Love is a difficult word to define, perhaps because there are so many types of love but just one English word to describe them. We say we love our spouse, we love our children, we love our car, and we love ice cream. We use the same word “love” in all of these examples, though with very different meanings. To help us differentiate, we’ll use three words the ancient Greeks used for love: eros, philia, and agape.
Eros is romantic, sensual, or sexual love. In a sexually fulfilling marriage, a husband and wife are physically attracted to one another and love each other romantically. Eros is the root of the word erotic, which means “to arouse sexual desire or excitement.”
Philia is friendship love. Friendship means companionship, communication, and cooperation. This is the type of love we have for friends. Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, takes its name from this word. Spouses should be each other’s best friends.
Agape is totally committed love. God’s love for us is agape love. His love is sacrificial, unconditional, forgiving, and eternal. In marriage, agape love is not something that just happens. It requires full commitment to wanting only the best for your spouse. Agape love keeps on giving—it is completely selfless. This kind of love is not just a feeling, but also an act of the will. Agape love in marriage tells us to deny ourselves and to put our spouse first.
Marriage is the only relationship God fashioned to experience all three types of love. The oneness that God designed for couples to experience in marriage is a product of eros, philia, and agape love working together continuously in the relationship.
Although all three types of love can be challenging at times, agape love is usually the most difficult. It runs contrary to our selfish, sin nature. Our default is to want our own desires and needs met. We want to feel good about ourselves and protect our rights. However, God wants us to put ourselves aside and place Him (God) first. He wants us to love others like ourselves.
To agape others, we need to first receive and experience God’s love for us. First John 4:7–8 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” God IS love! Love is not just an emotion that God created, but it is the full embodiment of God Himself!
If love in your marriage is strained, go to love’s source: GOD. Talk to Him in prayer and read His love letter to you. You will begin to understand more fully the love God has for you and the love he wants you to have towards your partner. As you meditate on God’s love for you, reflect on His love for your partner. See your spouse through God’s loving eyes.