Third Sunday of Advent: Phileo/Philia

Advent 3: God’s Gift of Love: Phileo/Philia

Today’s theme: Phileo/Philia – Friendship and sharing love.  Phileo (verb) φιλίω / Philia noun φιλία is friendship based on feelings or tender affection, the delight of being in the presence of someone, or a warm or good feeling toward someone. God never commands us to Phileo anyone with Philia. When comparing Agape and Phileo, I believe they are not synonyms as some argue. While there is overlap, as there is with all biblical aspects of love, they are very different at their core.

Scriptural background:

“He who loves [philios – is affectionately attached to] his life will lose it, and he who hates his life [loves less] in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25  Hate = miséō – to detest (on a comparative basis); hence, denounce; to love someone or something less than someone (something) else, i.e. to renounce one choice in favor of another.

“For the Father himself loves [phileo] you, because you have loved [phileo] me, and have believed that I came out from God.” John 16:27

I believe this is an important theological statement showing that God acts in phileo love, which is showing that God responds (remember agape is initiatory by the giver in giving). Here God responds in phileo BECAUSE John says, we have loved Jesus His Son and BELIEVED that he came OUT FROM God (showing Jesus’ divinity – begotten, not made).

Why is this important? It shows that despite being Almighty and Absolutely Sovereign and not a respecter of persons, God does respond to his creation; to us his children, for it is his children that believe on his Son. It gives me great solace to know that not only does my Father God agape me, give me what I do not deserve, my salvation in Christ, but he also phileos me with an affectionate, fatherly love because I have believed. That allows me to relate to him as a true father, Abba Father, one who both sacrifices for me and has affection for me. That is SO AWESOME and without understanding the distinction between agape and phileo this wonderful truth is lost.

Our action of loving Jesus in John 16:27 is in the perfect tense, which, for those of you who forget your grammar, shows our love for him is a continuous action, not a one time occurrence. It reflects our state of being. This is very important.

Phileo is often used in a compound form. For example, in Romans 12:10 Paul says, “Be kindly affectionate [philostorgoi] to one another with brotherly love [philadelphia], in honor giving preference to one another”.

Quotes to think about

What phileo does for us: “Friends give us the courage to lift the blinds on our hearts to open up and show what we generally keep hidden from the rest of the world.” Ritu Ghatourey, Indian Author.

True phileo: “A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” Arnold H. Glasow, American Author.

Phileo stays: “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” Walter Winchell.

Quick Review:

Agape: We have been given everything we have that truly matters: our life (parents & God), our salvation (Son & Father), our spiritual gifts (Holy Spirit), friendship (our friends), love of our wife or husband (that person), and forgiveness for all of our failures (God). Agape gives.

Remember what I said about the importance of our milieu (environment or as I like to say: the water in which we swim). As Christians, we must not allow the milieu of this world to become our milieu. As Christ told his disciples, we are to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:11, 14–15). We must never forget that our primary milieu is the AGAPE of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is what defines us; it is what makes us who we are, and it leads us to whom we shall become.

Relational Expression of Love: Phileo/Philia

Definition: This is affectionate regard and friendship. It is a virtuous love and expresses loyalty to friends and family, but also to community. It requires virtue, equality, and familiarity. It expresses a desire or enjoyment of activity between friends, as well as between lovers.

I want to make a point about loyalty. When we talked about John 16:27 and God having Phileo for us, remember this aspect of loyalty. God is not just affectionate, but he is loyal to his children. We can trust him with an everlasting trust.

Phileo is used 25 times in the NT and Philia is used once in James 4:4 – “You adulterers and adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship [Philia] of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be [resolve to be] a friend [Philia] of the world is the enemy of God.” I love how the Amplified version represents this verse: “You [are like] unfaithful wives [having illicit love affairs with the world and breaking your marriage vow to God]! Do you not know that being the world’s friend is being God’s enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world takes his stand as an enemy of God.”

In its compound form it is found over 90 times, including: Philadephia – brotherly love (2), Philologos Name – lover of the Word (1), Philetos Name – beloved (1), Philippos Name – lover of horses (36), Philoneikia – lover of strife or contention in a good sense (2) and at least 50 other compound uses. Indeed, Philia is primarily used in its compound form to express an affectionate regard or loyalty for almost anything.

One way of looking at the difference between Agape and Phileo is Agape love is me loving you because of who I am; whereas Phileo love is me loving you because of who/what you are. It is something shared. It is the nature of the relationships we have with whomever or whatever we care about.

However, there is one passage that, for me, that best illustrates the significance of the difference between Agape and Phileo and it is found in John 21:15-17. This is the famous passage where Jesus challenges the love of Peter. I am using the Amplified version. I contend that if you see no difference between these two usages in these three verses, if you see them merely as synonyms, you miss the deep theological significance God is trying to convey to us.

15 When they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, do you love [Agape] Me more than these [others do—with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father]? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I love [Phileo] You [that I have deep, instinctive, personal affection for You, as for a close friend]. He said to him, Feed My lambs.

Peter, are you willing to sacrifice everything for me, to give up everything to do my will in your life? Peter responds the he has the greatest affection for Jesus, that he is his closest friend. Jesus is asking Peter to commit to the same love he has shown to them in his Advent and sacrifice on the cross, but Peter is unable to rise to that level, so Jesus tells him to “feed my lambs”, to care for and disciple those new in the faith.

16 Again He said to him the second time, Simon, son of John, do you love [Agape]? He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I love [Phileo] You. He said to him, Shepherd (tend) My sheep.

Same question, same response. Jesus gave Peter a second chance to rise to the occasion and Peter is unable, so Jesus tells him to act as a proper shepherd to his sheep, all those who have grown up in their belief in him, to sustain them, look after them, to be the good shepherd he noted in John 10:11-14

17 He said to him the third time, Simon, son of John, do you love [Phileo] me? Peter was grieved (was saddened and hurt) that He should ask him the third time, Do you love [Phileo] Me? And he said to Him, Lord, You know everything; You know that I love [Phileo] You. Jesus said to him, Feed My sheep.

Finally Jesus accepts Peter where he is and seeing his grief does not press him further but tells him to also feed his sheep, to instruct , to teach, and to disciple those who have grown up in their faith and I believe this is why we have the books of 1st and 2nd Peter where he takes on this responsibility to the whole Church and feeds “My sheep.”

When you look at this passage and add to it the understanding of Jesus’ words that immediately follow you will see the significance of what I said.

John 21:18-19 – “18 ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God [the sacrificial Agape he would offer to God then, where he could not now]. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’”

I believe the “follow me” response of Peter is his first step along the road from Phileo to Agape in the way Jesus had challenged him before and Jesus’ statement is a prophecy of Peter succeeding on that journey.

Assignment for This Week

Self Examination: Think about who and what you are friends with and whether or not those honor God. Also look at how much you are willing to sacrifice for that other friendship.

Remember what Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 16:21. What greater treasure do you have than who or what you love? Is God that treasure?

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