15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
This hit me like a ton of bricks. I have always somehow felt superior to Peter when I read about how Jesus kept asking Peter if Peter loved Jesus. Three times Jesus asked, twice using the word “agape”, with Peter responding with the word “phileo”. Finally Jesus, coming down to meet Peter where he was, asked if Peter “phileo’d Jesus, to which Peter responded, “Lord, You know I do”.
The two different words used mean two different things. Phileo, which is what Peter professed to feel toward Jesus, means brotherly love (Philadelphia, city of brotherly love), friendship, one walking alongside another. In C. S. Lewis’ book, “The Four Loves”, his definition of phileo is the strong bond existing between people who share common interest or activity. He also says there are two main differences between types of love: “need-love” (such as the love of a child for its mother) as distinguished from “gift-love” (epitomized by God’s love for humanity).
Agape means giving of yourself for the benefit of another and obviously falls under the second category. There is a big difference between the two, and if I am honest about it, most of the time I feel phileo, companionship, need-love for the Lord, not agape. Agape love means that I am willing to give up what is important to me any time God asks me to, and honestly, I am just too selfish, wanting what I want most of the time, to really be able to say I agape Jesus.
Now I have a newfound respect for Peter, because he knew himself better than I have. He knew He didn’t love Jesus with a sacrificial love at that moment – but he did later when the Holy Spirit descended upon him at Pentecost. That is a hopeful lesson in itself – that when I am controlled by the Spirit of God, I CAN love Jesus sacrificially, and give up what He asks of me, which for me includes spending more time worshipping Him and resting in His presence.
I rarely give up my busy-ness to stay still with and devote my entire mind, soul and spirit to Him. I fight with Him when He asks me to give stuff up. I guess I am entirely too carnal most of the time. However I won’t beat myself up about it. Instead, I will remind myself that I need to spend more undiluted time and focus on Him. When it comes to truly loving God, it will have to happen “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord.” Zech 4:6.