John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
God’s desire is that we grow and increase in every area of our life, but especially in our love for others. That’s because love is the greatest thing, the only thing that matters in eternity, and is the one thing we can do to bring glory to God.
Jesus gave this instruction to his disciples at the last supper just after Judas had left to desert him. In his enthusiasm, Peter declares that he will 'lay down his life' for Jesus. He was sure that he would not desert his Lord, never mind deny him. Unfortunately that's just what he did do.
Now fast forward a little to John 21:15-17 Jesus has died and is raised to life, and is now making a beachside breakfast for his disciples as they finish their night of fishing. After eating Jesus asks Peter a direct question; 'do you love me more than these?'
'You know I love you' Peter urges. But I imagine his head started to hang low as he recalled the painful memory of his failure. The once confident, outspoken apostle now probably squirmed uncomfortably under the guilt and shame of his denial. Once destined to be the Rock of the Christian Church, now crumbled and crushed, he had retreated to his former profession of fishing.
Then, with three simple words, "Feed my lambs", Jesus forgives, dispenses guilt, and qualifies him to get back into ministry!
Maybe a stunned Peter continued to keep his head low, his eyes avoiding the face of His saviour, but fixed on the freshly scarred nail pierced hands tending the morning barbecue.
A second time Jesus asks “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
The words hung heavy in the air. Jesus wasn't simply asking for love in the English sense of the word. In the English language, whether we're talking shoes, husbands, food or Jesus, we use the same limited word 'love'. But God in his wisdom wrote the NT in Greek, which has different words for different types or levels of love.
Here Jesus is using the word 'Agape' which is the highest, purest form of love. Love that is unconditional, unending, unmeasurable, sacrificial and perfect. But Peter replies using 'phileo' a lower, friendly, family, familiar kind of love. He knew very well, his love didn't measure up, didn't compare with Christ's love.
The stinging shame of failure and condemning guilt caused him to retreat. Retreat to fishing fish instead of men. Retreat to being Simon instead of Peter. Retreat from laying down his life to laying down his ministry. Retreat to giving up, making do, getting by, living in guilt.
Retreating from Agape he responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you.”
“Take care of my sheep.” This time is a promotion from lambs to sheep!
Then just as is characteristic of Jesus, he comes down to Peters level of understanding. Using the same language as Peter, he asks a third time, "do you (phileo) love me?". Now they are in agreement, on the same level. It's not that Jesus now loves Peter less, but in grace offers to join Peter at the level he's at. 'I know you can't love me the way that I love you, so I want you to love me the way that you can'. Like the small boys' loaves & fish, He takes Peter's Phileo limited love, and puts it to use in His Kingdom.... In Gods hands, Peters love will grow as he serves.
Jesus' commission for Peter still has not changed, but Peter has. He now understands the vast chasm between his limited love and Christ's all forgiving, all encompassing eternal, divine love. The gap is wide. Yet Jesus still commissions him, still trusts him, still hasn't given up on him.
Jesus never ever gives up on loving us. No matter what. It remains constant, consistent and complete. Love's gotta start somewhere! No matter how dented and battered it is. Hand it to Jesus to grow and use for His Kingdom in aspiring to loving others.
Start where you are. See a lamb and help it. Find a sheep and feed it. As we love others with the minuscule love we have, it will grow from glory, to glory, to glory.
John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”