Grace: Comes Full Circle

– Henry Neufeld

When Jesus and his disciples had finished eating, he asked, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than the others do?” Simon Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do!”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus said.  Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you!”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus told him.  Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him three times if he loved him. So he told Jesus, “Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.”
Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. I tell you for certain that when you were a young man, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will hold out your hands. Then others will wrap your belt around you and lead you where you don’t want to go.”  Jesus said this to tell how Peter would die and bring honor to God. Then he said to Peter, “Follow me!”        John 21:15-19 (CEV)

Jesus had found the disciples on the shore of Lake Galilee.  They had gone back right to where they had started.  They were out fishing on the lake.

I would feel very discouraged if I had taught a group of folks for more than three years, expecting them to take up teaching when I left, and then found that at the first opportunity in my absence, they went back to their old profession.

Jesus doesn’t respond in frustration to people in that way.  Jesus patiently leads people back to the path that he has tried to set them on.  He’s here to remind Peter—along with the rest of the disciples—of what their mission is all about.

Jesus doesn’t talk in terms of respect that they are to show him.  He doesn’t ask them why he has to fix breakfast when he visits a bunch of fishermen.  He doesn’t scold.  But he does question. “Peter, how important am I to you?  Do you really love me?”

Do you ever hear Jesus asking you that question?  “Do you really care about me?  Do you care about the gospel?  Are you thankful that I came and died for you?  Does that thankfulness extend beyond an hour of church time on Sunday morning?”

Our human hearts would lead us to ask, “Well, Jesus, how much time do you want me to spend in church?  Is two hours good enough?”

I suspect that Jesus would ask again, “Do you love me?”

Jesus doesn’t want our love counted in hours in church, or in time spent in Bible study, or in the various things that we like to do that make us feel good and pious and righteous.  He doesn’t want love that is calculated at all.  He gave incalculable love to us.  What is the proper size of the response?  All those things, Bible study, church going, fellowship, listening and meditating, are things that we would do just to be near him—if we loved him.

Coming to the point of love that is a real response to the sacrifice of Jesus will mean that we no longer count and calculate the time we spend with him.  Jesus didn’t talk about the time Peter spent or should spend with him.  Jesus looked at it very differently.  “If you love me, care for the ones I love.  Feed my sheep, feed my lambs.”  John, in his first epistle puts it this way:

But if we say we love God and don’t love each other, we are liars. We cannot see God. So how can we love God, if we don’t love the people we can see?   The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!”                                       1 John 4:20 & 21 (CEV)

John got the message that Jesus was giving to Peter.  It’s not how good or active we look.  The activities we do to be in the presence of Jesus are just the result of love’s desire to be with the object of love.  We long to be with Jesus.  We don’t count the hours.  If we are counting the hours, perhaps there is something wrong.

Jesus asks that we have an active love for those he loves; that we share his heart for other people.

“Do you really love me?  Will you feed my sheep until it costs you what it cost me?”

This entry was posted in 1 John, John. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Grace: Comes Full Circle

  1. David Williamson says:


    The 1st two times Jesus asked the question, it is “agapao” in the Greek. The 3rd time it is “phileo”.

    Would you care to comment on the significance of Jesus changing the verb on the 3rd time he asked?

    Peter’s reaction was probably not only because Jesus asked him 3 times, but also because he “watered down” the love commitment the 3rd time. Almost like saying, “Well, Peter, if you don’t LOVE me, do you at least LIKE me?”

  2. I was taught the interpretation you mention of the 2x use of agapao and one time of phileo in Greek class. The difficulty, in my view, is that it tends to treat the two words as quite distinct, when actually there is an overlap in meaning. You might think of the range of each word as circles with more than half of each circle overlapping the other.

    Following the context, it seems to me that John is varying the word usage for love. Note, for example, that when Jesus asks Peter the first time whether he loves him (agapao) Peter responds the Jesus knows Peter loves (phileo) him. He also uses synonyms for feeding/tending and also for sheep.

    I would suggest that, since Jesus already heard Peter respond with phileo to the first question, it doesn’t fit well with the context for him to switch to phileo as a fallback position.

    It should be noted, however, that my view is not universally accepted; you’ll hear the other taught pretty frequently.

Comments are closed.