Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do You Love Me?

No, in case you are wondering, I am not asking you this question ;-)

This was the question which Jesus, after his resurrection, asked Peter three times:
John 21:15-17
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”
And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.

In the English translation, it seems that Jesus asked Peter the same question three times but in actual fact, Jesus asked Peter the same question only twice. The first two times, in v15 and v16, what Jesus asked was "do you ἀγαπάω (agapaō ) me?"

Both times, Peter answered "I love you" but in the Greek, the word "love" which Peter used was not agapaō ; Peter actually said, "I φιλέω (phileō) you."

According Strong's definition, agapaō  means "to love dearly" whereas phileō  means "to like"; agapaō  is the deep love which God has for us whereas phileō  is just affection for another person.

Why did Jesus ask Peter "do you ἀγαπάω (agapaō ) me?" twice? Jesus wanted to confirm that Peter had indeed learned his lesson. What lesson? Before Jesus' arrest and subsequent crucifixion, Peter was so sure of his love for Jesus that he boasted to Jesus - "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble. Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" (Matt 26: 33,35) - yet before the night was over, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times.

Peter had now learned his lesson. He knew that he could not love Jesus the way Jesus loved him. Peter knew deep in his heart that he could not agapaō  Jesus, the best he could do was phileō Jesus, and he did not change his answer the second time.

Satisfied that Peter had learned his lesson, Jesus asked Peter the third time, but this time Jesus asked "Simon, son of Jonah, do you phileō Me?” and Peter answered, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileō You."

Peter knew that the Lord Jesus knew that he only phileō  Him, but Jesus let Peter know, by His third question, that it is okay that his love is only phileō ; Jesus did not insist on agapaō , he can still use us at our phileō level to do His work - "Feed my sheep".

In John 14:15, Jesus said "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Many preachers have used this verse to exhort the church to keep the 10 commandments. Some preachers have also said the commandments do not refer to the 10 commandments but rather the commandments Jesus mentioned in Mark 12:30-31 - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself."

However, I think both set of preachers missed the significance of the key word in John 14:15 - "love". Yes, you'd probably guessed correctly by now that the "love" in the verse is "agapaō ". If you have learned Peter's lesson, you'd know that it is almost impossible for us to agapaō  God, it is impossible for us to love anything, let alone God, with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, ALL our mind and ALL our strength; only God can love like that because GOD IS LOVE.

Therefore, I believe it is vital that the church, week after week, focus on God agapaō us, and in the process fill our hearts with so much of His love that we can't help but love (phileō ) Him more and more each day. If the church focus on we agapaō  God, I fear that we may some day end up burnt out and denying Jesus like what Peter thrice did.


Stephanie said...

Hi Stanley,

Good Post!

In fact, all these years, I only focus on His loving me and not I loving Him.

Lord leads me step by step and now walk more in His Love Commandment. It is when Lord the Holy Spirit comes closely in me that I am able to walk in this Love.

I did not realise how closely I have walked with Lord that it was when Lord leads me to talk to the friend, who led me to Lord years ago that I see the different.

Me and Lord is 1 person. While for her, she is herself and Lord is He somewhere. This is my double confirmation with her that I realised she felt Lord is somewhere else, where I daily dwell in Lord under His Grace that I found I am with Him. He moves in and out of me to talk to my friend to lead her close.

But I know deep inside, be it I talking about Lord as He or Lord coming out to talk as I, it's all Him who is talking to her and not me talking to her.

I don't have such wisdom and know how. It's when Lord comes fully in me that to others, as if I know a lot. Glory Glory! Amen Amen!

MyExceedinglyGreatReward said...

Indeed I've always wondered for a long time on how to love God in a real way, in the same genuine way that I love my wife for example. And I can't just "force" or "psycho" myself to love God by my willpower - that's just deluding myself.

But thanks to God, I actually love Him genuinely now. All because I know Him and how good and loving He is to me ALL THE TIME (this is speaking from experience too). How not to love Him? I honestly can't help it.

It's so true that we love God because He first loved us.

Jimmy Tan said...

Good post, Stanley.

To me, John 14:15 Jesus said "If you love Me, keep My commandments." has been misunderstood by many in the traditional or evangelical circles because Jesus wasn't referring to the ten commandments (which no one can keep).

In the context of John 14-16, he was using figurative language to tell His disciples that if they love Him, they will believe that He came forth from God.

"These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father... for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God." (John 16:25-27)

So, to believe Jesus came forth from God is equivalent to obeying His commandments. New Testament obedience is not about obeying laws, but it is about believing in Jesus. Having this understanding should free people from the religious bondage of having to meet impossible demand of loving God and loving people (the sum total of the law), and simply rest in Jesus' love. As we've learnt from 1 John 4:19 "We love because He first loved us", our focus is on God's love - this is a lifestyle of grace - living freely and lightly without any condemnation. :)

Keep up the good work in sharing the good news of grace.