Home > Features > The real meaning of agape

The real meaning of agape

Love plant. Image by Bharatha Kumar
IN THE English language there is one word for love, which we use to describe different sorts of love.

However in the Greek language, at the time of Jesus and the early church, love was translated from at least four different words: eros, storge, philia, and agape.

Eros is understood to be the love of intimacy and sexuality.

Storge is understood to be the love found in family groups. It is the love expressed between parent and child, between siblings and grandparents, where there are expectations, duties, and privileges.

Philia is understood to be the love of friendship. It does not have the intimacy of eros, nor the expectations of storge, rather philia is less encumbered and more mutual and free.

Agape can be understood as a giving of self for the benefit of others. It could be described as a love committed to social wellbeing.

The Apostle Paul co-opted this word and declared that agape is the love that God has for us. Rather than a divine desire for intimacy with humans, or relationships of conditional expectation, or out of a need for mutually free friendship, God loves us because it is within the nature of God to love and to be self-giving for our benefit.

When we are motivated by agape love, as workers in human services or as members of a church, we are living up to our calling in God, we are giving of ourselves for the benefit of others.

This does not mean that we are to become all things to all people on a path towards burnout.

The energy to keep giving comes from the Spirit who energises us to keep journeying together.

Agape opens us up to the mystery of the other and, as we listen and learn from each other, we can grow and become the people we are called to be, in the spirit of humility, compassion and reconciliation.

Agape is not a possession of the church, nor even an exclusive gift for the church.

Agape is the gift of God for all people everywhere and as such can become the core motivation for all human service work.

Bob Harriman is Chaplain at Lifeline Community Care Queensland

Photo : Love plant. Image by Bharatha Kumar