It's Greek to Me
"Lovest Thou Me More than These"
(Copyright 1997, Evangel Tabernacle Assembly of God Church, Fresno, CA)
"Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon son of Jonas lovest thou me more than these?He saidth unto him, Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee." John 21:15
When I was about 15 or 16, I heard a minister speak on this scripture. It had always confused me. Peter clearly tells Jesus three times that he loves Him, Jesus doesn't seem to believe him. I had always heard that Jesus asked Peter three times because Peter denied him thrice. That could have been the case. But the minister showed something deeper by examining the Greek text. I was so impressed that the next week, I checked out a book on Greek from the library. It was the start of my study of this ancient language. I would like to share this explication with you.
First, lets review the story. It's after the resurrection. Jesus appears to the disciples who have went fishing. They experience their second draught of fish. After dinner, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" Peter says, "Yes, Lord you know that I love you." Jesus asks a second time and a third with the same question followed by Jesus command to "Feed my sheep."
The key to understanding this scripture lies in two Greek words: Agape (agape) and (philios) Filios. The Word Agape refers to divine love. It is love which is completely devoted and unconditional. It is not affected by the moment or whether someone is attractive or if they give you a gift or make you feel good. It is love which hangs in there regardless. It is love which gives itself completely to another. It is total, self sacrificing love. Philios, by contrast, is conditional Thayer's Lexicon calls it "an inclination prompted by sense of emotion." Philios happens to you. Agape is a choice. Philios is an emotion. Agape is a commitment.
With that in mind let's see what this scripture literally says in the Greek. Jesus says to Peter, "Peter, do you love(agape)me in the most complete way more than these?" And Peter responds "Lord, you know that I have affection (philios) for you." Jesus is asking Peter if he has total devotion to Him. Peter answers by saying, in essence, you're my friend. Jesus repeats the question and gets the same answer. Finally, Jesus says, "Peter do you have affection (philios) for me." And Peter is grieved because he understands that Jesus is disappointed in him. And I can see Peter hanging his head in shame and saying "Yes, Lord I have affection for you."
Today, Jesus asks that question "Do you love me?" And when we say, "yes," we often mean, "Yes, Lord, I feel affection for you because things are going well for me, and you give me good feelings, and you do things for me." But, that's the natural philios love which demands nothing of us. But what he wants to hear is "Yes Lord, I love you and totally commit myself to you even when things aren't going so well. Even when I don't seem to hear any answers to my prayers, I still love you and remain in your service. Yes, Lord, I want to share your nature which the apostle John says is summed up in one word AGAPE! (I John 4.8)