It is true agape is more widely used in connection to the love of God, but one must not get hung up on the semantics’ of one word verses another word. Most important is the INTENTION not the word.
Many Christians are ignorant as to the utter relevance of phileo love, and its strength and equality with the other more frequent rendering of love (agape) in the New Testament. In fact, it is the ignorance and lack of phileo love that is the missing piece of a fragmented Christian church, unable to attain the kind of character they think can come by agape.
Both agape and phileo are rendered in both a negative and positive sense; sometimes used of a love for darkness and things of the world, and sometimes used of love for God, Jesus and each other.
God is said to do both; He agape loves and He phileo loves. Therefore, we cannot legitimately say that agape comes only from God, and phileo comes only from the church.
John 5:20 “The Father dearly loves (phileo) the Son and discloses to (shows) Him everything that He Himself does. And He will disclose to Him (let Him see) greater things yet than these, so that you may marvel and be full of wonder and astonishment.” AMP
Notice the Father reveals Himself to His son Jesus in light of ’phileo” love. The Father phileo’ s the son, in order for Jesus to then reveal the Father to his disciples. Divine revelation came to Jesus from his Father God thru phileo; therefore phileo cannot be terminology for brotherly love alone.
Let’s take this thought a step further; God is the One
who phileo loves US (THE CHURCH) and the reason He phileo loves us is because
of one simple, yet powerful commandment… because we PHILEO love God’s son
John 16:26-27 "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves (phileo) you, because you have loved (phileo) Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father. NAS
Here the Father is said to have phileo for the disciples BECAUSE the disciples have phileo for Jesus. But the commandment to phileo love doesn’t end with the believer being commanded to love Jesus. If we do not love the Lord God (Yahweh the Father) with PHILEO love, we are accursed children and His agape in Christ will NOT be with us.
1 Corinthians 16:22-23 If anyone does not love (phileo) the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you; my love (agape) be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.
The verse above makes certain that phileo and agape are used interchangeably; note especially that unless you phileo the Lord, you are accursed; this shows that phileo is on equal par with agape in terms of necessity in the believer’s life.
In Greek society, prior to the advent of Christ, one of the highest forms of moral and social virtue was attributed to a person in terms of phileo. A prime example of this is seen in the compound word “Philanthrœpía” and its two parts are PHILEO (love) + ANTHROPOS (mankind or human beings).
Spiros Zodhiates notes in the AMG WordStudy Bible explain the reason why phileo is used less often that its equal counterpart (agape) with respect to the Christian character:
“Philanthrœpía, (NT: 5363) is transliterated in English as "philanthrophy," and it is that disposition which does not always think of self, but takes thought for the needs and wishes of others. It denotes that apparent and ready goodwill usually manifested in a friendly, considerate demeanor, and (especially in the practice of hospitality) readiness to help, tenderheartedness, cherishing and maintaining fellowship. The philanthropist serves his fellow citizens, protects the oppressed, is mindful of the erring, gentle to the conquered, and self-renouncing in reference to his rights.
Philanthropy does not occur in the list of Christian virtues. This social virtue in the NT is expressed with the words agapé (26) and Philadelphía (5360), brotherly love, which occupy the place of social righteousness. It is actually one further step to nobility from philanthrœpía to philadelphía, because the latter regards man as a brother while the former considers him only as a fellow human being.
(From The Complete Word Study Bible and The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.)
As you can see, there is little difference in either definition or use of the two different words for love. The most important and to be sought after is the INTENDED USE of words in language.
Compare the character qualities listed in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen where agape is the predominant word used WITH THE Zodhiates definition of phileo & philadelphía respectively; the character virtues are nearly identical.
If the Father is He that loves us with phileo love in addition to agape, wouldn’t it be incorrect to elevate one above the other?
The scripture teaches older women are to be “reverent in the behavior” (Titus 2:3); this is a character issue, because it is tied to the way in which they “love their husband” and the way they “love their children.” See below:
Note in this passage a godly wife and mother’s character and attitude toward her husband and children is exemplified in how she PHILEO loves them.
God commands wives to phileo their husbands and children. No doubt that phileo involves encouraging, but much more. Titus 2:5 follows 2:4 in which two places phileo is commanded; the caveat is 2:5 says the “word of God is blasphemed” if you don’t show the deeds and character consistent with this kind of phileo (see Titus 2:4-5).
It is the expression of our love for those closest to us, and without it, you cannot, and will not find the agape of God. They are inseparable, and neither is elevated above the other anywhere in scripture.
Also, agape is associated with darkness, in some contexts. Therefore to say that agape is better than phileo is disregarding its common use throughout the NT and all the Hellenized Roman Empire.
Peter’s admonition in his first epistle also targets the godly character of women, and in this text, God commands us the phileo one another as the very expression of who we are in Him. Why does God omit phileo from this text? Because He is not hung up on semantics; phileo is every bit as important as agape (see below):
It can be demonstrate in many places that agape and phileo or cognates of both are used interchangeably; below are but a few of many examples:
The next verses prove beyond any doubt that phileo and agape are on equal par, because the text says GOD teaches us to AGAPE one another by having us express it with PHILEO:
1 Thessalonians 4:9 shows that you are not being taught by God to “agape” unless you obey Him and “phileo” your brother. There is no way this can be disputed.
There’s another important and very relevant thing to consider in the use of phileo in Titus 3:4; note the context below shows God’s “phileo” love is
Titus 3:3-7 For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and the love (phileo) of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness, which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. NKJV
Last of all, keep in mind, when Jesus reveals his Father in Revelation, he uses “phileo” not agape to speak of the kind of love that chastises and disciplines his people.
Revelation 3:19 “Those whom I love (phileo), I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” NASU