Now let’s go back to the passage where Jesus is on the beach and calling out to Peter to come to him and have a conversation with him over breakfast. Here, Jesus when using the words for love is using both the words agape and phileo. It is important to look at the questions Jesus asks and also listen to Peter’s answers. Here is how the Greek reads: Jesus first asks, “Peter, do you agape me?” But Peter doesn’t answer that question—he responds differently and answers, “No, Jesus I phileo you.” Again, Jesus puts the question back to him, “Peter, do you agape me?” Again, Peter seems to evade the real question and answers it just as before. “No, Jesus, I phileo you.” Finally on the third try, this then becomes the most beautiful part of the whole passage, because now Jesus asks Peter a different question—“Peter, do you phileo me?”

Why does Jesus do this? Jesus knows full well that Peter does not and has never up to that point loved him with this agape love. Jesus knows full well that Peter has never genuinely loved him. If we were to translate this scene in a way that captures what is really happening between the both of them, it might read something like this:

Jesus: Peter, do you truly love me with all your heart and with every inch of your being?

Peter: No, Lord, I only kind of love you, just a little bit, but really not very much.

In our English language, these nuances are difficult to capture. This is the exchange between them with Jesus’ first two questions and with Jesus’ final question, he really is asking: “Peter, do you kind of love me? But not really?” This is phileo love and the question Jesus really wants to ask.  And then Peter does the most remarkable thing, he finally speaks the truth a third time, “Yep, that’s true, Lord, I only kind of love you, but not really.”

This is a major breakthrough for Peter, because previously he would have demanded over and over, Yes, Jesus, of course, I agape you! Haven’t I proved that night and day! The problem would have been that he wouldn’t have been speaking the truth. Now Peter tells it like it is. He’s honest with Jesus and just as importantly, with himself. So much so that as we venture into the stories in the book of Acts, Peter just a few short days later, truly begins to agape Jesus for the first time. It is a remarkable transformation and it all occurred because of Jesus’ grace and forgiveness and then Peter’s acceptance of himself and the acceptance of that gift.

The passage has a beauty to it, because on the one hand, Jesus is testing Peter. But on the other hand, at the same time, he is lowering Peter’s expectations of himself and is teaching Peter the basics of forgiving himself. At the heart of it, yes, Jesus wants Peter to agape him; he knows that would be the best for Peter, because again agape love is more solid and strong than other types of love. It’s not fleeting such as what Peter experienced in the courtyard when he denied Jesus those three times. Essentially, Jesus is saying, Peter, I want you to agape me, but for now, this love of phileo you have for me will do. Again, there are many ways in which we can love God; what Jesus is instilling in Peter is that in reality his love for him previous to all of this was flat and one-dimensional. The love of agape is three-dimensional—full of communion and intimacy and can only come at the cost of forgiveness and grace—first, for yourself and then for others. This is the point that Jesus was making. He knew first-hand Peter’s arrogance and pride, but he broke those traits through the remarkable transformation of grace and forgiveness which eventually changed him in a way he never expected.

This is the turning point in Peter’s life. It wasn’t when his brother Andrew introduced him to Jesus three years prior. This is Peter’s genuine “born again” experience; this is when he truly began to follow Jesus. Again, compare Peter in the gospels and then go read his letters that we find in the New Testament, which he wrote in the years following this incident. You will see a marked difference. He is gentle, kind and patient and it’s as if when reading these words in First and Second Peter, you are encountering an entirely different man. This is exactly what needs to happen to each of us. This is the first step toward a friendship with God. The last words Peter wrote in his second book say it all and exemplify the transformation he underwent: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18) Peter’s challenge with these words came because of first-hand experience—to know his grace and to know that Jesus is easy to live with.

Just as we have looked at different persons from Scripture like Judas and Peter to exemplify the different roles of believer and servant, here we can look to John as our model as the friend of Jesus. John was the perfect friend of Jesus. I love the books John wrote. The gospel of John is by far my favorite book because of how he wrote it. John was poetic, apocalyptic, a wonderful storyteller. However, the most important aspect of his book which clearly comes out is that he had a strangely close relationship to Jesus. John was a friend of Jesus. Even how John refers to himself in his books is at first almost startling. Without embarrassment, without blinking an eye, with great pride—John often refers to himself as “the one Jesus loved.” Even as I am writing these words now—“the one Jesus loved”—it  brings tears to my eyes as I realize  that’s how Jesus wants each of us to relate to him. You are the one who Jesus loves. When you understand that at its core, you have met that place which is the most important starting point of your life. You have become Jesus’ friend.

In the gospel of John, Jesus insists, “No longer do I call you servants, but now I call you friend.” I can be, you can be, no longer a servant, but a friend of the One who created the beluga whale, the vastness of the Rocky Mountains, the planet Saturn. This is pretty amazing stuff. He says to you that you are his center point; his focus; his all in all. Dwell on that. Think about that. No longer do I call you servants but now I call you friend. This is the Creator of the world talking to you—directly to you.

How does that happen? How does one get to the point of being the friend of Jesus? How does one get to this place? In a way I’ve got some really bad news and that is I believe that for each person, it is a unique experience. It’s personal. Like in all things it’s a matter of grace and at the same time, our attempt to knock on some doors. God makes it happen, and yet you must make it happen in your life as well. I can share with you my own experience and I can explain some details about of those who have followed a similar path, but your journey will be unique—with some similarities to mine, but also with some differences as well. However, in saying that, I do believe that there are some essential building blocks that need to be put in place before you can know how to refer to yourself as “the one Jesus loves.” In the up-coming weeks we will look at some of these necessary ingredients.

Winston Churchill was quoted as saying that to be successful one has to be audacious. These are my sentiments exactly as it pertains to our relationship with God—we need to be audacious with him. I would say that God wants us to challenge him on so many different levels. Believe it or not, he really does want a relationship with us. And a  rich one at that. Just as we make a choice in becoming a believer or servant, we must also make a choice in becoming a friend of God. That’s what Peter did on the beach as he ate fish with Jesus. The question you really have to ask yourself and answer it honestly is this—why would God want a relationship with me? Let’s explore some ways in which maybe you can be audacious with God.

In: Friend to Jesus
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