You can make them more comfortable in this short world, but without connecting that with the Gospel you are not connecting. One of the reasons I like the Salvation Army is because they still faithfully connect the two. Many, many organizations, the Red Cross for example, somehow along the way lost the spiritual side of their help. Remember the original three words the YMCA used? “Body, Mind and Spirit.” Soul and spirit have dropped off and now it is only body. Somehow, the invisible has been occluded by the visible. Again, I have told you this so many times, but nature eats up grace. What Francis Schaeffer meant by that is that the natural, the visible, the physical, these things become so pressing on our consciousness that we can no longer see the invisible, the supernatural, or that which is spiritual. That is what I am saying here. There should be a connect between those two, in one way or another. You know, the issue here, which is key for all of us, is a love for Jesus. That is why I so want to send Bibles when I can and Lord willing some type of food for the hungry, that I can say to the “Come and eat.”
And so, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these’?” What does He mean by ‘these’? Well, one possibility is that He meant the fish. My inclination is that ‘these’ refers to the other disciples. Here is why I think that is true. Go back with me to two texts. First of all, John 13:37 tells us, “Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for You’.” Now, let’s connect that with something in Matthew that is even more obvious. In Matthew chapter 26, verse 33, we see a telling statement. “But Peter said to Him, ‘Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away’.” The hint there is he loves Him more than the others. You see the idea?
We have three options for understanding that. Do you love Me more than the other disciples love Me? Do you love Me more than you love the other disciples? Or, do you love Me more than your career? The fish symbolize that point. My own guess is that He is asking him if he loves Him more than the other disciples. But, here is what it comes down to, the practical application is always the same. The key for us is whether our love for Jesus exceeds our love for anything else. That is why we have this series of questions going on here, ‘“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’.” So, that is the first commission. “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’.” There is the second commission. Finally, there is the third, “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’.” Notice the movement here; tend My lambs, shepherd My sheep, and tend My sheep. The three times here is important because it reverses Peter’s three times of denial. That is no accident. The charcoal fire is another symbol of this. Peter denied Him three times before a charcoal fire, and now he is restored three times before a charcoal fire. This, to me, is no accident.
Now, perhaps too much is made between the difference of ‘agape’ love and ‘philia’ love that is so often used in these three questions and replies. I think to some extent they can be used somewhat interchangeably. For example, in John 3:16, God’s love for man is ‘agape’, but in John 16:27, it is ‘philia’. In that verse we see, “For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came from the Father.” Another example is the Father’s love for His Son, in 3:35, and it is ‘agape’, but in 5:20 we see the word ‘philia’ used once again. There, “For the Father loves the Son,” the word ‘philia’ appears. So, don’t overdo it. We know the structure. Jesus says, “Do you ‘agape’ Me?” He says, “I philia’ You.” Jesus changes down to the term that Peter was using. You see the idea there? ‘Philia’, as you know, is a love of friendship, it is a love that humans can have for one another, but ‘agape’ is a divine love, and that is not a love of the emotions, but a love of the will. So, ‘agape’, really, is a choice of the will. That is why He says to ‘love’ one another. He doesn’t say to ‘like’ one another. He is not saying to ‘philia’ one another, because that would be impossible. Frankly, there are a lot of people that I am called to love that I don’t like. You must understand the huge difference between them. You can choose to love them, even if you don’t like them. How? Because ‘agape’ is a love of the will, and not of the emotions, and therein lies the issue.
In a marriage ceremony, The contrast should be drawn between building on the rock of choice, rather than the sand of feelings. Romantic love, ‘Eros’, will only sustain a relationship for a short time. Unless you build some other components of love in there, it really will not have a satisfying and long term consequence. My own view here is that we grow in maturity in relationships and ‘agape’ is meant to transform the human love. C.S. Lewis puts it so well, when he speaks of the four loves, and ‘agape’ is meant to take the human love, which, because of the Fall, is not capable of loving as they ought to have been. We have the love of friendship, ‘philia’, the love of romance, ‘eros’, the love of affection, ‘storge’, all these can be turned into divine human loves if ‘agape’ is infused. In other words, they don’t lose their identity; they become what they were intended to be all along.
