communicate with His people before He was sacrificed as our Passover lamb. We know by heart that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). But I think we often lose sight of how incredible this love actually is. God and Christ call us Their friends, and share Their own love that They have for each other with us. That is a powerful message to take with you into the Passover.