The Greek language of Paul’s day had at least three common words that can be translated by the English word “love”: erōs (this term does not appear in the New Testament), philia , and agapē . The word erōs very often referred to a self-pleasing, passionate love, from which we get our English term “erotic.” All too often, this is the level of love implied by our pop songs and glorified in trashy romance novels, risqué primetime dramas, and feel-good movies that inevitably end when the dashing guy gets the perfect girl.
The word philia refers to the affection and closeness one feels in friendships, partnerships, or other intimate kinships. It’s “brotherly love,” a strong emotional, psychological, and social bond of camaraderie between two people.
Even though we find deep emotions in these two words, neither erōs nor philia match the kind of love that imitates the love of God.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul refers to agapē love—the kind of love that seeks the highest good of the other person, even at the price of one’s own comfort, safety, and benefit. The word agapē was not used frequently outside Jewish and Christian literature. Unlike the short-lived erōs or the two-way philia, agapē implies permanence, unconditional charity, a decision more than a feeling, a commitment more than a relationship. Agapē means loving not for one’s own benefit, but for the benefit of others. — Swindoll, Charles R. 2017. 1 & 2 Corinthians. Vol. 7. Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.