By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
Our small group was studying the passage in John 21 where Jesus commissioned Peter to be a shepherd for His sheep. I hadn’t considered the next part before, where Jesus leads Peter to analyze how much he loved Jesus! We spent the rest of the evening discussing how deeply we felt our own love for Jesus. We all want to know more. Please help!
I’d like to answer your question by contrasting the maturing of Peter’s love for Jesus with how much Mary of Bethany loved Jesus. We’ll look at three key questions:
- Do you know if your love for Christ is genuine?
- How can you grow more deeply in that love?
- How do you rekindle that love if you’ve lost it?
My goal is that we all may be better equipped to evaluate and deepen our love for Jesus at any price.
Don’t be in a hurry. Take your time. Put yourself in Peter’s and Mary’s sandals. Take time to evaluate the question, “How much do I love Jesus?”
Let’s start by looking at Peter’s love for Jesus.
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A Look into Peter’s Faltering Love
Peter’s love needed rekindling. After all, he denied Jesus three times the night before the crucifixion. In John 21, we see that Peter’s done it again! He’s given up on Jesus and returned to Galilee to reopen his fishing business.
Jesus met Peter on the beach after His resurrection. He asked three soul-searching questions to help him understand just how much he loved Jesus and why that matters so much.
Read with me:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)
Peter hadn’t shown His love for Jesus well. His behaviors spoke for themselves. So, Jesus challenged him, calling him to “care for the sheep,” or to lead the church.
Surely, we can do better, knowing Jesus’ love for us and His call on our lives. Starting with, what’s true about love?
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Two Things Are Always True about Love
1. Love always expresses itself
I dare you to fall in love and not do something about it.
A little child plucks a daisy with no stem and comes running up to mom. Why? Because love always expresses itself.
I recall the response of one teenage girl at summer camp who was asked to define love. As she stumbled all over her words, I thought about how love might feel to that 15-year-old girl.
“It’s an inward-ish-ness; no, it’s an outward-ish-ness, no, it’s an all-over-ish-nish-ness!”
Follow that girl 10 years later as she sits with her firstborn, wiping a fevered brow all through the night. Then ask her, what is love? She’ll probably tell you that love is more giving than feeling.
If you say you love Jesus and do nothing about it, I’ll tell you that it’s just not true!
2. Love always costs
I made $25 per week preaching in a small country church during college. I had money to purchase preaching books, and gasoline and car repairs and insurance, and go to a few baseball games, but just barely!
Then, I met Julie. She took me for everything else that I had left: movies, restaurants, flowers for Valentine’s Day, birthday presents and on and on.
It wasn’t too long until she cost me everything that I had..but she was worth it!
When we truly love Jesus, we can’t help but express it. And when we truly love Jesus, it costs everything that we have.
Remember in the upper room, Peter declared that he loved Jesus better than all the other disciples? He declared, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I will never go away. I’m ready to die for you.” (John 13:37 NLT)
Shortly thereafter, Peter turned and walked away from Jesus. The cost of following was too high. So what does the Bible say about kinds, or levels, of love?
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The Bible Uses Four Different Words to Describe ‘Love’
We use the word “love” for many things. We might say, “I love dogs; I love school; I love my girlfriend; I love my work; and I love to travel.” We use the word “love” every time! We don’t discriminate.
However, Greek has four different words that expand the meaning of what we call “love.”
First, the word “Storge” might be translated as the word “like.” Think “I like chicken; I like my car; I like chocolate ice cream; or, “I like my dog.”
Next, the word “Eros” refers to erotic sex or erotic love.
“Philos” basically means “close friend.” It describes “brotherly love.” This is also the word often used to describe marriage between husband and wife.
Finally, “Agape” is a love of deepest intimacy, vulnerability, sacrifice, and devotion. It is used to describe the intimate love of God. Agape is the word Jesus used whenever He talked about love!
Agape is sacrificial, giving love that demands nothing in return: “For God so “agape’d” the world that he gave his only begotten son” (John 3:16, paraphrased). Agape loves the unlovable. Agape never quits.
Jesus Evaluated Peter’s Love Level
Let’s read John 21 again, swapping out the words Jesus and Peter actually used for “love.” Notice that Jesus used “agape” twice and then switched to “philos,” while Peter used “philos” throughout.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love (philos) you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “’Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love (philos) you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love (philos) me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus had asked him the third time, “Do you love me (philos)?”
He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love (philos) you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
I remember once being head over heels in love with this girl named Janet. Finally, I got up my courage and said, “I love you with all my heart. I worship the ground you walk on.”
She said, “I like you a lot.” My seven-year-old heart was crushed.
