>> January 10, 2011
Love is confusing. I don’t just mean the emotional part of love; I’m referring to the WORD love.
When we stop to think about it, everything comes down to Love, doesn’t it? I mean, seriously…if we don’t have love (the noun), we have nothing. If we can’t love (the verb) what is there to live for?
When someone has a nasty disposition on life we think “they must not have been loved as a child.” When a single person watches a happy couple they wonder “will I ever experience that kind of love?” When the people who come to church raise their hands in worship to God and then complain about their fellow Christians or pastor over lunch at the restaurant after church we say “where is the love?” When you tell someone you love them and then months or years later can’t stand to even be in the same room with them… what kind of love is that?
Jesus asked Peter the same thing.
What do we know about Peter? He was impulsive. He dropped his nets and followed Jesus… *snap*... just like that. He stepped out of the boat in the middle of a storm to walk on the water to get to Jesus. He blurted out that Jesus would never wash his feet without waiting to see what Jesus was really wanting to do through that act. He lopped off the ear of a soldier when they tried to arrest Jesus and then that very same night denied he even knew the very One that he showed all these impulsive acts to.
No wonder when Jesus showed Himself to some of the disciples on the beach one morning, He decided to not accept Peter’s impulsive answers to His questions. After His resurrection, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to evaluate his love for Him.
There’s something interesting about this line of questioning that I want to address in this Christianese post about Love. The English language has one word for love. It’s the word… love (duh). But the Greek language uses two different words in John 21 that are both translated lamely into the one misused and often messy English word Love.
The Greek words are phileo and agapae.
Phileo love is seen in relationships such as friendships, best friends, and the fellowship of being with people we enjoy (like church family, co-workers, etc) it can be deep and meaningful. But even if we don’t want to admit it, this love, has “conditions”. When the sifting sands of situations contribute to phileo love, it can wane because of time and distance, or is cut clean because of harsh words or actions. It is a conditional love.
Agape love encompasses far more than a friendship based love. Agape love is not a gushy love. Christians like to say “I love you with agape love” and they think they are paying you a high compliment. But did you know that Jesus tells us in Luke 6:35 that we should agape our enemies? I don’t know about you but that’s not a real gushy thing for me to do.
Let’s go back to Jesus and Peter sitting on the beach enjoying fish and bread for breakfast (John 21:15-17). In this passage Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him three times! When we insert the Greek words for love it reads more like this:
Peter: Yes. You know I phileo you.
Jesus: Feed my lambs.
Jesus: Do you agape me?
Peter: Yes, You know I phileo you.
Jesus: Tend to my sheep.
Jesus: Do you phileo me?
Peter: (grieved and hurt) You know all things. You know I phileo you.
Jesus: Feed my sheep.
The Amplified Bible differs between the two with this definition:
Phileo- deep, instinctive, personal affection, as for a good friend.
Agape-With reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion as one loves the Father.
Jesus pointed out the other disciples loved Him with intentional, spiritual devotion. Perhaps Peter wanted to dwell on his deep, intimate friendship with his Lord while they sat and shared a meal because he was having warm fuzzy feelings of friendship.
While deep, gushy, friendship love is awesome, it can fade away. The scripture declares that we should have agape for one another, even our enemies. 1 Corinthians 13:8 says agape never fails. Perhaps Jesus was trying to push Peter to realize that his phileo relationship with Him is probably what got Peter into trouble the night he denied Him. Maybe He was trying to tell Peter that He was leaving soon; to mix that agape love in and be intentional and devoted spiritually, not just fleshly.
Phileo is a choice. Agape is a Christian responsibility…a command.
John 13:34 A new commandment I give you that you agape one another as I have agape you.
If Jesus is asking you “do you love me?”…what’s your answer?