After breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love25 me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," Peter replied, "you know I love5368 you." "Then feed my lambs," Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: "Simon son of John, do you love25 me?" "Yes, Lord," Peter said, "you know I love5368 you." "Then take care of my sheep," Jesus said.
Once more he asked him, "Simon son of John, do you love5368 me?" Peter was grieved that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, "Lord, you know everything. You know I love5368 you." Jesus said, "Then feed my sheep.”
*Strong’s New Testament Greek Lexicon
Agapao Strong’s Number 25
Phileo - Strong’s Number 5368
I’m intrigued by this section of scripture. Why did Jesus ask Peter three times if he loved him? Are there portions of the conversation missing? What was on Peter’s mind when he answered? Was he irritated that Jesus asked three times or asked the third time in a different way?
I’m not a Bible scholar but I’ll tell you what my perspective is as I was reading this a few days ago. There are at least three Greek words that are translated to the English word “love.” The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loved him, the word “agapao” is used which indicates to love a person dearly or be well pleased with an object. Peter’s response is written with the Greek equivalent of the word “phileo” which was like saying “I like you and fully approve of what you are doing.” The third time, “phileo” is used in Jesus’ question and again Peter responded with the same. That much I have heard before but I saw something a little different this time around.
I noticed Jesus’ instructions after Peter’s responses. The first time Jesus says “feed my lambs”. The second time he says “take care of my sheep.” The third time and the only time that phileo is used in Christ’s questioning. Jesus responds with “Then feed my sheep.” Was Jesus giving three different answers or just repeating one in different words?
This led me to look at the “love chapter”, 1 Corinthians 13, to see what Greek word was used for love there. Every time the English word “love” is stated in 1 Corinthians 13, the Greek word is “agapao.” Now, I could go with my church teaching and tell you that agape or agapao love is “perfect love” and phileo is the love between friends but I think there’s more to it. As I read the definitions in Strong’s New Testament Greek Lexicon (available via http://www.crosswalk.com/), “agapao” gives me the sense of great passion toward the person or object of love. “Phileo” is more of an outward affection of approval but not necessarily a passion.
Now look at Jesus’ instructions to Peter. Using the more passionate form of love, Jesus said to feed his lambs. Lambs are the babies. Jesus’ “great commission” in Matthew 28, instructs us to make disciples. This has often been confused with simply getting people to “accept Christ” as necessary for a relationship with God. A disciple, though, is much more than just one who agrees with a concept. A disciple is one who is passionate about what they are continually learning and the one responsible for those teachings. Is it possible that Jesus was saying to Peter, you must love me with passion if you want to help others love me? There must be more to our love than just approval and agreement of who Jesus is if we expect to be effective in making followers of Christ.
The second instruction from Jesus was to take care of his sheep. Again, Jesus uses the passionate form of love. Is it possible that Jesus was saying here that we are not to go out and perform acts of service just to do good, but to serve passionately. Take care of others out of the passion we have for Christ. Not out of the desire to show our approval of his ways.
Then there is the third question, response and instruction. “Phileo” is the word used in the Greek for Jesus’ question. Peter responds again with “phileo” and then we have Jesus’ instruction to feed his sheep. Notice that Jesus went from feeding lambs, to caring for sheep and now feeding sheep. Why did Jesus not use the more passionate form of love in this question? Is it possible that mature believers are now expected to grow and be fed not by our passion of who Jesus is but by our need for each other to function (outwardly) as the body of Christ. We need to feed each other with our different perspectives so that we can work together. All our perspectives must come from Christ but depending on where we are in the body, our perspective may look a little different. When we share our perspective without insisting that our perspective is the only view, we gain a bigger perspective, not just a different perspective. A box may look flat from one perspective. Another perspective added to our perspective may enlighten us to realize the box is very deep. Enough perspectives? As a part of the body, we are not making the decisions. Our actions should not be based only on our perspective. The head instructs the various parts of the body with the information they need to function as the head desires.
Once we are growing disciples, we become equally responsible for our continued growth. The “feeding” each other is out of a sense of agreement that we are united in our purpose. At this point we do not need to be passionate about our individual perspective because our perspective has become much more specific and detailed. The feeding at this level is supporting growth of fellow believers. Perhaps Jesus changes to the less passionate word to indicate that we are to learn from other believers as much as we are to share what we have gained from our perspective. We will still be passionate about our love for Jesus but we also begin to recognize our responsibility as joint heirs to the kingdom.
Is my passion focused appropriately? Do others want to follow Jesus because of the passionate love I have for him? Do I passionately care for rather than condemn other believers? Am I open to accepting other believers’ perspectives as equal to mine for the benefit of the body and glory of God?
Love God passionately. Care for others passionately. Love each other so that together we will be the image of God showing others the passionate and perfect love of Christ.
That's my perspective. What's yours?
Matthew 22:36-40 (agapao is the word here)
"Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?" Jesus replied, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."
Jesus came and told his disciples, "I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."