Frederick M. Lehman wrote, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.” Nonetheless, being stubborn as I am, I am going to try to talk about His great love.
In John 21:15-17, Jesus indirectly compares two types of love. He asks the foolhardy Peter, “Do you love me?” In the question, Jesus uses the verb agapao to indicate love. Agape is an unconditional love that is willing to sacrificially give of itself. It is the love that God shows in Romans 5:8, giving His Son despite our sin. Agape is selfless. The greatest possible expression of love is giving of your own life (John 15:13), and that is exactly what Christ did for us. Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Christ in this persistent, complete manner.
“Yes, Lord,” Peter says. “You know that I love you.” Peter’s response displays a second type of love; he says, “I phileo you.” Phileo refers to brotherly love. It is strong–the strongest expression of human love–but its strength is not nearly as powerful as agape. Phileo can still fail. It can make mistakes. It sometimes acts selfishly. Phileo makes me think of the love described in Proverbs 17:17. It is constant and most evident during times of conflict.
I have phileo love for many people–parents, friends, family. It is generally mutual, benevolent, and cheerful. However, I do not know if I will ever have true agape love. Why? I am human. Selfish. Hypocritical. Prideful. Short-tempered. Failing. Agape cannot be any of those things. I must continue to try, though, to agapao. I must love without seeking something in return, love for the sake of love. That is how God loves us.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. -I John 4:10