“So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15-17 NASB)
We don’t see it with our all encompassing word, love, but in the Greek, 2 different words are used in this passage: agapao and phileo.
Most know this, but for those who don’t, agapao is God’s kind of deep, abiding love. Like the Father’s, it flows from who we are as empowered by Him and lands on all, whether love for God or man. It is not gifted by merit of the recipient, but flows freely because of who we are in Christ, thus it loves enemy as well as friend.
Jesus, in verse 15 and 16 uses agapao. The amplified version defines this love as being “with reasoning, INTENTIONAL, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father.” Thus, this love functions solely out of devotion to God who imparts His nature to us, then serving Him out of love as a bondservant, we love others in like fashion.
Throughout this passage, Peter uses “phileo”, which is the affectionate care one has for a good friend. Problem is that this love is too readily subject to the merit system, and does not extend to anyone that is not considered a friend. This love is too easily flesh led and dictated.
Again, the AMPC version defines phileo as “deep, INSTINCTIVE, personal affection, as for a close friend.” Jesus is telling Peter, “ If you agapao me, feed my sheep (“out of that love,” I believe is implied).” But Peter can’t comprehend an Agape’ type love: not yet, anyway. So Jesus, in verse 17, brings it down to Peter’s level, asking, “Do you phileo Me?”
This tells me that Jesus, who agapaos us, loves us enough to accept the love we give. But what joy it is to Him and what benefit to us and others, when, in the power and provision of the Spirit, we possess agapao. How much easier it is to serve God and man when this God-love flows to and through us like a river of life.
Father, empower our love today, making us to be love just as You are love. In Jesus’ mighty name and authority we pray, amen.