So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapaō) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileō) You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapaō) Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileō) You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileō) Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileō) Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love (phileō) You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.
— John 21:15-17
“What is the meaning of Agapé love? Agapé, and its verb form agapaō, is one of the several Greek words for love. The Bible also mentions phileo (brotherly love), and refers to eros (erotic/sensual love). The Greeks also spoke of storge, which is a love between family members. Agapé love is a little different. It is not a feeling; it’s a motivation for action that we are free to choose or reject.” (From Compellingtruth.org)
Agapé is used of God’s love for us. It is a love that is given by His choice to do so, and is not dependent on our earning it. It is the love that makes the truth spoken by John, “God is love (Agapé).” God delights in, esteems, and gives goodwill to us because He desires us and wants the best for us. Agapé flows out of one’s who: what we want, desire, and choose to be and do toward the object of our delight.
Phileō is friendship love, often based on emotion and how we feel at the time. It is often earned by good and trusting relationship, and can be lost through insult, disagreement, or even distance.
Jesus graciously comes down to Peter’s level of love, but His desire from us is agapaō. He is asking Peter, “Do you delight in Me enough to care for those I delight in, just as I delight in them, even though they behave as undesirable sheep?”
We are called to love as God loves us. That love is an unconditional choice to delight in God enough to take delight in and give goodwill to all He delights in. It is a gift given out of our who in Christ, by the power of His Spirit, undeterred by their do. And it flows from love (Agapé) for God first. Because we love God who first loved us, we love others in kind, seeking to minister to each other out of desire to please God. Because love is first for God with desire for Him and His pleasure, we love others even when they may fail to love us.