Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Our Sunday school class has been going through the lessons based on the movie “Fireproof.” We watch clips of the movie and then discuss how to “fireproof” our marriage. It’s pretty good.

One of the questions asked a few weeks ago was something like, “What things can we do for our wives to show them that we love them?” (I’m quoting from memory.)

There was a brief discussion, but something didn’t seem right. I thought for a few minutes and then commented that I thought this was the wrong question. I don’t do things for my wife to SHOW her I love her; I do things for her BECAUSE I love her.

It made me think of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevye asks his wife Golda, “Do you love me?” She replies in song telling all the things she does and has done for him. Again he asks her, “But do you love me?” (I guess I could get out my DVD and find the scene.)

In John 21, there is a similar dialog. Jesus has risen from the dead and already appeared to His disciples. One morning He appears to them while they are fishing, miraculously causes them to have a huge catch, and has breakfast waiting for them on the shore when they moor their boat.

“So when they finished breakfast, Jesus says to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?’
He says to Him, ‘Yes Lord, You know that I love You!’
He says to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
He says to him again, a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’
He says to Him, ‘Yes Lord, You know that I love You!’
He says to him, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’
He says to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’
Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me? And he says to Him, ’Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You!’
Jesus says to him, ‘Feed my sheep …’” (John 21:15-17).

The dialog goes on.

Much has been made about the fact that two different Greek words for love are used here. The first two times, Jesus uses the word agapaō, while Peter uses the word phileō. The third time Jesus uses Peter’s word phileō and Peter replies using the same word.

There are many different views espoused as to the reason for the use of 2 different words. Anyone who has ever heard a sermon on this passage has probably been exposed to at least one view. I’ll not review all the opinions. I’ll just say what I believe may be a possible reason for this.

While both Greek words translate into the English word love, they do have different meanings.

Phileō speaks of the love of affection; it is the love we have for a friend. In fact, the usual Greek word for friend is related (philos). The word for kiss is also related (philēma). There are many other related words: philadelphia – love of the brothers, philoxenia – love for strangers, philanthropia – love of mankind, etc., etc. It is not a lesser kind of love than agapaō, it is a different kind of love.

Agapaō is the kind of love that God has. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). It is not simply affection. It is the kind of love that we are commanded. “Love the Lord your God …” “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:37-39 and others). “Love one another …” (John 13:34 and others). “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). And we are told that God is the Source of that love. “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7); “God is love” (4:8, 16); “We love because He first loved us” (4:19). This love is more than affection. It is more than a feeling. It is that which seeks the greatest good in its object.

Now back to our story.

Peter had denied Jesus three times as Jesus was going through His trial. Luke tells us that when Peter had denied Him the third time and the rooster crowed, “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered … and he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:61, 62). He was apparently nowhere to be found later as Jesus was hanging on the cross.

Peter must have had that image burned on his brain: his bruised, bleeding Lord looking at him as he uttered his third denial. What kind of look was it? We can only imagine. But it was probably a look that Peter couldn’t get out of his mind, even after Jesus had risen and appeared to him personally.

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks. Of course Peter couldn’t reply using Jesus’ word. He couldn’t say that he had sought his Lord’s good. He had been looking out solely for himself. Peter knew that to say I love (agapaō) you would have been an empty profession that his actions gave the lie to. All he could tell Jesus was that he had a deep affection for Him.

And so Jesus asks him the same question a second time and Peter gives the same reply. So the third time Jesus lets it stand and uses Peter’s word.

Perhaps we English speakers have it easy. We can say, “I love you” to someone and not have to clarify the word’s meaning. We may mean affection, desire, even lust. We can sing to the Lord on Sunday “I love You Lord.” But what do we mean? Would I have a hard time telling the Lord I love Him in the way He commands?

Bill Ball

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