The Greek language in which the New Testament was written uses several words translated "love." The first two listed below are found in the New Testament. Understanding their meanings helps us better comprehend God's expectations of us.
Agapao (verb) is a special word representing the divine love of God toward His Son, human beings in general and believers. It is also used to depict the outwardly focused love God expects believers to have for one another. Agapao (including its noun form, agape ) is "the characteristic word of Christianity, and since the Spirit of revelation has used it to express ideas previously unknown, inquiry into its use, whether in Greek literature or in the Septuagint, throws but little light upon its distinctive meaning in the N[ew] T[estament] . . ."
This special type of Christian love, "whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered" ( Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , "Love").
Reflecting the fact that human marriage is modeled after the divine relationship between Christ and the Church, husbands are told to love their wives with this kind of outgoing, selfless love (Ephesians 5:25, 31-32).
This kind of love is perhaps best expressed in Jesus Christ's statement in John 15:13, "Greater love [ agape ] has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." Jesus Himself perfectly exemplified this kind of love throughout His lifetime, continually giving of Himself and His time and energies to serve others and ultimately offering up His life as a sacrifice for all of humanity. This is the kind of love God wants each of us to exemplify in our lives and particularly in our marriages.
Phileo (verb) means "'to have ardent affection and feeling'—a type of impulsive love" ( Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary , 1995, "Love"). This is the natural, human type of love and affection that we have for a friend and is often defined as "brotherly love."
In John 21:15-16, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him with the agapao type of love and Peter responded that he had the normal human phileo type of love for Him. Later, after receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter would be able to genuinely demonstrate agapao -type godly love, serving others throughout his lifetime and making the ultimate sacrifice in martyrdom.
Eros (noun) refers to sexual, erotic love or desire.
True love, as explained in the Bible, isn't focused on oneself and one's feelings or emotions, but is instead outwardly focused on others —wanting to best serve and care for them. True love is beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (NIV).