Do You Love Me?

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter,  “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,”  he said,  “You know that I love you.”

Jesus said,  “Feed my lambs.”   John 21:15

Three times Peter denied he even knew Jesus; three times he was given a new scenario in which to declare his loyalty.  In the law one who betrayed or cheated another person had to restore four fold, Jesus only asked tit for tat.


The wording in the text is lost in translation, as many of you probably know.  The first two times Jesus asked Peter,  “Do you love me…” He used the agape‘ form of the word “love” which raises the stakes quite a bit higher for him.  Peter for his part was humble enough to realize he couldn’t answer back with the same wording and chose the brotherly love word phileo instead.  For those who don’t know, the Greek words for “love” have four different meanings, but in this instance we’re concerned with only two of these.

Vine’s dictionary explains it this way:  “The distinction between the two verbs finds a conspicuous instance in the narrative of John 21:15-17.  The context itself indicates that agapao in the first two questions suggests the “love” that values and esteems (cf. Rev. 12:11).  It is an unselfish “love,” ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration.”  p. 382.

The whole incident comes down to wording.  John shows Jesus being subtle in His question when at first He asks Peter,  “Do you have an unselfish love for me?”  Peter answers that he loves Him like a brother or family.  The second time goes the same then suddenly Jesus switches questions,  “Do you really love me like family, Peter?”  This why Peter felt hurt by the fact his Master questioned even this kind of love in him.  I’m sure Peter wondered where Jesus was taking this conversation, since He seemed to be feeling him out.  The third question probably startled him and shook him quite badly.

Most people when they use this type of exploratory questioning are using it to put the person who betrayed them in their place.  There might have been a little of that in Jesus’ motives, but the place He wanted to put Peter wasn’t the one the rest of us desire.  He longed for Peter to come to humility, whereas the greater number of us want to humiliate them and stomp on their self-esteem.  Instead, Jesus sought to open Peter to his own foibles, show him the road to restoration and give back a sense of belonging to the mission.

Many of us have heard about the word differences and preachers expound on what the significance of this story happened to be.  I agree with the general consensus that Jesus intended to give Peter three questions for three denials.  But to my way of thinking Jesus had another goal entirely in mind, for He wanted to remind Peter self-sufficiency failed when the chips were down and a person is staring at a gun barrel in their face.

Every instruction Jesus gave after Peter’s replies focused on service, did you notice?  Agape’ is the sacrificial, service oriented kind of love so Jesus revealed what He wanted for Peter’s life from that point on.  “Feed My lambs.” The seemingly insignificant among us, the children, the little ones.  Though children were highly prized by the Jews, they weren’t considered to be important in spiritual matters until they came of age.  Sure they were instructed in the Torah and wisdom of the rabbis but their value to the community and nation of Israel could only be assessed once they reached adulthood.  Jesus desires us to reach into the worlds of those who aren’t movers or shakers in the broader sense and bring them to the place where they can be fed heavenly bread; such as these make up the kingdom of heaven.

“Take care of My sheep.” This instruction differs from feeding in that it means to care for the whole person rather than just one aspect.  The job for a disciple of Christ is to care for the whole person not just give them the gospel information.  This means in practical terms that like a sheep, which needs good pasture, protection from the elements and predators, we as servants of God must look out for our fellow believers—especially if we are called to leadership.  I’ve owned several animals and one thing I can tell you is that if you are not social with them, they will not trust you with anything but their food.  A good owner is not only the supplier of the basic needs but a servant of the hearts of those he/she feels responsible to.

Dad and I owned a horse named Frosty.  She was originally a brood mare for a friend of ours,  Quarter Horse/Appaloosa, and definitely gorgeous.  This little mare had personality in spades.  My dad treated her like one of the family and they even had a game when carrots or sugar were offered.  Dad would come to the paddock to give her something special and Frosty would sniff, turn her nose up and begin to act like it wasn’t good enough.  The whole time Dad would dialogue with her,  “Oh, so you don’t want it, huh?  Well, I guess…” and as he started to walk away she’d trot back up to the fence and look anxiously until he glanced back (knowing she was doing this) and acknowledged her.  This would go on a couple of times until she accepted the treat and gave him a horse kiss.  Then he’d talk to her, groom her or just simply hug her.  That mare was the most gentle animal with children I’ve ever seen.  Adults made her nervous but with kids she was careful and sweet, always watching out for them.

It was the relationship Dad developed with Frosty which made this scenario a routine they played almost daily.  She flirted with him, played with him and, at times, followed him around like a puppy.  He served her and she adored him.

Jesus asked Peter to serve His sheep in this way.  To become more than just what the world considered a leader of people to be.  To go beyond human ideals, to be like Jesus Himself, who gave Himself for His sheep to the point of death.  But when He said,  “Feed my sheep” to Peter after his protest,  “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you,” I think it was to tell Peter to start first at the basics, preaching the gospel.  The other duties would come naturally as he grew in the Lord through the Spirit’s power.

Our Master accepts us as we are, which means He knows our limitations and will accept what we can give.  However, once we start on that path to service, we will be given more and more responsibility because God wants us to be whole.  A fragmented heart gives only out of the areas where there is something to give—or hands out its brokenness instead.  As God’s Spirit serves the soul He changes and adjusts the broken spots, replacing parts (spiritual surgery) where possible (meaning somethings won’t be whole until we are glorified) and sewing up the open wounds or stubs of spiritual limbs that are missing.  In our brokenness He becomes our prosthetic legs, hands and arms through the relationship to the body of Christ.

No one is ever completely whole this side of Jesus restoring all things when we receive new spiritual bodies.  If this is true, then when Paul tells us each person completes a part of the body of Christ, he’s reminding us that none of us are the whole enchilada.  We all have missing parts, numb appendages and useless tools when we come to Christ.  These things are not made whole right away but Jesus instructed us to work together for the good of the kingdom of God by completing in the body of Christ what is lacking.  You might be an eye, I might be a foot, but without both parts neither of us can work the work of God.  Yet if we work together under the direction of the Head, which is Christ, we can go places.  A foot can travel but without the ability to see where its going it will bump into stuff and hurt the body.  An eye can see things but has no power to travel anywhere on its own.  The eye is not more important than the foot, neither is the foot more important than the eye.  In Christ all are of equal importance.  It is the world that values one thing above another not the followers of Jesus.

So Jesus accepted Peter as he was and asked him to do the basic service of feeding His sheep.  Just like Dad with Frosty, though, in the process of taking care of the sheep, talking to them, troubleshooting their problems and caring for their needs, Peter would grow to the place where even the lambs would benefit from his love for Jesus.  Feeding the lambs is the job of discipleship.  In the Great Commission Jesus told us to make disciples, not just preach the gospel.  The difference between them is simple, one develops a relationship with those who accept Jesus as their Savior; the other is just concerned about information or numbers.  Neither method can replace the other in the kingdom of God, so our job is to grow into not only preachers, teachers and leaders, but caretakers, medics and doctors of the soul.

Our example, the way we live, is the best sermon anyone can hear.


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2 Responses to “Do You Love Me?”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    Relationship is my favorite part of what I do. I love caring for someone who maybe didn’t know Christ and watch them grow to love Him and others. It blesses me to see someone that I may have talked to at work or on the street, come to church. At first they sit in the back and observe and as they get more comfortable and familiar they come closer and closer. I like to think that as they move forward in their seats at church, they are also moving forward in this new walk. When Jesus gave us the great commission it was a good rewarding job to have.

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