[do you LOVE me?]

[do you LOVE me?]

My pastor has cast a challenge a week ago. It wasn’t a new challenge. In fact, this challenge is about 2,000 years old. The challenge of loving Him.

“Do you love me?”

John 21:15, 16, 17

That was the question Jesus asked of Simon Peter after Jesus’ resurrection. It is interesting to note the play on words here in John’s passage. The standard translations of the Bible do not really show it – they use just the word “love” in all three verses. In Greek, however, there are different verbs for love.

My pastor has mentioned that briefly but did not stop for too long. However, with my love for languages, that triggered more than a month of ponderings (for he mentioned it first at the Church board meeting).

ForgivenThe first time, Jesus uses the word αγάπη (agape). It denotes love which is deep and devoted. It is the word used in 1 Corinthians 13, the so-called Love Chapter.

“Do you love me, Simon?”
“Yes, Lord, You know that I love You”

The word Peter uses here is φιλία (philia), which stands for brotherly love or friendship.

Jesus asks for the second time…

“Do you love (agape) me, Simon, son of John?”
“Yes, Lord, You know that I love (philia) You”

Jesus still doesn’t get the answer to His question. So He asks one more time. For some reason, I imagine that Jesus sighed when He asked this last question.

“Simon, do you love (philia) me?”

I cannot imagine the thoughts of Peter at this moment. John says that Peter was hurt and saddened. Maybe in his mind’s eye he saw a flashback of not-so-long ago when he denied Jesus’ name for three times. Maybe he once again wished that he could do everything differently. I would.

“Lord, You know everything; You know that I love (philia) You.”

I have often wondered (and especially during these past couple of weeks)… what would I say? Would I be able to use the verb agape to answer Jesus? Or would I hide behind philia love? Or I would just look at the sand at my feet, not sure what to say… longing to say, “Yes! I love you!” and yet… *sigh*

Another point… Jesus wasn’t using that word (agape) just because. He knew perfectly well what that love could be like. He just went through the worst test ever just to prove that agape is possible. It is not easy, but it is not impossible. Jesus knew the implications. He knew that it hurts to love sometimes (or quite often, in fact).

But He was willing to love us. He knew the cost and yet He chose to pay it.

This morning I was walking to work and hummed to a song on my iPod, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I hummed, and then thought, “His faithfulness is great, but what about mine?”

What about my faithfulness? Do I love (agape – all-consuming love) him or I love (close friendship feeling) him?

I am weak, but He is strong. And so caring… and loving… I feel that sometimes I am about to explode with joy. Just because I know whose I am. Just because I know about His amazing love. It’s mind-boggling. Yet I have much to learn yet. I need to learn to Love. I still gets Ds and Cs in that area.

So the challenge continues…

“Zena, do you love Me?”

  • pastorherb

    Good post! There is, in my opinion, a purposeful switch in words on Jesus' part.

    I preached this passage a couple years ago, and was well into writing it, taking the exact same track you had until I came across an article about "philia" that brought a different light to the text.

    Agape is often described as deep love, fitting well with our expectation of God's love for us. But, I wonder how often we've allowed commentators to "color" our theology a bit too much. While Coelho defines agape as "love that consumes", more commonly the word is used as "general affectionate love". It is a love that loves regardless of return. That is why it is sometimes used for God's love of us. He loves us all, regardless of whether or not we choose to have a relationship with him. It is an incredible love, but it is not relational. In general Greek usage however, agape is sometimes used for inanimate objects like, "I love cars".

    Eros is a more passionate love that is sometimes relegated to the sexual, although it really connotes "longing", not necessarily involving sexuality. Storge is the more parental style affection.

    Philia is often relegated to "casual love", like for friends. But, the root "phil" means of the same womb, which connotes being of the same mother. Additionally, philia is more commonly used as a relational term, while agape is typically used for less relational love. Interestingly, Jesus uses this term often to describe the relationship between he and the disciples. it is a love by choice. I love you because I want to love you, and because you return that love by choice. It is deeply relational.

    So, when I read that passage, I believe as you have stated that Jesus was intentionally trying to help Peter understand "how" he loved Jesus. But here is a paraphrase of how my new understanding of this passage may play out.

    Jesus: Peter do you care about me, regardless of how I feel about you?

    Peter: Not only do I love you, but I consider you a brother, you are dearer to me than a friend, as important as my own flesh and blood.

    Jesus: Peter are you sure that you care about me, regardless of how I feel about you?

    Peter: Jesus, you are hurting me – my love for you is more than that – I love you as myself (see Aristotle). You are dear to me, and I thought you felt the same! Aren't we brothers?

    Jesus: Peter, are you sure you love me as a brother, as your own flesh? Do we really have that kind of relationship?

    Peter: Jesus, how can you doubt? Yes, I know I denied you, but if I could I'd take it back! Of course I love you as much as a person could care about someone else – we are more than friends, more than brothers, we are of the same womb – not by birth but by choice. Yes, I love you – how can you not know this?

    Jesus: Peter, if we truly have that kind of relationship, then love my sheep that way too, and follow me wherever I go – don't abandon me again.

    Same introspection as you describe, just a different point of view on how this word-play may have unfolded.

    • that paraphrase really sheds a different light on the passage. thanks!

      it was also interesting, as i was looking into the meanings of the Greek love terms, i almost stared at the meaning of agape as "love for food"… and you also mentioned "love for a car"…

      hmmm… 🙂 more food for thoughts 🙂

  • cool – you mentioned food twice there. Hungry?

    • hahaha. actually… no. it's odd usually i am hungry around this time) but i guess my mind is overfed with thoughts and therefore the stomach doesn't get the priority 😀

      some tea would be great, but then it's 12AM over here, so i should call it a night…

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