A Divine Love Note
Karen Ehman

"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 everything; you know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'" John 21:17 (ESV)

Long before the current craze of texting messages back and forth on cell phones, in my junior high we had our own way of communicating with peers: it was called passing notes. When the teacher wasn't looking, we shot a simple, folded piece of lined notebook paper to our friend sitting a few rows back. We crossed our fingers and hoped the teacher's second set of eyes—the ones in the back of her head—were focused elsewhere. Otherwise, our note just might get read to the entire class!

While notes from our girlfriends were fun, what really got our excitement up was when the folded and scribbled message was from a boy. Usually it read something like this:

Do you like me? Check one: Yes ___ No ___ Just as a friend ___

Of course we would think long and hard before taking our pencil and marking our answer. Then it was passing time again; back to the boy who had posed the all-important question. It seems to me in today's scripture Jesus was sending a divine love note to Peter, quizzing him about the strength of his love for Him.

We pick up the story a few verses earlier when after breakfast, Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Peter seems a bit surprised and says, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus then tells him to feed His lambs. No sooner had he finished talking than He asks Peter the same question again. Then, a third time. Each time it appears as if dear Peter answers the same way. In a nutshell, "Ah…yeah Lord. You know everything. You know I love you. Haven't I made that clear? Why the twenty questions?"

This passage of scripture used to puzzle me, until one day I discovered, with the help of my husband's old Greek textbook from college, that Peter and Jesus were using two different Greek words for love in this famous exchange.

The word rendered 'love' in our English Bibles here is really two distinct words. One is "phileo" and one is "agape." Phileo is defined as brotherly and tender affection; true friendship. It is based on common interests. Agape, on the other hand, is sacrificial and giving love; a love that can't stand being apart from the other. It isn't based on having a common interest with someone. It loves the other not for what they do, but for who they are. It is the laying down your life for another kind of love.

It is helpful to know that the first two times Jesus posed the question to Peter, He asked him "Do you agape me?" Peter answered, "Of course I phileo you!" It was as if Jesus was asking, "…so you really, sacrificially love me, based on Who I am? And you'd gladly lay down your life for me?" And instead, Peter was checking the box that said "Just as a friend!"

The third time Jesus posed the question, He asked Peter, "Do you phileo me?" And Peter truthfully answered "yes." Now, before we are too hard on ole' Simon Peter, we must assume that He indeed did grow to love our Lord in the agape sense of the word. History tells us that Peter met his death by crucifixion. However, he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as the Lord, so he was crucified upside down!

What about us today, in 2009? If Jesus passed us a divine love note asking if we love (agape) Him, which box would we check? Undoubtedly, many people today would scoff and check the "No" box. There are millions who care nothing of Christ and His love. Others would check "Yes." They are fervent Christ followers who love until the end. I am reminded of many modern day martyrs who have willingly given up their life for Christ.

I fear that many of us would check the "Just as a friend" box. We love, but just to a point. We aren't afraid to hang around Jesus, we just don't want to be asked to share in His sufferings! Oh may God turn our temporal phileo fascination with Jesus into an all-out, agape, laying-down-our-life, love for the Lord.

Pencils sharpened? He is asking us this question today!

Dear Lord, I don't want to be just Your casual friend. I want to love You sacrificially and passionately. Help me learn how. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

A Love Worth Giving: Living in the Overflow of God's Love by Max Lucado

For more on loving God, visit Karen’s blog

Application Steps:
Take time this week to be encouraged by reading the life stories of some great heroes of the faith who truly loved God. Try Jim Elliot, Fanny Crosby, Dwight L. Moody, Bill Bright, Mother Teresa or William Wilberfource.

Reflections:
How would you rate your love of Christ right now? Cold? Lukewarm? On fire?

Was there a time in your walk with the Lord that your love and devotion for Him was very strong? Why? What happened to change it? More importantly, what steps do you need to take to rekindle that fire again?

Power Verses:
John 14:23, "Jesus replied, 'If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'" (NIV)

© 2009 by Karen Ehman. All rights reserved.

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Desiree said...

Wow that was so interesting! I didn't know that! Thank you so much for sharing.

Blogger Joyce said...

Thank you for talking about "the meat" of that verse. I needed to be reminded!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing I had also been told about this passage is that the question was asked 3x symbolically like the rooster crowing, allowing Peter to fully realize the depth of Christ's understanding and forgiveness.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was, shall we say, rebuked by the Lord last week about my attitude when helping someone in need. I was obediant, but grieved that my heart was not willing to truly love this person. The Lord brought to mind the bit of scripture "Feed my sheep." I love the Lord, but like the devotion mentions, sometimes on my own terms~when its convenient and "neat." God is teaching me that loving him does require sharing in his sufferings, but in return we are given not only salvation, but his steadfast love as well.

So, thank you for this devotion. Today was the first day I have heard of your ministry and explored your website. How fitting that the Lord should reinforce his teachings in my life! I pray that all the women your ministry reaches will realize that even when helping people is sticky, we are called to follow Christ and serve him as a result of our love for him!

Anonymous Gretchen said...

I will get on a plane tomorrow and you better believe that I'll be giving every bird the stink eye, if it comes near my plane! I have been struggling with this tongue topic this past week and my excuses list has been a MILE long. Thank you so much for this devotion! I have run a marathon before and I AM NO RUNNER! I needed a guide to help me do what does not come naturally to me and what, if given the choice, I would NOT choose to do with my time. But I was inspired by an 80 year old woman who ran a marathon, in 4hrs, 30 min., so that was my goal, to finish and to finish in that time. I needed a very specific plan, I found one on the internet and I went from 0 to 26.2 miles this way. I heard the Holy Spirit is like a marathon trainer. But I didn't get it until this morning. I love your, Get Intentional Week, broken down by steps you will take today, that I see I CAN take today as well. And with each step, each day I can develop the endurance, and stamina to run the marathon of life as led by the Holy Spirit. God whispered to my heart while reading your devotion today that the steps you wrote for how to overcome the "small but destructive" tongue was Him, training me, in the way he knows I need: small, manageable steps that will help me finish the BIG race in a respectable fashion! I don't know if my comment makes sense. But I wanted to thank you for following God's prompting, living a life, that could be used by God and others as a marathon training guide to help us do what does not come naturally or help us do what we wouldn't CHOOSE to do, but we do it because we can see God's success in you and we can trust that your experience with God in your life will help us achieve success in our own race. Thank you! May God continue to bless you and directly speak into your life as you minister to others! I am sure my husband and kids will want to thank you after this day and this week..... as well!

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