On the last day of a Gateway to Freedom workshop, Jonathan Daugherty spends some time walking through Peter’s encounter with Jesus found in John 21:15-22. I believe this passage has so much to say to all of us and have spent some time contemplating on it recently.
Much has been made of John’s use of different words for “love” in these verses. Since Peter and Jesus would have been speaking Aramaic, we don’t know what exact words they were using. However, since John had witnessed the conversation, we can trust his translation of it in the Greek he used.
Here is the passage with the different words for love explained. Agape carries with it the understanding of divine love, good will, esteem. Phileo (like Philadelphia) is brotherly love.
15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you agape Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you agape Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I phileo You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you phileo Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you phileo Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I phileo You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”
18 “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”
20 Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus agape’d following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
After Peter failed to express agape love for Jesus after the first two questions, Jesus still called Peter to serve Him in ministry. The third time, Jesus condescended to Peter’s level. “Do you phileo Me?” I believe Peter was grieved because of his shame. He knew that his actions had clearly shown he only brotherly-loved Jesus. And yet, in the Lord’s grace, Jesus was seeking to restore Peter.
After admitting his failing to Jesus, He lifts Peter up. “Peter, you weren’t able to die with Me because of your fear and lack of love. But that will change. There will come a day when you will do it willingly, and with great love! Growth will come.”
In typical Peter-fashion, he didn’t sit in this amazing revelation. Instead, he pointed to John. John had stayed with Jesus through the whole crucifixion. He was entrusted with the care of Jesus’ Mother. Obviously, if Peter was going to grow into a man faithful enough to die for Jesus, John was going to be a superstar. Just look at where he was starting from compared to Peter!
And yet Jesus wouldn’t let Peter get distracted. John’s story was John’s story. Peter’s was Peter’s. It was never a competition. Peter didn’t need to compare himself to John. He simply needed to grow in faith and love as he followed his Lord and Savior - as the two men encouraged each other and many more in the faith.
No matter where you came from, the Lord is not done with you yet: He is inviting you to keep moving forward on the Transformation Pathway: Heal → Grow → Share. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
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