If you love me, keep my commands. John 14:15
After a friend ended our decade-long friendship without explanation, I began slipping back into my old habit of keeping people at arms’ length. While processing my grief, I pulled a tattered copy of The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis off my shelf. Lewis makes a powerful observation about love requiring vulnerability. He states there’s “no safe investment” when a person risks loving. He suggests that loving “anything [will lead to] your heart being wrung and possibly broken.” Reading those words changed how I read the account of the third time Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection (John 21:1–14), after Peter had betrayed Him not once but three times (18:15–27).
Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15).
After experiencing the sting of betrayal and rejection, Jesus spoke to Peter with courage not fear, strength not weakness, selflessness not desperation. He displayed mercy not wrath by confirming His willingness to love.
Scripture reveals that “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ ” (v. 17). But when Jesus asked Peter to prove his love by loving others (vv. 15–17) and following Him (v. 19), He invited all His disciples to risk loving unconditionally. Each of us will have to answer when Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” Our answer will impact how we love others.
Why would a loving God ask His beloved children to risk being hurt for the sake of loving others like Jesus did? How can an intimate relationship with God help you feel safe enough to risk loving?
Loving God, please break down every wall that keeps me from being vulnerable so I can love You and others with Spirit-empowered courage, compassion, and consistency.
The two verbs translated “love” in the Greek New Testament are phileō (“to be a friend of” [person or object] or to “have tender affection for”) and agapaō (“love founded in admiration, veneration, esteem”).
Both words are used in John 21:15–16. Jesus uses agapaō while Peter uses phileō. In verse 17, however, both Jesus and Peter use phileō. Some scholars find significance in the use of these two different words in John 21 while others don’t. Commentator Craig Keener notes: “The two Greek words for ‘love’ here are used interchangeably elsewhere in John.”
Peter had denied Christ three times (see John 18:15–18, 25–27). How gracious of Jesus to prompt him to affirm his love three times. Was Peter’s love authentic? Yes, authentic enough for him to live a life and die a death by which he would glorify God (see 21:18–19).