When He got to the third question, Jesus lowered the bar from “agape” to “philos,” asking if Peter even loved him like he would love a brother. Peter said, “Well, at least I love you like a brother. I think…”
With that evaluation out of the way, Jesus began to transition Peter from fishing for men to shepherding God’s flock.
Phileo love is not enough to impel a life of obedience, service, and self-denial for Christ.
Phileo did not do it for Peter. It won’t do it for us either.
There is no shortcut. Loving Jesus and serving Him takes agape love.
By the way, eventually, Peter’s agape love for Jesus led him to Rome, where he preached the gospel with whole-hearted-agape devotion. Peter was crucified upside down, in honor of his Lord.
If Simon Peter can develop a heart full of agape love for Jesus Christ, then, so can we. And here’s another Biblical example we can learn from...
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Do You Have a ‘Mary’ Kind of Love for Jesus?
We can ask “Do I love Jesus?” But perhaps this is not the right question. We will “love” Jesus. But a better question is “What KIND of love do we have for Jesus?”
Storge? Eros? Philos? Agape?
Let’s compare Jesus’s evaluation of Peter’s love with Mary of Bethany’s. Then we’ll figure out which kind of love we have for Jesus.
The most incredible picture of agape love for Jesus came during the Wednesday night before the Crucifixion. Jesus and His disciples were eating at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, when Mary came bursting in the room and poured a treasure of perfume all over Jesus (read John 12:1-8).
Judas shouted: “Lord, make her stop it. She’s wasting it all on you!”
John tells us that the rest of the disciples chimed in along with Judas! Judas continued, “It would have been better to sell this perfume and give the money to the poor instead of pouring it out on you!”
Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. She’s done a great thing. She’s anointed my body for burial while I’m still alive and can enjoy it.”
Continually, He told the disciples about His own coming crucifixion and resurrection. But they never got it.
But Mary did. So, she poured out the perfume. Agape love filled the room and not one disciple recognized what was happening.
How did Mary of Bethany get to know Jesus so well that she could love him so much?
She is mentioned only three times in the New Testament; and every time she is in the same position—kneeling at the feet of Jesus.
“Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39).
“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was, she fell at his feet and worshiped” (John 11:32).
“She took about a pint of pure nard, and poured out on Jesus' feet and washed his feet with her hair" (John 12:3).
This was a costly bottle of perfume. According to custom, it was her retirement fund. Leave it to Judas to total up the cost: “That perfume was worth a year’s wages!”
Mary didn't calculate! She didn’t measure it out to see how much she could spare! She just poured it all over Him. You don't calculate that kind of love.
Pour out some of it on Jesus? Certainly!
Most of it? Commendable!
All of it? Hold it!
But Mary kept on pouring.
The amount of “perfume” we are willing to pour out is determined by our love for Jesus.
Judas said, “What a waste!”
Jesus said, “I am worth every bit of it.” Waste? Or Worth? How much is Jesus worth to you? How much do you love Jesus?
If Jesus is who the Bible says He is—and if He is what we say that He is—then it's incredible that we falter at breaking the bottle and pouring perfume all over Him.
Love always expresses itself. Love always costs.
They didn’t take many baths in those days. I can imagine Jesus hanging on the cross when a slight breeze passed his face. “What’s that I smell? It’s the perfume. It’s Mary. She did anoint my body for burial while I was alive and could enjoy it.”
Are you ready to ask yourself?
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How Much Do You Love Jesus?
The intensity of our love for Jesus is measured by the quality of our service for him. So, how much do you love Jesus?
First, those who are filled with whole-hearted love and devotion for Christ—agape love—understand that service to the sheep is the same as service done for Christ.
“Feed my lambs...Take care of my sheep...Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Second, we love Jesus above all else.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
Third, we follow Christ at any price.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)
Fourth, we care for those in need.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
Finally, we wash feet.
After that, Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around it. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.
“Do you understand what I’ve done for you? I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet that you should also wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:2-17)
If You’ve Lost Agape Love for Jesus, Here’s How to Get it Back
Agape love for Jesus was waning at the church in Ephesus. In the book of Revelation, Jesus declared that they had lost their agape love for him. As a result, he shared a simple model for restoring agape love.
First, remember what your love for Jesus used to be like when you first came to know Him.
Next, repent that it's not that way anymore.
Finally, repeat the things you used to do when you first fell in love with Jesus.
I often tell people I fell in love with Julie, my wife, at first sight. But after loving her all of these years, I am just beginning to know how to love her more.
Well Sam, I hope that my answer gives your group more to discuss about Jesus and his love—and our love for Him.
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Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.