Sunday, July 15, 2007
Do you really love Jesus?
After missing one Sunday service last week, I am glad to be back this Sunday in my faith community again. SH told me that the sermon I missed last week was good. I got the recorded version of it and he was right. I have posted it here.
The speaker for this Sunday is Peter Desmond Wee and he shared with us God's word from John 21:15-17. His message calls us to reevaluate our love for our Lord. Do we really love or are we merely paying lip service?
John 21:15-17 (NASB)
15So 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."
16He 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."
17He 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.
These verses are among the lot of Jesus accounts that amazes me. Everytime I read them, I am reminded of the wonderful love and grace of our Lord, and I'd end up in repentance and in worship.
Unless otherwise indicated, I refer to Leon Morris's The Gospel According to John (NICNT) (1995), p.767-72.
This passage is to be taken in conjunction with Peter's threefold denial of his Lord. Just as he has just a short while ago denied all connection with the Lord in the presence of the enemies, now in the presence of his friends after the meal, he restores and affirms his love for the Lord. After the denial, Peter must have been in a bad position with his fellow disciples and this triple affirmation and triple commission gave him almost an "official" sanction to his restoration. Oh, how wonderful is the love of God!
Jesus was having a meal with the disciples and at the conclusion of the meal, Jesus addressed a question to Peter. There is an air of solemnity: John used Simon's full name, Simon Peter and reported that Jesus used the expanded form, Simon of John. (Even though Jesus gave Simon the name Peter, his habit is to call him Simon.) The question is therefore serious: "Do you love me more than these?"
The term "these" is undefined. It can mean:
(1) Do you love me more than these men love me?
(2) Do you love me more than you love these men?
(3) Do you love me more than you love these things?
All three are possible:
(1) Peter has explicitly professed a devotion to Jesus that exceeded that of the other disciples. Jesus may therefore be asking him in the light what has happened, does he still thinks his love for Christ exceeds that of the others?
(2) Peter has denied Jesus three times. His devotion to him now must be held in suspect. But Peter has remained with his fellows and gone fishing with them. So where did his supreme affection now lie? With his companion with whom he resorted or Jesus whom he denied?
(3) Peter's fishing equipment is his livelihood, his future. Does he love Christ more than his life?
Peter in answering Jesus dropped the comparison. If it is against the things he hold in life, it would not matter but it does if it has to do with the people.
Peter has to face up to this one very important question and his reply is an ungrudging affirmative. "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you." "You" is emphatic, appealing to the all-knowing Lord.
A problem is posed by the use of different words for "love". Peter uses the same verb throughout, phileo, but Jesus uses a different verb in his first 2 questions, agapao.
Jesus's Question...........Peter's Response
Some have maintain that the word Jesus uses in the first 2 questions denotes a higher kind of love while Peter's word points to a lower form of love, perhaps no more than a liking. If seen in this way, Jesus questions Peter as to whether he has a profound love for him and Peter not daring to claim or commit so much, replies that he is fond of Jesus. Then in the third question, Jesus descends to Peter's level. Other commentators reverse the meaning of the 2 words: Jesus asking if Peter's love is a cool affection and Peter answers that it is more than cool, that he has a warm love. Then in the last question, Jesus rises to Peter's level. These 2 interpretations cancels each other out!
Keener, in The Bible Background Commentary, New Testament (p.319), states that the 2 Greek words here are used interchangeably elsewhere in John and generally in the literature of this period. The point here is not the different terms but that the love for Jesus must be demonstrated by obedience.
Carson, in Exegetical Fallacies (p.28-33, 47-53), discusses about "theroot fallacy" and "problems surrounding synonyms and componential analysis". He felt that there is no intended distinction in the use of the 2 different Greek verbs. For one, agapao does not always refer to a "good" love or a sacrificial love or a divine love, and certainly there is nothing in the root to convey such a meaning. For example, in 2 Sam 13 (LXX), both the agapao and the agape cognate can refer to Amnon's incestuous rape of his half sister Tamar; in 2 Tim 4:10, when Demas forsook Paul, it was because he agapao the world; John 3:35 records the Father's love for the Son using the verb agapao, John 5:20 repeats the thought but uses phileo without any discernible shift in meaning. Carson therefore concluded that "there is nothing intrinsic to the verb agapao or the noun agape to prove its real meaning or hidden meaning refers to some special kind of love."
John has this habit of introducing slight variations in all sorts of places without real difference of meaning. Morris says "there is no reason, on the grounds of Johannine usage, for seeing difference in meaning between the 2 verbs." More Jesus and Peter would have been speaking in Aramaic with John rendering it in Greek when he wrote the Gospel.
When it comes to the commissioning on the other hand, some have drawn from this an indication that Peter is charged to do more things than one and to do them both to the lamb and sheep. But most people take the variation as no more than stylistic.
Whatever it is, Peter has denied Christ 3 times, he has now affirmed his love 3 times and been given the commission 3 times. His position of leadership is now completely restored. This shows that whatever mistakes of the past we may have done, Jesus is willing to restore us. Just that the basic qualification for Christian service is love. Other qualities may be desirable but love is completely indispensible.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
Carson, D.A. Exegetical Fallacies. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1996.
Keener, C. S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Picture from The Salvation Army