In John 21 we read the story of Jesus meeting the disciples again at the Sea of Galilee, after he had been resurrected.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly 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 truly 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. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Now, if you look very carefully in the NIV you can see it, but if you look at the original Greek it stands out more clearly.
Greek has a few words for love. In particular αγαπεω (agapeo) which is usually used for God’s unconditional love for us. In the NIV they sometimes translated this as “true love” or “truly love”. The other word used here is φιλεω (phileo) which also means love, but the kind that we have between friends and relatives. Sometimes this is translated as “brotherly love”.
For the sake of this article I’m going to translate agapeo as “love” and phileo as “fond of”. That’s a little extreme, but it illustrates the point. For us English speakers there is a big difference between these two. If you don’t think so, then try telling your “significant other” that you don’t love them, but you are fond of them. Good luck with that!
But let me also make this clear so we don’t get confused later, agapeo is not boy-girl love... that’s emotional love. Agapeo is unconditional love. It’s a choice, not a feeling.
Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”
Peter replied, “Yes, I’m fond of you.”
Huh?? Now, to be fair, Peter is probably still getting over the whole denying Jesus three times thing. So you can imagine him being a little reluctant to say, “Yes, I love you unconditionally.”, but can you imagine getting that response from someone if you asked them that question! I’m thinking myself, that at least it should be “No, I’m only fond of you”. But anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that Peter replied using a different word.
Jesus asked him again, “Do you love me?”
Peter replied again, “Yes, I’m fond of you.”
You can almost feel him squirming, wishing for the moment to be over..
So, Jesus asked him the third time, “Are you fond of me?”
Peter replied, “You know everything. Yes, I’m fond of you.”
Now wonder Peter was upset. Because Jesus changed the question.
Jesus made it very clear that he had heard the response, and that he had noticed the difference.
He didn’t ask the same question three times, but the third time he said “fond of”. Ouch.
But at least Peter was honest.
I wonder how differently it would have gone if Peter had answered the first time, “Yes, I love you”.
Can you imagine Jesus replying, “No you don’t.”
The only way that conversation can go from there is downhill!
So, ... how about you?
Do you love Jesus? Or are you just fond of him?