Phileo (philia) is Greek for “friend.” It appears 29 times in the New Testament as “friend,” 22 times as “love,” and 3 times as “kiss.” Phileo is a friendship love laid on the solid foundation of agape (self-sacrifice). Both God and humans can demonstrate phileo.
Learning from the Past
Abraham was called a “friend of God” because he walked with him (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23). God talked to Moses as though he were a friend (Exodus 33:11). This is the essence of friendship: “walking” and “talking” with God or another person through life. Israel and New Breed‘s song “Friend of God” declares this truth.
Yet “how can two walk together unless they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) Whether human or divine, true friendship is an agreement – a spiritual, mental, and emotional sense of unity – between two people. They have similar minds, souls, and spirits. The best human examples are David and Jonathan in the Bible and Anne Shirley and Diana Berry in Anne of Green Gables. To Anne, Diana was a “bosom friend,” someone whom she could confide in about her deepest secrets, fears, and dreams.
David and Jonathan’s friendship was just as strong and deep. The biblical description is beautiful.
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. … Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.
So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, Let the LORD even require it at the hand of David’s enemies. And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:1, 3-4, 20:16-17)
Their souls were knit together because they were of like minds regarding God’s character and David’s future as king of Israel. They defended and delighted in one another. However, their relationship was not sexual the way some sinners paint it. Phileo is not eros; it involves only a meeting of minds, souls, and spirits. Eros alone includes the meeting of bodies. When phileo is translated in the Bible as “kiss” (i.e. Judas’ kiss), it refers to one of friendship – not romance.
Friendships always include a contract or covenant, one with give and take. Human contracts of friendship can be easily made and easily broken. The level of pain we feel when a human friendship is broken depends on the amount of time and self-commitment we have given. It may also depend on how reasonable or unreasonable are the requests each person demands.
The divine covenant of friendship can also be easily broken (by us), but it was not easily offered nor are God’s demands unreasonable. Why must He make a covenant of friendship with us at all? In our natural state as sinners, we are his enemies (Romans 5:10, 11:28; Colossians 1:21, James 4:4). We don’t walk with God or agree with him in our minds, souls, and spirits. We hate the personality of God and he “hates” us (a lack of phileo is like hate). Yet through the cross of Jesus Christ, God offers us his covenant. Jesus laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13); he offered himself in agape love to produce the phileo love of covenant friendship. When we accept it through repentance and conversion, God calls us friends. His covenant is rich and we are fools if we don’t accept and obey it.
The Christian covenant has two partners: God and us, signed in Jesus’ blood. On God’s part, He promises to make us kings and priests unto him in prayer (Revelation 1:6, 5:10). God also promises us an inheritance in heaven, to make us a pure bride for Jesus so we can one day reign with him. On our part, God makes moral laws that are the natural outworking of his holiness and we must obey them. Otherwise, we break the covenant. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper, “If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love. … You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:10, 14). John the “beloved disciple” says, “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). John was loved by Jesus because they had like minds about the Father and his mission.
In the end, Jesus Christ is the only true friend we’ll ever have, the one “who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Why is Christ closer than a sibling? Because divine blood (the cross) is stronger than human blood. Many times we must forsake friends and family in order to be friends of and follow Christ. Family may forsake us. Jesus never will – if we keep his covenant.
Phileo Today: Homosexuals and Facebook
This beautiful, God-designed concept of friendship has been cheapened over the centuries. A gay lover is not a “friend.” Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love,” should not be a haven for homosexuals. First, such relationships are ungodly and deserving of eternal death. Second, as noted before phileo does not involve sex – only eros.
Even more detrimental to godly friendships are social networks like Facebook. With just a click of a button, a person can “friend” someone they may or may not know. Usually the other person is a family member, an old friend, a current or former classmate, a business associate, or just someone with a common interest. Still, it is easy to become online “friends” and we don’t always know who they are. Yes, we can see photos and videos. But Facebook can also be a haven for lying, for trying to be someone other than who he or she really is.
I want a bosom friend. I want someone I can knit my soul with in unity. But I haven’t found that person yet. They’re certainly not among my 200 Facebook friends or local church acquaintances. Most of the former group I’ve met in person. If I haven’t, we have a strong common interest. I’m rarely Facebook friends with total strangers. Yet too many of these people are frivolous. They discuss and post links to things I don’t care about. Others talk only about their natural lives, as though they have no spiritual life at all. The same is true of many people I meet at church, both young and old. They’re frivolous or consumed with their natural lives.
“How can two walk together unless they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) Where is the godly fire for souls? Where is the righteous indignation over sin and apathy? Where is the desire to take up the armor of God, the Lord of war, and fight his battles in prayer? I’m tired of playing nice. I’m tired of cheap love too. True phileo is a covenant, not a fuzzy feeling.
I want the word “friend” to mean something, even online. A fellow feeling of divine fire, righteous indignation, and spiritual warfare is most important to me. I want the people I call friends to be “flames of fire” for Jesus (Psalm 104:4, Hebrews 1:7). I want men like Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, Peter, and Paul for friends. I want women like Deborah, Ruth, Esther, and Mary for friends.
Unfortunately, few of my online friends or local acquaintances meet this description. So I’ve decided to drop them. Spiritually, they’re dead weight and I need to lighten the load of my ship! That I knew some of them in another life like school is irrelevant. If it’s true that I’ll be like my friends in 5 years, I need to choose more wisely! I want more than just acquaintances. I want bosom friends who are on fire for Christ.