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When I get on the topic of love and marriage, I think of a particular song, "What's Love Got To Do With It?" It's a perfect example of the world's way of loving, which really doesn't have anything to do with it! But genuine love, God's love, is altogether different.

Love is the basis for every strong marriage and family. It's not just an emotion or some abstract concept that cannot be defined. Love is an action - a commitment that is expressed in real ways with certain characteristics that make it clearly recognizable.

To truly love someone is to commit yourself to that person without guarantee. Therefore, love is an act of faith, and we know that faith works by love (Gal. 5:6); it's a spiritual law. It is the nature of love to generate love in the life of others: You sow love and you will get love.

That's another spiritual law - you reap what you sow (Gal. 6:7). It's not how much love you have, but the quality of your love that's important (just as it's not how much faith you have that God looks at, but the quality of your faith).

The love that's mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is a certain kind of love: agape or the God-kind of love. There are four Greek words for love that the Bible talks about: agape, phileo, storge, and eros. All four of them have the characteristic of uniting, but agape is the highest kind of love.

As I said, agape is the God-kind of love. It sees people as being valuable and precious. The quality of this love is determined by the character of the one who loves, not the one who is being loved. That's why God can love us - because His love is determined by His character, not ours.

In First John 4:10 we see a prime example of this: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that HE LOVED US, AND SENT HIS SON TO BE THE APPROPRIATION FOR OUR SINS."

God looked at us in our sins and saw us as valuable and precious - worth enough to send His own Son to die for us. No matter what we have done or will do, He still sees us as that way. He loves us. So agape is love that comes from realizing and understanding the value and preciousness of a person. That's why it is called the God-kind of love.

You may ask, "How can I see someone I don't even know as valuable and precious?" You can't, naturally speaking. You choose to see that person as God sees him. So if God says someone is valuable and precious, then that's the way it is.

When you realize that, it makes your love walk a whole lot easier, because most of us decide which people we're going to love based on whether or not they love us. But the God-kind of love tells us to love regardless of how people act toward us.

That means we don't have to take things personally. As we develop God's character in our lives, it enables us to love people no matter what they do to us. We love them because of His character that's on the inside of us.

Phileo is the type of love that you have for a friend. It consists of that which you see in a person that gives you pleasure. Its quality is determined by the character of the one who loves as well as the one who is being loved (in contrast to agape, which is only determined by the character of the person doing the loving).

If a person doesn't love you, you would still love that person with the God-kind of love because he is God's creation; but you wouldn't want him to be your friend. With phileo, the other person's character has to exude love, respect, and some kind of affection toward you, too, since this kind of love is determined by the character of both people.

Now phileo works best at the husband-and-wife level and to a lesser degree with children. But it always works effectively with your fellowman as you mix it with agape.

Storge is not found in the New Testament, but it is the word used to express a show of affection, usually toward children and the elderly. When you combine storge and agape, it is very meaningful. However, when you combine storge and phileo without agape, it leads to eros.

In other words, when you show affection and love for a friend and agape isn't present, it leads to sexual involvement. But if you let agape rule all these other kinds of love, you'll be able to keep them in the right order. Storge is similar to phileo in that it works best with your wife or your husband, but it will work to a lesser degree with your children and to an even lesser degree with friends.

Eros love refers to sexual attraction. It only takes on its true meaning when it's combined with agape in the marriage relationship. That is the only way it is going to be effective. Eros will only work God's way with your spouse.

There are some interesting parallels you can draw when you understand the connection between the different kinds of love and the different levels of friendship. For example, phileo gets you out of the acquaintanceship level into the casual-friendship level.

Remember, we said that phileo is the love you have for a friend, and it is based on your character as well as that of the other person's. So if, as a Christian, your character reflects God's character, which sees people as valuable and precious, then that's how you see the other person too.

Understanding The Proper Steps and Stages of Love
Now most dating relationships begin with phileo. Then as the relationship progresses and storge is added, it leads to eros if agape is not present. That's why the first thing that ought to happen in a high-level friendship is that you view each other as valuable and precious. You should have that confidence in each other and in your relationship. It will keep you out of trouble.

For example, when two people see each other as valuable and precious, they will not be quick to fornicate. The very fact that fornication happens in a dating relationship proves that both parties see each other as worthless. The same is true for the engagement or intimate-friendship level. Two people can get to the place where they no longer see each other as valuable and precious, and then they will encourage one another to sin.

In review, eros is reserved for the marital relationship. That is the only way it is going to be effective. Storge works best between husbands and wives, but it will work to a lesser degree with children and an even lesser degree with friends.

Phileo is very similar, because it works best at the husband-and-wife level and, to a lesser degree, with children. However, it is quite effective with your fellow man as long as it's always mixed with agape.

Agape works best, first of all, with husbands and wives and then with children and other people to almost the same degree. It works well at every level of a relationship because it is the highest kind of love.

Source: Establishing Godly Relationships through Marriage & Familyby Deborah Butler
Excerpt permission granted by Word of Faith Publications

Author Biography

Deborah Butler
Web site: Word of Faith International Christian Center
Pastor Deborah L. Butler serves in ministry with her husband, Bishop Keith A. Butler at Word of Faith International Christian Center in Southfield, MI. She is a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel.

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