PURSUING THE ETERNAL WORD
The Bible teaching ministry of John Lifflander

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I LOVE YOU LORD - REALLY

Loving God does not come naturally - our natural inclination rather is to rebel against Him and blame Him for everything in our lives that we do not like. The new birth cures much of this, but as with all sin, we are not completely free of it until we leave this world. Others have taught on the following Scripture, but let us look at it again, realizing that it can communicate to us some unique aspects of love that pertain to our own relationship with God. Remember that Peter has failed Jesus, and this interaction with the Lord signifies his restoration to ministry.

"So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’" John 21:15 (NKJV)

Peter here is appealing to Christ's omniscience. He has learned to distrust his own judgment in a matter so personal and solemn. He has learned, undoubtedly, the lesson of Jeremiah 17:9:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who

can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)

Evidently, he has also realized something we all need to learn. That is, although we are supposed to love God and our neighbor, we instead love ourselves. Peter's self-love and high opinion of himself are recorded in the book of Mark:

"Peter said to Him, ‘Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be." Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.’ But he spoke more vehemently, ‘If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!’ And they all said likewise." Mark 14:29-31 (NKJV)

Certainly Peter remembers these words of his, and also how he failed Jesus by disowning Him after Jesus was arrested. And now he has changed, and exhibits deep humility - indicating that he has learned an important lesson about himself. When Christ said "do you love Me more than these" He was probably referring to the other disciples, for before Peter failed he had the attitude that even if they stumbled, he would not. But now he realizes his own frailty.

The Different Types of Love

Peter also communicates that he doubts himself able to love God by the way he answers Jesus. He does not answer Christ with the same word for love that Christ uses in addressing him. There several words in the Bible for love in the Greek, but the three predominant ones are eros, phileo and agape. From eros, we get the word erotic, which means sexual love. Phileo, from which we get the name of the city of Philadelphia (known as the city of brotherly love) means more to "like" than to love. The third word, agape, means god-like love or love which is shown even to the unlovable.

Another way of defining phileo and agape is to contrast them. Phileo might be considered love that is given "because of", whereas agape is love that is given "in spite of". It is easy to love someone "because of" if they have the attributes that draw our affection. However, few people continue to elicit it. Consequently, relationships fall apart which are not based on agape, which is love "in spite of."

In marriage, our love for our spouse must develop into agape, which we might call spiritual love, or the marriage is doomed as the flesh fails. There will always be someone more physically attractive than our spouses, or even someone with a more pleasing personality (or so it seems). That is why our love must transcend the physical, and even go beyond the other person's failures. Otherwise, we have only a foundation of sand and not of rock.

"He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’ He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, 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, Feed My sheep.’" John 21:16-17 (NKJV)

The first two times that Jesus asks Peter if He loves Him, Jesus uses the word agape, but Peter answers back phileo. However, the third time Jesus asks him, Jesus lowers the type of love He is asking for, and also uses phileo. Of course, we also know that Peter has denied Jesus three times, and this is one reason why Jesus asks him three times if He loves Him. It is evidently a process of reinstatement for ministry. However, instead of making promises that he perhaps cannot keep, as he did before the crucifixion, Peter will only agree to what he knows he can do - and that excludes the god-like love that Jesus is asking him for.

Nevertheless, let we also see from this passage something very wonderful, and that is that without question Christ is desirous of our love. Men often seek the friendship of those who are above them in abilities, or station or power, but Jesus does just the opposite. He condescends to ask our love. And He is speaking here to each hearer of the word, that is each of us, when He says, "Do you love me?" Remarkably we find that it actually matters to God that we love Him.

Loving God Freely

Not only that, but He wants this love to manifest itself in our serving Him without a sense of duty in which we feel put out and are resentful. He does not want that kind of motive for our actions.

When a friend does a wonderful, generous thing for us, does it not make us want to do something nice for them? Recently some of our Christian friends helped us do something, and my wife was very grateful. She decided to invite them over for a dinner, which she spent much time cooking for. I asked her if she was overdoing it, but she replied that she desired to do the work, because of her love for them. It was a labor of love.

We see then, that agape, or altruistic love, is not beyond us when He gives us the ability to show it. I know a man who is very clean-cut and straight-looking (not to say that this makes him better than others). However, in churches God continually brings to him the scruffiest, roughest looking people to minister to. His natural inclination is to be repelled by some of these people, but this, my friends, is where the "rubber meets the road" so to speak. It is that love "in spite of" that everyone in the world is looking for, but cannot find. And God is seeking to pour it out through His people. Remember this when someone who does not look or act or dress like you comes into your life.

Love on the Narrow Road

In the next verse of Peter's conversation with the Lord, Jesus says something to Peter that many feel is quite unrelated to their initial conversation. However, it has everything to do with what has just transpired:

"’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.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’" John 21:18-19 (NKJV)

This Scripture has a deep meaning for all of us. First, as we mature in Christ, we find that the road is a bit narrower than we had first anticipated. In obedience to Him we find that there is a spiritual path that will keep us in His joy, but that it requires a focus on Christ that encompasses everything we do, not just part of what we do. We also find out that many of our dreams and desires will not come true in this world, and we must cast them down that we might walk where He wishes, not where we wish. The word "walk" in Greek means "the way one lives, or "the manner of life."

Moreover, we also find that we must learn not only to exhibit the agape "in spite of" love toward others, but we must learn to do so with God, Himself. For as we discover that the bed of roses and the great plans we may have desired are not coming to pass as we wished, our love for God must shift to "in spite of" instead of "because of" also. Otherwise, we will become bitter and have no love for Him at all. And, although we may fear that we cannot exhibit this type of love toward Him, even as Peter did, He is able to give it to us, even as He imputes to us His righteousness although we have none of our own.

"In Spite Of" Love Takes Up the Cross

It is widely known through historical records that Peter was eventually crucified as Jesus was. The difference was that when the time came Peter said he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Christ, and requested that he be turned upside down on the cross. And so this man who at first failed, became the exemplification of "in spite of" love.

And so it is with us. The true test of our faith will always be "in spite of". The false teachers who say we should have everything we speak with our mouth have missed this understanding completely. In their own selfishness and fear of not being able to love Christ "in spite of" the things they do not get in life, they have perverted the truth.

The true test of faith is believing that God will give us this type of love. Let us pray for this for He wants to grant it to us. Let us not be guilty of James 4:2 in this matter: "Yet you do not have because you do not ask." Are we asking God for healing and everything else but this? If we ask Jesus what is the most important commandment, He will say the same thing He did almost two thousand years ago:

"’Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."'" Matthew 22:36-39 (NKJV)

This, then is the very essence of Christianity, and if we have it, it will be much easier for us to obey the other commandments. Although this type of love may seem distant to us, we must remember that God is not a hard taskmaster, and He would not command us to achieve what is impossible for us. Could it be that we have just loved ourselves too much to even ask Him to give us love for others, and for Him?


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