I want to define love, as I have done before with you, as the ‘steady intention of your will toward another person’s highest good’. That is one of the ways of defining ‘agape’, having a steady intention. The most important thing about an action is your intention in the action. What is behind it? What is the intention involved in that? God looks at the heart, not just the outward appearance. And so, ‘agape’, being the steady intention of your will, not your emotion, toward another’s good. This is why, when relationships get frayed, when somebody lies to you or betrays you, even if it is not your desire, you can choose to do the deeds of love even when the feelings are not present. This is true in marriage and it is true in friendship. There are times when you will be invited by God to demonstrate the deeds of love even when the feelings are not there. My conviction is, when we choose, your will is the most powerful and significant thing about your life. What you choose will shape your life. If you choose to walk in the power of the spirit and connect it with the power of human choice, you now have a divine-human synergy. If I am in Jesus, I can make the choice to love that person in that unconditional way. You have to understand that if a friend betrays you, you are called to forgive them, but it doesn’t mean you have to trust them. There is a difference between the two.
Forgiveness is not the same as trust. Forgiveness is a grace. Trust is earned. You see the difference there? Someone must earn your trust, but they do not need to earn your forgiveness. No one can earn forgiveness. It is a grace that you give them, which is better than they are due. But, they can, having done something like that, and if there is a breach of trust, that must be rebuilt. That can take some time. That is true, again, in all sorts of relationships. Saying all that, then, there is a nuance in John, but I don’t want to make it just all of one or all of the other.
Now, let’s go to the last portion of this text, verses 18 through 25. Here we are called to be disciples. That is to say we are invited to follow Him. Remember the first term He used? It was “Follow Me.” Before I go into this, there are three things I should mention about shepherding. First of all, sheep, as you know, are very, very ignorant and defenseless. They need protection and guidance and they are also prone to wander. Again, it not a great compliment that we are compared to sheep. So, sheep need provision, protection, and guidance. That is what a shepherd does. So, we now have a shift, from fishermen, which is evangelism, to being a shepherd of God’s flock, which is discipleship. In 1st Peter 5:2, we see Paul telling his readership, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.” I might also point out that Jesus Christ is called ‘Shepherd’ three times. First of all, He is called ‘the good Shepherd’ in John 10:11, “I am the good Shepherd.” In Hebrews 13:20-21 He is called ‘the Great Shepherd’. And, in the text we have before us, 1st Peter chapter five, we see, “When the chief Shepherd appears you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” So, He is the ‘good’, the ‘great’, and the ‘chief’ Shepherd, and all people involved in pastoral ministry are to obey Him as the minister to the flock.
So, they are not independent nor are they autonomous. The most important thing that a shepherd can do is to love Jesus Christ. So, following up now on the verses, 18 through 25, we see Jesus saying, ‘“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go’. Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death He would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me’.” This is similar to the text in Luke chapter five. Any one who yields himself to serve the Lord must honestly confront this matter of death. Many people have a death to their reputation and some a death to their very lives. Peter’s death, I want to stress, would not be a tragedy. It was a death in which he would glorify God. It is the same as it would be with the death of Lazarus, in John 11, verses 4 and 40, it is the means by which God would be glorified.
Furthermore, Jesus said of His own death, in 12:23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” So, we have this clear idea of glorification. We have a similar comparison as well, if you go to Philippians 1:21, where Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” The verse preceding that tells us, “I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” The idea of glorification, or giving Him honor, is what is involved here as well. For me, a philosophy of life must be based upon a philosophy of death. If death ends all, then it should have a bearing on my philosophy of life. Wouldn’t you agree with that? If I were absolutely convinced that death meant the end, I promise you I would be living differently than I do. I sure wouldn’t be very interested in teaching the Scriptures. I’d be maximizing my pleasure and minimizing my pain. So, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” should have particular significance.