The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” John 21:17
The story is told of a woman who left her husband. The husband called the police and filed a “missing person report.” A few weeks later the police found her a few counties over. They asked him if he wanted them to take him to her. By now the husband had realized how poorly he had treated his wife. He decided to write his wife, and he did for months. Finally, Christmas came, and he went to see her (she was in a rundown hotel). He asked her to come home and she did. On the way home he said, “I’ve written you for months, why did you come home so easily?” She replied, “Because those were just letters, this time you came in person.” Christ came in person to save us and show us His love. Source: Unknown
In Biblical times, the Greek language had several words for the English word love: agape (sacrificial love), eros (romantic, passionate, erotic love), philia (love of friends and equals), storge (love of parents for children). Agape love is the love demonstrated by Jesus Christ when he was crucified for the sins of humanity. This is the love that leads to forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.
Agape love is unfailing love. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Agape Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope always perseveres (1 Corinthians 4:4-7).
In today’s text, Jesus asks Peter rhetorically, do you love (philia) me? This is after He asks Peter two times do you love (agape) me. During the previous two times, Peter indicated that he did not love Jesus enough to suffer or die for him. He intentionally used the verb phileo instead of agape, though he knew Jesus wanted him to have agape love so he can feed His sheep. On the third time, Jesus switched it around and asked Peter why do you phileo me when you should agapao me. In other words, Jesus was telling Peter you cannot do the great commission work for my kingdom if you only have a friendly type of love for me. When my sheep are attacked by spiritual lions you will not put your life on the line to protect them for my name’s sake if you only have a friendly type of love for me.
Many of us struggle at times with the type of love we have for Christ. Though we profess to have sacrificial love for Christ (agape), we do not prioritize His will over ours. Having agape love for Christ requires patience and endurance. Those who have that type of love sacrifice career, personal comfort, and agendas for the sake of the kingdom of God. They give their time, talents, and treasure cheerfully for the purposes of God.
In truth, churches are filled with people who have a friendly type of love (philia) for Christ and not a sacrificial type of love (agape) for Him. Therefore there is so much sectarianism and racism in the Church today. The priests or pastors who molested and are molesting people in their churches do not have agape love for Christ. People who refuse to worship with other believers from different races or ethnicity do not have agape love for Christ. So-called Christians who are indifferent to the plight of refugees and migrants do not have agape love for Christ. And how can we truly feed His sheep without agape love? That’s the question Jesus asks Peter, and the question He’s asking Christians today. It is not enough to phileo Jesus, we must agape Him because He did not send letters about love, He came among us as the embodiment of love so we can be rescued from eternal damnation.
Questions for Personal Reflection
What do you need to do to make sure that your love for Christ is agape and not philia?
What does agape love look like in your life?
Prayer- Blessed Lord, please help me to love you as my savior and redeemer. May I learn to prioritize your will over my will and feed your sheep no matter the cost? I thank you for coming to my rescue in person instead of sending someone else. In return, may I be ever so ready to go where you send me and do what you ask me to do even if I must make the ultimate sacrifice?