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.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:15-19, NRSV)
In John, it is not a stretch to see the above and hear it as we hear it as English speakers. But you see in the original Greek, there are 4 words for love: agape. philos, eros, storge. Agape is unconditional love. Philos is brotherly love. Storge is natural affection or obligation, and Eros is erotic.
Now in our passage above, Jesus says Peter do you agape me? Peter replies Yes Lord you know I Philo you. And then again the same thing. Jesus says Peter do you agape me? Peter replies Yes Lord you know I Philo you. And then Jesus says, Peter, do you Philo me? Peter replies yes I Philo you. It really is splitting hairs on which love word is used. I mean can any human truly unconditionally love anyone? The closest we get is our children. When they do something that is wrong or hurtful to us, we still love them. Even when we may not like the choices they have made or what they are doing we love them, but really that is more Storge than it is agape. We as humans are sinful and when push comes to shove will look out for the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. We will default to self-preservation which is nowhere near what agape is. Maybe Peter got this with his recent denial of Jesus. He knew his limitations. But let us all remember what Paul said in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Yes on our own we can not agape anyone, but being commissioned by Jesus we can agape the world. Not us, but Him working through us.
So do you agape Jesus? Feed His sheep!