John 21:15-18


At the very end of the Gospel of John 

Jesus asked Simon Peter a crucial question of discipleship.

“Do you love me?”


Everything we do under the motivation of the Holy Spirit will be motivated to some extent by our devotion to the Lord Jesus. A universe of spiritual depth can be mined from this passage. Everyone who follows Jesus would benefit from memorizing these verses, asking God to give you more and more insight into them. 

These verses call us to a priority of loving our Lord. Jesus began by asking Simon if he loved Him “more than these things.” I believe Jesus was referring to Simon’s life as a successful fisherman rather than a fisher of men. But of course the question applies to anything in our lives that we are tempted to love more than we love Him. Do you love success, or approval, or comfort or anything more than you love Jesus? 

We often try to do godly things with inferior motivation. You can enter any discipline of discipleship so other people will be impressed. Do you want people to notice your spiritual depth? I have been trying to discipline myself to do some things that I never tell anyone about. God already knows. To be honest I have not been completely successful at telling no one. But that is what I am reaching for. I want to do these things simply because they please God.

Let me show you something in these verses that may not be self-evident in whatever language you study God’s word. In Greek, the original language of the New Testament, Peter and Jesus use different words for love. Their differences are significant.

Jesus used the word, AGAPAO. This is the word used for love in 1 Corinthians 13. This word actually receives it's depth of meaning from the Bible. It was not commonly used in other Greek writings. There its meaning was vague. In the New Testament we see it as a supernatural work of God in our lives.

I suspect Peter thought PHILAO, the word he used, was the stronger term. It spoke of strong feelings. Peter drew from this kind of love when he declared to Jesus in John 13:37, “I will lay down my life for you.”

If you look at AGAPE, or the verb, AGAPAO, as defined in the New Testament, you find faithfulness rather than feelings. Jesus points this out with His responses to Peter’s assurances of his devotion. “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” I am reminded of familiar bumper stickers of the 1960s. One read, “Honk if you love Jesus.” A similar sticker responded, “Tithe if you love Jesus. Anyone can honk.”

This is a call to repentance. And while I don’t believe Peter noticed the difference, Jesus used PHILAO this third time He asked. In Mark 14:29 Peter declared his devotion to Jesus. “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” That night, as Jesus had warned, he denied the Lord three times. I do not think it is a coincidence that Jesus asked Peter to answer the question of his love three times in this post resurrection appearance. It broke Peter's heart, that Jesus asked three times if he loved him. I believe true repentance is always emotional. It was also an opportunity for Peter to commit again to following Jesus. 

We need to pray for God to deepen the faithfulness of our love for Him. The night that Jesus was arrested they went to the garden where Jesus poured His heart out in prayer. The Lord asked Peter, James and John to watch with Him in prayer. But they could not stay awake. And three times Peter went to sleep when he should have been praying. Jesus warned them to “Watch and pray so you will not fall into temptation.” We build our love for Him in earnest prayer. There is no other way to keep from falling when temptation comes. AGAPE does not rest on the fierceness of our devotion, but on the power of God in our lives.





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