It was the second time Christ had appeared to them since His resurrection. Seven of the disciples sat on the shore eating the fish Christ has provided for them after a long, fruitless night of fishing on the water. Suddenly, Jesus turned to one of the men in the group and asked:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter, surprised, responded, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs,” replied the Savior emphatically. Then, He asked again: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon replied, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
“Tend my sheep,” Christ repeated. To everyone’s confusion, He asked again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter responded yet again, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
“Feed my sheep,” came the expected reply.
Why was Christ asking the same question again and again?
I have always wondered why this conversation in John 21 between Simon Peter and Christ is so monotonous. We get it—to love Jesus, we have to feed His sheep. So why the repetition?
Dannah Gresh, popular author of the book Get Lost, turned my perception of this passage completely upside down. It all comes down to the many words that the Greek language has for “love.” The two main kinds of love are phileo love (brotherly affection) and agape love (unconditional sacrifice). In her book, Mrs. Gresh re-wrote this conversation from John 21 with the original words for “love.” The result reveals something about Simon Peter that every Christian is guilty of: selfishness. Here is how the first two times Christ asked Peter this question really went:
“Simon, do you agape me?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I phileo you.”
“Feed my lambs.” (aka—love with sacrifice!)
Jesus had literally just given His life for Peter, and all the disciple could offer was brotherly affection. Jesus, probably discouraged, rephrased His question the last time He asked it:
“Simon, do you phileo me?”
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I phileo you.”
Simon Peter, who just witnessed Christ’s death and resurrection, struggled to give up everything to love Christ fully. There were some things in his life that he was just not willing to let go.
If I am being truly honest with myself, I can relate to Simon. I often have a hard time loving Christ fully. When He asks, “Do you agape me? Will you give of yourself for me? Will you sacrifice your time, money, dreams, etc. to do my will?” I hesitate. As a human being, I am selfish to my core. I don’t want to do anything for anyone that requires sacrificing my own comfort zone and pleasure. Often, I answer half-heartedly like Simon Peter did: “Yes, Lord; I phileo you.”
The problem is that Christ does not require us to phileo Him. He does not honor us for that fuzzy, warm feeling we feel inside when we raise our hands in worship or smile at a stranger. He requires us to agape Him. He honors us for raising our hands in worship even though we are worried about what others will think, or smiling at a stranger even though he cut us in line at the grocery store. Loving Christ requires sacrifice.
In the last few weeks as I have been contemplating Biblical love, I have realized that the least we can do for Christ is agape Him. He gave us the ultimate sacrifice—His life. He made us clean before the Father by literally taking on the weight of our filth. He deserves our agape love.
In John 15, Christ tells us how to love Him: by loving others. What is astounding about this command is that not only are we told to love others, but we are commanded to love them as Christ has loved us. We are commanded to sacrifice ourselves for others. Admittedly, I am not very good at sacrificing myself for others. It’s easy for me to phileo those around me to make myself feel good, but I struggle to agape them as Christ did me. Simon Peter did too. But the amazing part of his story is that it does not end with this conversation with Christ in John 21. Simon Peter, known as the rock, went on to bring thousands to Christ, literally sacrificing his whole life to share the Gospel with others. Simon Peter learned to truly practice agape love. Can you imagine the smile on Christ’s face when Simon reached heaven? If Christ were to ask Simon once again, “Simon, do you agape me?” the answer would have been evident. Simon would have shouted, “Yes Lord! You know I agape you!”
When I come face to face with my Savior, I want to be able to say the same thing. I want to look into His loving eyes and exclaim, “Lord, I agape you!” and for my life to be evidence of that truth.
Will you join me in learning to sacrifice selfishness in order to serve Jesus? Starting today, let’s use our lives to selflessly show the world Who Love is. Let’s show a little sacrifice for the One Who gave us everything. What can you do today to practice agape love?