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How Much Do We Love The Lord?

John 21:15-17
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. (NIVUK)

After the barbecue breakfast on the beach, Jesus turned to Peter.  Doubtless Peter was still ashamed of his triple denial of the Lord (Luke 22:54-62).  Perhaps he wondered how Jesus would treat him.  Speaking simply, Jesus addressed him by his formal name (Simon, son of John) and asked if he loved Jesus more than all the others did.  Peter had previously boasted that even if all the other disciples forsook Jesus, he never would (Mark 14:27-31).  But he did (Mark 14:66-72).

Now Jesus was going to challenge Peter and probe his love for Jesus.  The Saviour’s purpose was to recommission him so that he could strengthen the others (Luke 22:31-32).  There are a number of words in Greek which we translate as ‘to love’.  The word Jesus used for ‘love’ was ‘agapao’: this means a godlike and sacrificial love which is seen in self-giving whatever the cost.  However, Peter could not honestly say that he loved Jesus like that.  So, he responded with another word, “You know that I love (phileo) you.” ‘Phileo’ is a strong word, but it speaks of brotherly affection and mutual sharing; it is the fondness you see in any established relationship.  Twice Jesus asked the same question and twice Peter responded in the same way.

But the third time, Jesus changed the question asking if Peter was only fond of Him.  That question drove deep into Peter’s heart - he knew that the Lord had heard his unwillingness to declare his sacrificial love towards Him (as described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8).  Peter admitted that there was too much self-interest in his way of loving, but also recognised that the Lord knew everything about him, and the disciple was content to be in His hands.  So, Jesus reaffirmed his calling to ministry by commanding him to feed the flock of God.
Most believers will admit that personal failure reflects a low level of sacrificial love for the Lord.  Our track record of spiritual failure often saps our confidence.  It reminds us of the times when we have only loved the Lord because of what He might do for us, rather than sacrificing ourselves in service and mission … because of what Jesus has already done for us on the cross.  Despite this, the Lord does not want His people, including us, as spectators, but as those who are fully involved and eager to work with Him so that His people might be strengthened.  Yet many relegate themselves to being ‘interested observers of God working through other people’ even though He has chosen to work specifically through you and me.  Let us not be disobedient to His call!

Dear Lord God. Thank You that Your love is big enough to embrace people who do not love You wholeheartedly, as yet. Please forgive me for my weakness, failure and even outright denial that I belong to You. Please help me to know that You cherish every bit of love I show to You and that You are willing to involve me in growing Your kingdom even though I am not perfect. Please help me to cooperate with You so that You can use me to be a blessing to others and glorify You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams