After looking at John, I’m finding my interest sparked now by Peter. We know Peter denied Christ three times, then in John 21, Jesus asks if Peter loves him three times. I love the symbolism here, and again, God brings more than one purpose to light.
Just as Peter denied Christ three time, Jesus gives Peter the chance to “choose” him three times thereby reaffirming Peter’s place in relationship to God’s kingdom and also to Christ himself.
If we dig a little deeper though into the Greek meaning behind the words, two different words are used for love.
The first time Christ asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” he uses agape, which portrays love as volitional (a choice) and self-sacrificing. Peter answers him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” But he uses phileo which means a brotherly type of love with common interests.
The second time Christ asks Peter this question, he again uses the agape form (“Do you truly love me?”). And again, Peter answers the same, using the phileo form of love.
Finally, a third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Only this time he too uses the phileo form of love and in a sense he’s asking Peter, “Are you really my friend?” Peter didn’t quite seem to catch on to what was going on, and though hurt, he affirms his love for Christ in the same form he had the previous two times, phileo.
I almost wonder if Peter was afraid to confess such devotion. Had he really had time to process that the man he’d once professed was the Messiah, then denied, then watched crucified had really come back to life? He and the other disciples had gone from the mountain top experience of being in the presence of the Son of God on a daily basis, to seeing what they perceived as all their hopes broken just as Christ’s body had been. Perhaps Peter struggled with his belief, or more importantly was afraid to hope.
Phileo love is a relatively easy place to be. We can love someone who likes the same things we do, thinks the same way we do, and especially shares the same beliefs we do. But in the unequally yoked marriage, this form of love doesn’t work for long. (And I believe this is true for marriage in general.) We aren’t in such a mutual relationship. Our spouse doesn’t share our same beliefs and thus the grounds for the phileo form of love can quickly turn into bitter resentment.
So what’s the key? Why does Christ call us to an agape form of love? A love based upon a decision, not a feeling? A love that is self-sacrificing and not self-serving?
The main difference between the two is where you are in the equation. What’s you’re motivation? Philoe implies affiliation for mutual benefit. Agape is a commitment without expectation of anything in return. You’re either smack dab in the middle of it, looking to satisfy your own needs through mutual affiliation, or your not even looking to yourself but have turned your eyes upward and decided to love that person no matter the cost.
Just like Christ did for us…
By the time Peter wrote the letters of 1Peter 1-3, his love for Jesus had become agape. He was a man totally sold out for Christ. Perhaps walking with his Savior and being empowered by the Holy Spirit enabled him to overcome whatever reservations remained in his human heart.
My guess is Peter made the choice to love as Christ asked him too, and then trusted Jesus to supply the ability to do so. And perhaps what Jesus was really asking Peter that fateful day, was not do you love me, but do you choose to love me?
He asks us this too. And I say, “I do.”
Praying and believing,