googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Do You Love Me?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Do You Love Me?

ὅτε οὖν ἠρίστησαν λέγει τῷ Σίμωνι Πέτρῳ Ἰησοῦς· Σίμων Ἰωάννου, ἀγαπᾷς με πλέον τούτων; λέγει αὐτῷ· ναί κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. λέγει αὐτῷ πάλιν δεύτερον· Σίμων Ἰωάννου, ἀγαπᾷς με; λέγει αὐτῷ· ναί κύριε, σὺ οἶδας ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ· ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. λέγει αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον· Σίμων Ἰωάννου, φιλεῖς με; ἐλυπήθη Πέτρος ὅτι εἶπεν αὐτῷ τὸ τρίτον· φιλεῖς με; καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· κύριε, πάντα σὺ οἶδας, σὺ γινώσκεις ὅτι φιλῶ σε. λέγει αὐτῷ [ὁ] Ἰησοῦς· βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου.

“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17 (KJV)

This is an interesting exchange between Jesus and Peter, which occurred after Jesus’ Resurrection. If you remember, when Jesus had been arrested, Peter denied 3 times even knowing Him. Here, Jesus asked Peter 3 times if he loved Him. Perhaps then it was not coincidental that Jesus asked 3 times.

But there’s another part of the story that many English readers miss. In the Greek account, there are 2 different words being used for “love.” One is ἀγαπάω (agēpaō). This is an unconditional love. It is the same word used in John 3:16 where the Bible says, “For God so loved the world...”(Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν θεὸς τὸν κόσμον). God’s love is unconditional because of who He is - not because of how good we are.

The other word for love is φιλέω (phileō). The word φιλέω is found in the city’s name, Philadelphia, the city of "brotherly love" (ἀδελφός (adelphos) is the Greek word for “brother”). This is a reciprocal love. It is a fondness we have for the people to whom we are close; therefore, it is conditional. I might love my friend while we are close. But if he makes me angry, he might not be my friend anymore and I won’t love him.

So Jesus asks Peter, does he ἀγαπάω Him. Peter answered that he does φιλέω Him. He asks a second time and Peter answers the same way. But when Jesus asks the third time, He asks Peter, does he even φιλέω Him. This makes Peter grieve because this time Jesus used φιλέω instead of ἀγαπάω.

Then a revised version of the account might read so:

Jesus: “Do you love me, Peter?” ἀγαπάω
Peter: “I’m fond of you, Lord.” φιλέω
Jesus: “But do you love me?” ἀγαπάω
Peter: “Yes, I’m fond of you.” φιλέω
Jesus: “Are you even fond of me, Peter? φιλέω
Peter grieves: “Lord, you know I am fond of you.” φιλέω

I’m not sure why Peter was so reluctant to say he loved Jesus unconditionally. Maybe the recollection of his recent denial of Jesus was still too fresh in his mind. Perhaps he was afraid to say he loved Jesus unconditionally fearing he may too soon deny Him again. But what strikes me most about the passage is the seeming desire of Jesus to hear Peter say he loved Him. He seemed to ask over and over, longing for Peter to say it.

I think Jesus feels the same way about us. He gave His life so that we might have eternity with Him. The Church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9). What kind of marriage is it if the bride never tells the groom she loves him? Day after day, Jesus pours out His blessings, showing us His unconditional love for us. Have we told Him how much we love Him?

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