Do You Love Me?

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Do You Love Me?

John 21 

Therefore, that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land…dragging the net full of fish. 

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these? He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love you. He said to him, ‘Tend My lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me? He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love you. He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me.’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you. Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep. 

Today, we close out the book of John. Peter was trying to escape his guilt of denying Jesus and hopeful that doing what he was good at, fishing, would bring him some relief. So much for the therapeutic relief. So much for doing something he is good at. The disciples followed Peter to the boat to go fishing and all night they caught NOTHING. So much for feeling like he’s in control. Peter couldn’t escape the sense of failure even in the simple things of life that he was good at. 

When God is chasing after me to teach me something, He can be relentless. For me, He is known to pile it on sometimes. It is actually very loving of Him. But it doesn’t feel like it at the time. 

On the shore, Jesus appears (although they didn’t recognize Him) and says, cast to the other side of the boat. They cast on the other side and can’t haul in all the fish rushing to their net. Then John says to Peter, it is the Lord. When Peter realizes that it is Jesus on the shore, he jumps in the water and swims to shore. 

Jesus has a conversation with Peter on shore. The fishing experience and the conversation with Jesus is all about restoring Peter and preparing him to lead. He is going to be responsible to preach to thousands of Jews and change their entire religious paradigm; he is going to need wisdom to make strategic leadership decisions about the growth and expansion of the church; he is going to face intense persecution. Jesus needs a leader. Peter is the one Jesus has chosen.  

Jesus asks Peter a series of questions and the word ‘love’ is used seven times in the back-n-forth conversation. In the original language of the New Testament, Greek, there are two different words used here for the word ‘love’. The English Bible doesn’t distinguish between the two Greek words but uses ‘love’ for both. Too bad, because there’s a significance difference between the two Greek words. 

Agapeo (love) is complete devotion, ultimate commitment, sacrificial love. Phileo (love) is deep affection, friendship based on common interest. Very different. I agapeo my wife, children and grandchildren. I phileo my close friends that I play golf with. 

Jesus says to Peter, ‘do you agapeo me more than these?’ “These” either means more than fishing, your livelihood or more than the other disciples. Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, I phileo You.” Peter responded that He loved Him but with a different type of love than Jesus asked. 

I have a different take on this than most Bible teachers. Most teach that Jesus was teaching Peter that his love was lacking. Most would say that Peter failed the test that Jesus was giving him. I actually think the opposite. I think Jesus was lovingly baiting him (no pun intended) and testing him to proudly overstate his love for Jesus. Peter didn’t take the bait. He answered humbly and honestly. He didn’t want to overstate His commitment to Jesus because he had previously done that and then failed miserably.  

You see, if Jesus would have had this same conversation with Peter before he had denied Christ three times, I’m sure Peter would have said, ‘Yes, Lord, I absolutely agapeo You. I super agapeo you. I agapeo you more than any of the other disciples and more than anything, even fishing.” At that time, Peter was proud and confident in himself. But not now. 

A second time Jesus asks him if he agapeo’s Him. Peter says, I phileo you. Once again, I believe this is a good response on Peter’s part. He is going to have the opportunity very soon to prove through action that he does indeed, agapeo Jesus. But he doesn’t have to brag about it now. 

The third time, Jesus, always the mentor, changes things up and says to Peter, “do you even phileo me”? Peter is grieved that Jesus asks again and questions even his phileo love. But he responds, I believe correctly, and says “You know all things and You know I phileo You.” 

Peter is now ready for the next steps in Jesus’ school of discipleship. The arrogant and braggadocios Peter has been subdued. The following is why I think Peter is now in a good place to take on his new and high calling: 

  • When he was in the boat and realized Jesus was on the shore, he jumped in the water immediately to swim to Jesus. His passion for Jesus is still vibrant. 
  • He didn’t overstate His devotion to Jesus. He knows he needs to prove it by humble action, not arrogant bragging. 
  • He addresses Jesus as Lord. He clearly understands who Jesus is. He is God the son, the risen savior. 
  • He acknowledges the sovereignty of Jesus. Jesus knows all things and Peter isn’t going to try to manipulate the situation by overstating his zeal to Jesus. He can’t fool Jesus and He isn’t going to try. 

Lord, thank you that you have relentlessly pursued me in my weakest and most vulnerable moments. In a simple, physical way of catching fish, you showed Peter both your love and provision for him and your power and sovereignty. You have done that for me as well over the years. Thank you for your tender kindness toward me as well as your sovereign power to fulfill your will in all things in my life. Praise to You above all! Amen!