Something that I find very obnoxious is redundancy. Often times I am convinced that it wastes time and makes me feel like incompatantcy is either suggested or found in one or the other party. So you can imagine my annoyance with this little story in John 21:15-18.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you 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 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.“
Why the heck is Jesus so repetitive and redundant?!
He asks Peter (Simon) whether or not he loves him three times. And he tells him to feed or take care of his sheep the same amount of times.
“Well today I was gifted with a little insight into this mystery and I would love to humbly share it with you, if you don’t mind”, she said, sipping her Starbucks iced coffee daintily. (See what I did there? For Thirsty Thursday?)!
First of all, in the Greek translation, “love” has different words and meanings. I will give you a brief run down, but I would probably check out C.S. Lewis and his book The Four Loves if you’re interested.
- Agápe means love in a “spiritual” sense. It often refers to a general affection or deeper sense of “true unconditional love” which is selfless; it gives and expects nothing in return. (The love of God).
- Éros is “physical” passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. Romantic, pure emotion without the balance of logic. “Love at first sight”. Eros does not have to be sexual in nature, but describing love you have for someone more than just a friend.
- Philia “mental” love. It means affectionate regard or friendship in both ancient and modern Greek. This type of love has give and take. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity.
- Storge means “affection” in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. In fact, it is almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.
In the Greek translation, here’s how this conversation with Jesus would go down:
JC: Peter, do you AGAPE me more than these?
Pete: Lord, you know that I PHILIA you.
JC: Peter, do you AGAPE me?”
Pete: Yes, Lord, you know that I PHILIA you.
JC: Peter, do you PHILIA me?
Pete: (a little annoyed and grieved at being asked a third time) Lord, you know all things; you know that I PHILIA you!
JC: Then feed my sheep.
Now, Peter and Jesus didn’t speak Greek, so they wouldn’t have had this quibble over words, but what we have to ask ourselves is why did the writer, John, use the distinction between the two loves?
I believe all scripture is God-breathed and profitable, and I sure hope you do too. So, there is some reason as to why these two words are used in the Greek translation, and I believe is is to get us to understand a little more about who Jesus Christ is.
Jesus, after using one word for love, changed his words in order to meet Peter where he was at that time. Peter was clearly not at the level of Agape love (perhaps because he had just denied Jesus earlier), and so Jesus made the adjustment, came down to Peter’s level with Philia love while at the same time still making it clear that Agape love was the goal for his disciples.
Now, isn’t that beautiful? And isn’t that the way God always works?
He points out the facts of what we should do. He will do that forever, and I sure am glad because I would really be lost with our clear direction! He shows us the kind of love He has for us and wants us to experience the deepest level of for His glory and for our own precious experience of Him.
…and yet… if for some reason we’re not there yet, if for some reason we just can’t get to that deep level in our spiritual walk, God does not just brush us aside and roll his eyes at how immature and stupid we are (even if we truly are immature and stupid). No! God comes down to our level and gives us a hand, gives us direction to get further, and loves us with all of Himself so that we might get to that deeper level.
Sometimes we are like Peter. We love God, we really do, but there is sin in our lives that is keeping us from really truly experiencing God as fully as He wants us to. But instead of sin creating an unbridgeable gap between us and God, Jesus bridges the gap for us.
I mean, isn’t that why Jesus was sent down in the first place? To not only come down to our human level of experience, but to rectify our sin?
Peter sinned against God three huge times by denying Him in His final hour. This sin put a block up around Peter so he was not able to love God in the Agape sense. If Jesus, who truly deserves the full, selfless, godly Agape love, did not come down and adjust to accept his Philia love, I don’t think Peter would have gone on to do all of God’s incredible work as shown in the book of Acts. He would have no hope of even understanding how to get to Agape love unless Jesus gave him instructions on how to do so (“feed my sheep”).
Now, if God will do this for us, come down and meet us where we’re at, how much more should we do this for others?
Are you struggling with another believer who “just isn’t getting it”? Are you frustrated with your loved one who is stuck in sin or guilt or confusion?
Do what Jesus did. Get on their level. Accept where they are in their walk. Help them in their journey, not by pointing out direction from above, but by coming alongside them and showing them the way.
Perhaps you are the one who needs to be met at your level. Know and trust that Jesus is with you. His Holy Spirit is on you and will guide you to the next step further in your faith. You do not have to work your way up to God. In fact, you will fail miserably if you try! God will meet you where you are and take you higher, just as He did for Peter, Paul, the woman at the well, and countless others!
Today, for Thirsty Thursday, get thirsty for God’s love. His Agape love!