The word "love" in English has a wide range of meanings, from romantic to trivial meanings (e.g. "I love my car"). Context has to be used to determine the meaning of it, and at times it is confusing. In Spanish the word "amar" and "querer" are used to express the meaning of love. But once again it is limited by the context in which it is used.
Greek, the language of the New Testament, has at least four words to describe love in different settings (only philia and agape is used in the New Testament). Much has been written about it. C.S. Lewis wrote a whole book on it titled "The Four Loves."
Here are the four words and their use:
1. Storge - Family Love (Natural Affection)
It the most basic form of love given to us by God. He is the creator of the family and as such, has given us the privilege of loving our family.
2 Timothy 3:1-4 speaks how in the last days there will be lack of love in the family:
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good" (KJV)
The word used for "without natural affection" is "astorgos," (a=not, storgos= natural affection) which can mean "hard hearted toward kindred." According to Scripture, in these last days, self-love and pleasure will reign supreme. It is not hard to see that nowadays. Family love is becoming extinct.
One of the ways family love is expressed is by honoring our parents. In Exodus 20:12 it is the first commandment given by God that relates to others beside Himself. To honor parents is to show love. How sad it is to see parents dishonored in so many ways. More and more we see parents also losing their God-given rights even by our own government.
Family love is also expressed in the Church of God. Galatians 6:10 speaks of this type of love:
"Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith." (HCSB)
There are many people who have no other family but the Church. The Church should be a place for all of us to express family love. It is sad when we don't offer this to everyone that comes in through our doors. I love Hispanic culture in the way they show love to those who come to church for the first time. They mob new people and embrace them right away. That is family love!
2. Fileo - Friendship Love (Companion Love)
This type of love is expressed among friends of both genders. It is not a sexual love. In 1 Samuel 18:1 we have two men, David and Jonathan whose friendship is an example for all of us. Contrary to some who see this as an example of homosexual love, this was love between two close friends of the same sex. It is interesting to note that in our American culture, closeness between two men, especially one that shows affection is seen as suspicious. The same is also the case with friendship between a man and a woman. It is often assumed to be of sexual nature. Whole books have been written on wether a man and a woman can be friends.
Phileo can be expressed to both sexes. Yet, it is expressed in purity. We treat other as our own brothers and sisters. This also again is expressed in the Church. Romans 12:10 says, "Show family affection to one another with brotherly love." It is interesting because in this verse, "philostorge" (made up of philos and storge) is used for "family affection" and "philadelphia" (from philia) for "brotherly love." Both types of love should be part of how we express love one to another in the Church of Christ.
Phileo can also be used for our love for God. Our love for God should be above all others (see Matthew 10:37)
3. Eros - Romantic Love
Eros is romantic love. This is the word where we get "erotic." This type of love is expressed sexually between husband and wife. Our culture nowadays sees nothing wrong in expressing this love between two indviduals without being married. This is not so for us followers of Christ. 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 is clear that this type of love is only expressed in marriage.
Romantic or sexual love is God's creation. He designed it. A whole book of the Bible is written about romantic or sexual love. The book is called Song of Songs.
The Bible is clear about staying sexually pure before marriage:
"For this is God’s will : that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit." - 1 Thessalonians 4:3-9 (HCSB)
God has called to live a holy life, a life separated from sin and given to Him. We live according to God's purity standards and not according to the culture. Why? Because our lives, which includes our bodies belong to God. They have been set apart to serve Him and if he has called us to marry, then we are to express our eros to our mate. This is how God designed it.
4. Agape - God's Love
The most common word for love in the New Testament is this one. It is used to describe God's love for us:
"But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" - Romans 5:8 (HCSB).
It is a love that comes from God because God is love (1 John 4:8). This love is characterized by sacrifice and giving (not just feelings or emotions).
This is also how Christ expresses his love for us:
"For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion:If One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised."
- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (HCSB)
As Christians, agape has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). We are capable of loving like God because we have received His love from the Spirit of God. Agape should characterize us as believers in Christ. It should dominate our lives. With this love we love God but we can also love our family, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, our church and our spouse. With this love, "storge," and "phileo" are possible and "eros" can be controlled until it can be expressed sexually in marriage.