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

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love (phileo) you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love (phileo) me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love (phileo) me?” He said,

“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (phileo)  you.” (John 21:15-19)

 But again and again, Jesus writes a different story and makes a different way out for us—a way of forgiveness, mercy and grace. One day, Jesus decides to go hunt Peter down and rescue him from himself. Where would he find him—fishing early in the morning and back at his old job. As he calls him to come out of the boat and join him for some breakfast, perhaps one of the more riveting stories in all of Scripture unfolds.

In this story, it’s a very simple one. In your Bible, the section is often entitled Jesus Reinstates Peter or something similar. I think a better title would be Peter Finally Learns Grace with a strong emphasis on the word “finally.” Remember, Jesus clearly said earlier that if anyone were to deny him before anyone, he would forsake them also. This is exactly why Peter was not very eager to catch up with Jesus after the resurrection. Peter believes he has just ruined his entire life. He knows what Jesus said and now he has to live by those words. But this shows you just how much Jesus is willing to forgive and just how great his mercy can be.

When reading an English translation of the Bible with the scene above, it does not do a good job of capturing the words and the actual conversation that is taking place between Jesus and Peter. Almost every Bible written in English has a difficult time in translating these verses because unlike the Greek language, we only have one word for love. So with this, before one reads this passage, you need to have an understanding of the Greek words for love. In the passage above, it is using two unique and different words for love. Let’s look at a couple of these Greek words.

First, one word that is used for love in this passage is the word agape, which in layman’s terms simply means godly love. Agape is a rich word and is comprised of many facets to its meaning. In one example, it is derived from the word love-feast, which we might think of the word for us as being communion—a very intimate fellowship. Likewise, this type of love is highly sacrificial; it’s a love that is long-suffering; it’s a love that is best exemplified by the cross. One description I read stated that it means to “to be well pleased, to be contented at or with something.” I like that description because that is Jesus’ love toward us and a love that he wants for us to have toward ourselves and toward others. He wants us to know that he is well-pleased and contented with us. It’s the type of love which Jesus is attempting to develop in each of us, because in no way shape or form do we have the ability to experience this love naturally toward ourselves or to others. This love is supernatural. And this is the final and most unique thing about this love—it can only occur by being in a relationship with Jesus.

Only those who have a relationship with God can acquire agape love no matter how hard they try. It’s inevitably connected up with having a relationship with Jesus. Twice in the Bible, it puts it as simple as it can be said: God is agape (I John 4:8, 16). However, the other two loves found in the Scriptures are more natural and for a better word, lesser to a degree in comparison to this type of love. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves, agape is the highest level of love—it is the one which is the standard. It is the coup de gris. At the end of the day, it’s the one you want to be holding.

Anybody can experience these other types of loves that we will now discuss. They are fairly common and the ones we most think of when we think of the word love. They are open to anyone and anyone can tap into them. In most relationships, these are the ones that are at work. These are the lesser loves. First, another Greek word for love is phileo; it simply means friendship. On one level, this is a love in which you care for the person and have similar interests. The word Philadelphia is derived from this word, which we know as the city of brotherly love. That’s a good way to put it. However, with this have you ever seen two brothers together? It can sometimes be a love-hate relationship. It’s either on or it’s not. Phileo can be a deep love, but it can also be shallow. Aristotle in his book Nicomachean Ethics spends a great deal of time talking about this word phileo. One section captures the essence of this type of love; in describing it, he gave an example of the type of friendship, such as between “a cobbler and the person who buys from him.”  Now that isn’t a very deep love, is it? Phileo can be as deep as the love you have for the person who checks out your milk and eggs at the grocery store? Aristotle also went on to say that phileo was based on friendships of utility, meaning a love in which you expect to get something out of the relationship. In that sense, phileo is a selfish love—what are you going to do for me. As you can see, it can be a love that doesn’t go terribly deep and is amuck with some troubling aspects. Remember this type of love, we will be coming back to it and discuss it further.

The other word for love in the Greek is eros—it’s passionate or physical love. Sex is the most common way we think about the word eros; but this type of love is not only erotic in nature. It can be holding hands at a movie or when you look at someone with wow in your eyes. It can be passion, zeal, excitement, lust and infatuation all rolled up in one.  Like the love phileo, it also can be fleeting and not terribly stable. Again, it’s a love that is necessary and important to our lives, but in the long run, it’s not a love that over the long haul is something solid or secure.

Next time, we will dig into this discussion further. We will look at the conversation between Jesus and Peter and why words really do matter.

In: Friend to Jesus
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