The New Testament is written almost entirely in Greek, a language that contains four different words for love: eros, phileo, storge, and agape. Phileo is the love wives are instructed to have for their husbands. Titus 2:3-4 commands “older women [to]…admonish the young women to love their husbands.” The Greek word for “love their husbands” is philandros, a combination of phileo and aner (the Greek word translated “husband”).
Phileo can be defined as strong affection. Most commonly, this applies to kindness between friends. When Jesus wept at Lazarus’s gravesite in John 11:36, the eyewitnesses said, “See how He loved [phileo] him!” Phileo forms part of the words philosophy, an affection for wisdom, and philanthropy, an affection for fellow man. The name for the church at Philadelphia, which is mentioned in Revelation 3:7-13, literally means “the church of brotherly love.” When people consider themselves close friends, phileo is the affection they have for each other.
When it comes to marriage, it is natural to think in terms of intimacy, or romantic love, or eros. But in doing so, we forget that marriage is the union of two best friends. In many ways, phileo is a great description of what marriage is meant be: a deep and close friendship. Your spouse should be your best friend. That’s why it’s sad when people are closer to their friends than they are to their spouse. It is tragic when people say, “Oh, my spouse is leaving for a week. I can’t wait—what a wonderful break!” If a husband or wife feel this way toward their spouse, he or she should pray that God increases the phileo in their relationship.
A Wife's Strong Affection for Her Husband
While husbands are commanded to have agape for their wives, wives are commanded to have phileo for their husbands. Why the difference? What is the implication of this in a marriage relationship? Is it that husbands do not want or need agape?
The reason for the difference is that the needs of husbands and wives are different. Most men—myself included—would say it can be very discouraging and trying at times being a husband, father, provider, spiritual leader, and all the other roles and responsibilities that fall on men’s shoulders. What could be more encouraging for a husband than a wife who is also a best friend, regularly lavishing phileo on him? Conversely, what could be more discouraging for a husband than a wife who acts more like a mother reprimanding him?
On the other hand, a wife needs her husband’s agape because she lives under his authority. She needs him to treat her with the tender, sacrificial agape Christ showed His bride, the church. Husbands can be harsh and domineering. How much more were these words needed in Paul’s day because ancient cultures viewed a woman as being literally owned by her husband. In those days, a husband could demand his wife serve him and meet his every need, but a wife could not in turn demand kindness, concern for her needs, or even basic necessities. For a husband to show his wife such love as Christ pours out on the church was a choice that had to be made of his own free will. And that is still true today, no matter what culture says. Such love is not easy or natural for a husband to show, which is why we husbands need the command to demonstrate this kind of love toward our wives.
Perhaps there are other reasons God commands phileo of a wife and agape of a husband that we will not know this side of heaven. But we can know for certain that a husband needs his wife’s phileo; he needs her to be his best friend. A wife needs her husband’s agape; she needs him to care for her as his most cherished treasure, and not as an object or employee who satisfies his needs. She needs him to love her sacrificially, as Christ loved the church.
Scott LaPierre is a senior pastor, author, and popular conference speaker. He holds an MA in Biblical Studies from Liberty University. Scott and his wife, Katie, live in Washington State and God has blessed them with nine children. He is also author of the God’s Way series, which includes Your Marriage God’s Way and Your Finances God’s Way, both with accompanying workbooks. Learn more about Pastor Scott at his website, www.scottlapierre.org, and connect with him on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.