March 18, 2009
A Divine Love Note
“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 everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ’Feed my sheep.’”
John 21:17 (ESV)
Long before the current craze of texting messages back and forth on cell phones, in my junior high we had our own way of communicating with peers: it was called passing notes. When the teacher wasn’t looking, we shot a simple, folded piece of lined notebook paper to our friend sitting a few rows back. We crossed our fingers and hoped the teacher’s second set of eyes—the ones in the back of her head—were focused elsewhere. Otherwise, our note just might get read to the entire class!
While notes from our girlfriends were fun, what really got our excitement up was when the folded and scribbled message was from a boy. Usually it read something like this:
Do you like me? Check one: Yes ___ No ___ Just as a friend ___
Of course we would think long and hard before taking our pencil and marking our answer. Then it was passing time again; back to the boy who had posed the all-important question. It seems to me in today’s scripture Jesus was sending a divine love note to Peter, quizzing him about the strength of his love for Him.
We pick up the story a few verses earlier when after breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter seems a bit surprised and says, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus then tells him to feed His lambs. No sooner had he finished talking than He asks Peter the same question again. Then, a third time. Each time it appears as if dear Peter answers the same way. In a nutshell, “Ah…yeah Lord. You know everything. You know I love you. Haven’t I made that clear? Why the twenty questions?”
This passage of scripture used to puzzle me, until one day I discovered, with the help of my husband’s old Greek textbook from college, that Peter and Jesus were using two different Greek words for love in this famous exchange.
The word rendered ‘love’ in our English Bibles here is really two distinct words. One is “phileo” and one is “agape.” Phileo is defined as brotherly and tender affection; true friendship. It is based on common interests. Agape, on the other hand, is sacrificial and giving love; a love that can’t stand being apart from the other. It isn’t based on having a common interest with someone. It loves the other not for what they do, but for who they are. It is the laying down your life for another kind of love.
It is helpful to know that the first two times Jesus posed the question to Peter, He asked him “Do you agape me?” Peter answered, “Of course I phileo you!” It was as if Jesus was asking, “…so you really, sacrificially love me, based on Who I am? And you’d gladly lay down your life for me?” And instead, Peter was checking the box that said “Just as a friend!”
The third time Jesus posed the question, He asked Peter, “Do you phileo me?” And Peter truthfully answered “yes.” Now, before we are too hard on ole’ Simon Peter, we must assume that He indeed did grow to love our Lord in the agape sense of the word. History tells us that Peter met his death by crucifixion. However, he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as the Lord, so he was crucified upside down!
What about us today, in 2009? If Jesus passed us a divine love note asking if we love (agape) Him, which box would we check? Undoubtedly, many people today would scoff and check the “No” box. There are millions who care nothing of Christ and His love. Others would check “Yes.” They are fervent Christ followers who love until the end. I am reminded of many modern day martyrs who have willingly given up their life for Christ.
I fear that many of us would check the “Just as a friend” box. We love, but just to a point. We aren’t afraid to hang around Jesus, we just don’t want to be asked to share in His sufferings! Oh may God turn our temporal phileo fascination with Jesus into an all-out, agape, laying-down-our-life, love for the Lord.
Pencils sharpened? He is asking us this question today!
Dear Lord, I don’t want to be just Your casual friend. I want to love You sacrificially and passionately. Help me learn how. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
For more on loving God, visit Karen’s blog
Take time this week to be encouraged by reading the life stories of some great heroes of the faith who truly loved God. Try Jim Elliot, Fanny Crosby, Dwight L. Moody, Bill Bright, Mother Teresa or William Wilberfource.
How would you rate your love of Christ right now? Cold? Lukewarm? On fire?
Was there a time in your walk with the Lord that your love and devotion for Him was very strong? Why? What happened to change it? More importantly, what steps do you need to take to rekindle that fire again?
John 14:23, “Jesus replied, ’If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’” (NIV)
© 2009 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
Matthews, NC 28105