How Do I Love Thee: Let Me Count the Ways?
By Amy Gentry
You may have read John 21:15-19 a hundred times and you may be very familiar with the Greek definitions and the difference between phileo and agape love, but have you meditated on the many possible lessons that can be realized through this passage? I recently was reading this and saw this passage in a new light. Jesus is very clearly asking Peter about the level of commitment that Peter will show in Jesus’ absence.
15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you AGAPE, unconditional love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I PHILEO, affectionately love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you AGAPE, unconditional love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I PHILEO, affectionately love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you PHILEO, affectionately love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you PHILEO, affectionately love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I PHILEO, affectionately love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
(John 21:15-17 emphasis mine)
Did you notice that Jesus asked Peter twice if Peter Agape loved Him and then on the third time He asked Peter if he Phileo loved Him? I think that this change from Agape to Phileo shows that Jesus was satisfied, for now, that Peter could only love Him affectionately but not unconditionally. In Peter’s own words, he said the Jesus knew all things and that Jesus knew that Peter affectionately loved Jesus. Peter proved Jesus right soon after this when he denied Christ.
But Jesus also knew, when Peter witnessing His crucificition, then discovering an empty tomb, and ultimately encountering the resurrected Christ in an upper room – Peter would soon have Agape love for Jesus. He would Agape, unconditionally love Him all the way to the cross himself.
18 Very truly I tell you, 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.”
19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
(John 21:18-19 emphasis mine)
CHALLENGE: Take stock. At what stage of your life are you in? Are you in the Phileo, affectionate love stage with Christ or have you been transformed into Agape, unconditional love stage with Christ? What would Jesus say?