Do You Love Me?
John 21:15-17 (AMP)
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these [others do—with total commitment and devotion]?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I [a]love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.” 16 Again He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with total commitment and devotion]?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me [with a deep, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend]?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you [really] [b]love Me [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend]?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep…”
[a] John 21:15 — As indicated by the amplifications, Peter uses a different Greek word for love (phileo) than Jesus does (agapao) in His first two questions to Peter (see note v 17).
[b] John 21:17 — This time Jesus uses the same word for love that Peter previously used twice (phileo).
Last week, as I was driving my early morning commute to work, I was listening to the “Haven Today” broadcast (April 21, 2017) on my local Christian radio station here in Baltimore. As the host (Charles Morris) and his special guest (Dr. N.T. Wright) were discussing the time in-between the Resurrection and the Ascension, they brought up the passage in John 21, where the Lord asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (Around the 17:30 minute marker). I was intrigued by this snippet of the conversation and decided that I would soon write a blog entry on the subject. So, here I go!
(Haven Today broadcast link: http://www.haventoday.org/series/days-in-between/).
To discuss the topic of Christ asking Peter “Do you love me?”, I will include excerpts here from an article found on GotQuestions.org, entitled “Why did Jesus ask Peter “Do you love me?” three times?” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-Peter-do-you-love-me.html):
Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” as recorded in John 21:15–17. This occurred when Jesus was having breakfast with His disciples soon after His resurrection… By asking Peter, “Do you love me?” three times, Jesus was emphasizing the importance of Peter’s love and unswerving obedience to his Lord as necessary for his future ministry.
…It is possible that by His repeated question Jesus is subtly reminding Peter of his three denials. There’s no doubt those denials and how he felt when Jesus turned to look at him at that moment were seared deeply into Peter’s mind (Luke 22:54–62). It wasn’t lost on Peter that Jesus repeated His question to him three times, just as Peter previously denied Him three times.
There is also an interesting contrast when you look at the Greek words for “love” used in John 21:15–17. When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” in John 21:15–16, He used the Greek word agape, which refers to unconditional love. Both times, Peter responded with “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you,” using the Greek word phileo, which refers more to a brotherly/friendship type of love. It seems that Jesus is trying to get Peter to understand that he must love Jesus unconditionally in order to be the leader God is calling him to be. The third time Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” in John 21:17, He uses the word phileo, and Peter again responds with “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you,” again using phileo. The point in the different Greek words for “love” seems to be that Jesus was stretching Peter to move him from phileo love to agape love.
Unfortunately, in the English language, we miss out on the nuances of the variations of the two Greek words for “love”, which are “agape” and “phileo”. Where “phileo” is more of a ‘as a friend’ love, “agape” is the deeper, more devoted love. In the “Haven Today” radio broadcast, Dr. Wright theorized that Jesus was trying to get Peter to re-commit to the devoted love (agape) in the first two questions. When Peter answered in the ‘friendship’ form (phileo) both times, Jesus subtly said (without words), “Okay, I’ll meet you where you’re at” by toning down to the “phileo” form in the third question.
Sometimes, while God is trying to pull us forward, we stubbornly remain in place… frozen by fear or regret. (Laziness or love for other things over God’s Will for our lives are also causes, but as they manifest a different type of attitude, would be most likely be handled differently.) At times, by HIS discretion, Christ may subtly say “Okay, I’ll meet you where you’re at”. However, there is so much more that the Lord wants for you. He will not always feed you via a baby bottle when you are ready to chew on broccoli. Let’s commit to not downgrade what God wants to do in and through us!