Question: “What is the difference between duty love (“filio” or “phileo”) and disinterested or divine love (“agapee”)? I am somewhat perplexed regarding this difference, and would thank you for a little more light on the subject.
Answer: Three different words in our Greek New Testament are translated love. The principal word, which well corresponds to our word “love” in English, is “agape”, this word is used whenever the highest type of love is described; hence we have designated it *disinterested or divine love, as representing the highest type of love when used respecting the Lord and his people. Nevertheless, just like our English word love, agapee is also used in an inferior sense, as for instance when describing love for the world in the text,
“If any man loves [agapee] the world, the love [agapee] of the Father is not in him.”(1 John 2:15)
The Greek word “Philadelphia” signifies brotherly love, and of course is always used in a good sense, because the brethren of the Lord are all “holy brethren.” We are exhorted to develop this love for the brethren (Philadelphia), and it is given as a mark or indication that we are New Creatures in Christ. Nevertheless the Apostle exhorts that we go on beyond this degree of love (Philadelphia) and attain to the broader or divine love, the disinterested love (agapee).
Note an instance of this: “Add to your faith patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness [Philadelphia], and to brotherly kindness, charity–Love [“agapee“].” (2 Pet 1:7) The Apostle thus uses the word agapee to indicate the broader and more comprehensive love as the highest attainment of Christian character. Similarly, when describing the greatest thing in the world, in (1 Cor 13:2, 3, 4, 8, 13), the Apostle uses the Greek word agapee, love–in our common version mistranslated charity.
The culmination of his argument is, “Now abideth faith, hope, charity [love–agapee], and the greatest of these is charity [love –agapee].” Agapee is also used in (1 John 3:1), where the Apostle says, “Behold what manner of love [agapee]“; and “He that dwells in love [agapee] dwells in God.” In the next verse also we read, “Herein is our love [agapee] made perfect.” Again we find agape used by the Apostle in the statement, “God commendeth his love [agapee] toward us“; and again, “Love [agapee] works no ill to his neighbor; therefore love [agapee] is the fulfilling of the law.”(Rom 5:8, 13)
The Greek word “filio” or “phileo”, rendered love, we have designated “duty love,” but we fear that this does not give a sufficiently clear understanding of its meaning. The noun which is the basis for the verb is frequently translated “kiss” in the New Testament, and by implication the “kiss” belongs to the family and implies a love that is more or less respect or we might say exclusive or selfish–not general–not for everybody. It represents more of an individual or family love, and is used either in a good or an evil sense, as, for instance, we read, “The Father loves the Son” (John 5:20); and again, “The world will love its own.”–John 15:19. (R3949)
“A forgiving spirit is a part of the spirit of love, a part of God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit or disposition–the spirit of the truth—inculcated in God’s Word. It is thus the opposite or contrary of the spirit of malice, which is a part of the evil spirit or disposition common among men in their fallen condition, the spirit or disposition of the world.
A forgiving spirit is kindred to the spirit of love, joy, peace, meekness, patience, brotherly-kindness, godliness. A malicious spirit is related to anger, backbiting, slander, wrath, jealousy, hatred and all the works of the (fallen) flesh and the devil.” (R1693)
“Our spirit or disposition to forgive anyone should be of the heart prompted by the spirit of love and brotherly kindness. It should not be a forgiveness forced out of us by importunity, nor by the appeals of many, nor by pity for the wrong doers’ sufferings or sorrow. It should be there pent up in our hearts, ready to pour forth upon the offender as soon as he repents and gives reasonable evidence of his sincerity. God waits to be gracious desires to pardon sinners (Ezek. 38:11); and such must be our attitude toward those who trespass against us. But God always waits for repentance, and never grants his pardon to those who are unrepentant, nor receives them into fellowship as friends. (Psa 50:16-22)
True, he loved us while we were yet sinners (John 3:16; Rom 5:8), and he does good even to the unthankful, giving sunshine and rain and food to all; but that is a pitying love, not a fellowship love, not a communing love: it is the sympathetic love of a benefactor. And we are to have this pity-love also, even to our enemies.
We are to love our enemies, and do good to them that persecute us; but with us, as with God, this can be no more than pity-love: it cannot be fellowship-love, “for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” Nevertheless, while we can have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but must rather reprove them (Eph 5:11), we can still have that benevolence of heart, which would not permit even an enemy to perish with hunger. “Therefore, if thy enemy hunger, feed him,” etc. In so doing we are but imitating our Heavenly Father who is merciful even to the unthankful and despiteful.” (R4560)
“Love, properly differs, both in kind and in degree, according to the worthiness of the object upon which it centers. There is a LOVE OF ADMIRATION (reverence), a LOVE OF SYMPATHY and a LOVE OF PITY. The former is the highest type of love, and is properly bestowed only upon that which is truly lovely and worthy of admiration.
On this line our Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus claim our supreme and most ardent affection; and all the good and noble and true of our fellow men, in proportion as they approximate the glorious likeness of God, may also share this love of admiration. Of this same kind is the love of childish innocence; and of this same kind should be the love of conjugal felicity. The chosen life partner should be one beloved in this highest sense; and parental and filial affection should also be established on the same basis, and then the dearest earthly relationship would be akin to the heavenly.
The love of sympathy we can extend to the weakest one that is painfully toiling up the hill of difficulty toward a better life; and affectionately we may reach the sympathizing, helpful hand to such. If we are a step or two in advance of some such on the way, and if we realize a little less difficulty in making the ascent, let us thank God and use our superior vantage ground for the assistance of the weaker ones.
Then there is the love of pity for those so steeped in ignorance and sin as to be unable even to raise their eyes heavenward to catch the first inspiration toward a better life. Would we indeed scorn the degraded, or add another pang to those already so bruised by the fall?
Ah, no: love pities the vilest, sympathizes with the weakest and glories in the truest and purest and loveliest of earth and of heaven. Thus our blessed Lord loved supremely our all-glorious Heavenly Father; thus he loved with tenderest sympathy his devoted disciples; and thus he loved with wondrous pity all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam’s race, even to the extent of giving his life to redeem them. Let us emulate his example and walk in his footsteps.” (R1331)
*Disinterested: This word can be a bit confusing. Typically when one thinks of the word disinterested they imagine it to mean the opposite of interested, you are either interested in something or uninterested, having or showing no feeling of interest; indifferent.
However the word disinterested likewise carries another meaning altogether different viz. disinterested: unbiased by personal interest or advantage; not influenced by selfish motives.
Thus the word disinterested fitly portrays Divine Love, that which is unbiased, impartial, and dispassionate toward all.