I was reading the account of Jesus’ public reinstatement of Peter (John 21:15-18) after his three-time denial. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Three times came the sad but earnest reply, “yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Gone, however, was Peter’s loud bravado and proud comparisons. When Jesus used the word for love, it was agapao (full, unconditional love). James Boice called it 100% love. However, when Peter answered Jesus, he used the word phileo, meaning the love of friendship or fond affection. Boice called this 60% love. Perhaps Peter was not so sure that his love would not fail again.
After each question and response about love, Jesus commissioned Peter to the task of feeding and caring for those who would become followers under his ministry. I learn from this that ministry to others flows out of our love for Jesus. How can we help people grow to love Jesus if we do not? As important as this lesson is, I am amazed and baffled about something else in this interchange with Peter; that Jesus would want our love in the first place.
Thomas Watson weaves these two themes of love and service together, writing:
Love makes all our services acceptable, it is the musk that perfumes them. It is not so much duty, as a loving-duty, God delights in; therefore serving and loving God are put together. Isa 56: 6. It is better to love Him than to serve Him; obedience without love, is like wine without the spirits. O then, be persuaded to love God with all your heart and might.
It is nothing but your love that God desires. The Lord might have demanded your children to be offered in sacrifice; he might have bid you cut and lance yourselves, or lie in hell awhile; but he only desires your love, he would only have this flower. Is it a hard request, to love God? Was ever any debt easier paid than this? Is it any labour for the wife to love her husband? Love is delightful. Love must by definition be sweet — Bernard. What is there in our love that God should desire it? Why should a king desire the love of a woman that is in debt and diseased? God does not need our love. There are angels enough in heaven to adore and love Him. What is God the better for our love? It adds not the least cubit to His essential blessedness. He does not need our love, and yet He seeks it. Why does He desire us to give Him our heart? Pr 23:26. Not that He needs our heart, but that He may make it better…
Our love to God is a sign of His love to us. We love him because he first loved us.’ 1John 4: 19. By nature we have no love to God; we have hearts of stone. Ezek 36: 26. And how can any love be in hearts of stone? Our loving Him is from his loving us. If the glass burn, it is because the sun has shone on it; so if our hearts burn in love, it is a sign the Sun of Righteousness has shone upon us. (Thomas Watson – The Ten Commandments 2. Introduction Love)
Jesus took a repentant Peter and accepted the love he had to offer—then put him to work. And as Peter continued to live for Jesus, his love grew to 100%. We know that because many years later he was able to die for Jesus and not deny him. We don’t know the circumstances surrounding his death. Tradition says that he was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero, and that he asked to be crucified upside down because he was not worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Apocryphal? Perhaps . . . but it sounds like something 100% love would do.
Jesus says to you, “Do you love me”? What is your response?