(Ver 1.1) I was studying the Bible recently and was led across something that I believe was very good for us all to learn from. I believe the Holy Spirit pointed this out so that we could learn a potential new perspective on a familiar story that we have all probably heard taught more than once. This will be a Bible basics subject lesson on one of the most important subjects found in the Bible called love. Uh oh? I may have just lost a bunch of readers. How boring that is, you might think. You might say to me “I don’t have any problem with my love walk!” At least that is probably what you think right now. However, I believe the subject of love is the central theme of the entire Bible and a vastly misunderstood subject. I believe no other subject comes close to its importance in the Bible and I pray that you will agree.
INTRODUCTION TO LOVE
You may already know that there is more than one Greek word in the New Testament that is translated into the English word “love”. I believe that is a significant problem. If we don’t spend the time in digging deeper to know the original language words and definitions we will probably miss the most important message that God was trying to teach us. I believe words matter more than we can imagine, especially God’s words. I believe the chosen words of God are not by accident, chance or placed into the Bible by random human selection or influence. God is a highly intelligent being beyond our normal human capability to understand. Therefore, when God selects two different Greek words for “love” and uses them both in the same verse setting that must mean something very important even if we don’t yet understand what is. I pray that you will agree and even if you don’t yet agree I pray that you will at least be open minded enough to continue reading.
I recently read a Bible commenter’s opinion on this subject of the Greek word choices being made in the New Testament. This person believed that each human writer influenced the text and word selection for the love word choice. They implied that the every Greek love word was synonymously interchangeable and one word could easily be replaced with another without changing the meaning of the verse. But, I could not disagree any more. This type of logic removes God’s participation in the word selection process almost completely. You see I am a firm believer in this next verse that we must use as a foundation to base all of our Bible beliefs on. I recommend that we all memorize this verse and never let it slip away from our minds:
2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
“All” is one of the key words to focus on first. This verse clearly informs us that it concerns and applies to the whole Bible and every word that it contains. In the Bible that would include every Hebrew and Greek Word of the original text that produced the translated 783,137 English KJV words. However, I must disqualify the translated words. I do not believe that any of the translated words were God inspired. There are just way too many subjective translator opinions and errors imbedded to be found to conclude it is perfect like I believe the original text is. I am not saying that we must all learn Greek and Hebrew in order to understand anything in the Bible. But, I am saying that we all need to become a Berean type of Bible student like is found in Acts 17:11. These Berean Christians were commended in the Bible for digging deep to confirm whatever is taught by men to be the truth is actually what God stated in the Holy scriptures. I pray again that you understand how important this is. Otherwise, we may just fall for any wind of doctrine that sounds the best and ignore what God actually said.
Today’s mini Bible lesson concerns two Greek words primarily that are both translated as “love” in the New Testament. These two Greek words in review are “Agapao” G25 and “Phileo” G5368. You should be able to notice that these words are obviously two significantly different words based upon appearance, spelling and pronunciation alone and we have not yet attempted to learn the definitions. We will dig into these love types much deeper as we continue the lesson.
JESUS TEACHES A HIGHER LOVE
Our Bible lesson is found in the book of John chapter 21. It occurs after the events of the death of Jesus on a Roman cross, the burial of His body in a tomb for 3 days and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. I believe that this event that we can study today was Jesus attempting to restore and help Peter to grow into a higher level of confident love following his denial 3 times of Jesus Christ just a few days earlier. We will begin reading about this event beginning in verse 15 of John 21 and then we will continue reading down until verse 17. Please read all of the verses carefully as the subject overview and then I will begin to break them down to help reveal a hidden message not easily found in the English translation:
Joh 21:15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
Joh 21:16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
Joh 21:17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
What did you get out of this reading? Did anything draw your attention from what I originally introduced you to before reading the verses? Maybe nothing jumped out at you. That is OK, but maybe the Holy Spirit pointed out something new for you to see and that is really great. I believe that is God’s way. He can use the same verse(s) to speak an infinite number of things to each and every person differently. Let’s go through the verses one at time now and learn what we can see by digging deeper into them rather than a surface only reading, as I like to call it. Let’s reread verse 15 first:
Jesus suddenly focuses on one disciple named Peter and asks him a very direct and personal question concerning their relationship. I believe Jesus did this on purpose and by design to help strengthen and encourage Peter’s faith. You might recall in Luke 22:31 the writer Luke gives us some related very important information. In Luke 22:31 Jesus informs Peter that Satan had desired to sift him like wheat. But, then Jesus informs Peter that He had prayed that his faith would not fail. Also later in this chapter of Luke Jesus informs Peter that he will deny him 3 times before the cock crows the night that He would be betrayed. I believe that Peter is being told these things so that he might be prepared for them and then afterwards that he would also understand that Jesus is fully the Christ as Peter declared in Matthew 16:16. Remember when Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered to Him saying “You are the Christ the Son of God”.
I firmly believe that Peter like the rest of the disciples struggled tremendously after seeing Jesus taken prisoner, beaten and then crucified on a cross to die. This had to be a major blow to their beliefs in Him. Once His body was laid in the tomb and the rock was rolled over it and sealed with guards posted in front of it, they had to at least think that they had made a great mistake in following this man. I just can’t imagine the full impact of the challenges to their faith that they were facing during this time of extreme circumstances. Give it some thought and see how you may have reacted. What would you have done after seeing all of this? I know we can read the Bible now and we may think that we may have been able to stand stronger than they did but I really don’t believe that is true.
No matter how great you believe your faith in Jesus Christ is now, Satan will come to you and try to shake your foundation of faith just like he did with Peter. This is what happened to Peter and I believe that Jesus did all He could do to prepare Peter’s heart for these events. For example, in John 21:15 Jesus begins a lesson of assurance by asking Peter a basic very personal question. Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me more than these?” I believe that Jesus is simply asking “Are you sure that you love me Peter?” It is interesting that Jesus also adds a comparison of Peter’s love level with the other disciples’ love level. The question contains the key word “more” and this is added by Jesus to teach Peter and us that a love amount can vary in measure, intensity, type and capacity. Jesus was teaching us that our love level for Him may not be as great as other’s love level yet and that we may need to grow more in our love. By this question, Jesus is implying we can all grow up in a higher level of love. Can you see this?
Here is another very important point to make when studying any text in the Bible. We must understand that there were no punctuation marks in the original Greek text that I know of. No periods, no commas, no exclamation marks, no question marks as we know in the English language. Therefore, we should be able to understand that the tone of voice being spoken in could potentially be different than we believe changing the entire meaning of the words being spoken.
For example, if Jesus yelled “LOVEST ME MORE THAN THESE!!!” Would a screaming angry and mad Jesus change how we viewed the question? It would definitely do that for me. However, that type of Jesus personality screaming at Peter would contradict with His revealed character and nature found in many scriptures verses that reveal Him to be a man of great and intense love, mercy and compassion. Therefore, this statement cannot be an angry Jesus questioning the loyalty of Peter simply because He knew Peter denied Him. No, I believe that the words were spoken very softly and graciously to Peter in a great loving and compassionate tone of voice that grabbed the heart of Peter’s attention immediately. I believe Peter could also see the great concern in the Master’s eyes and perceive the great kindness in the heart of Jesus.
Here is where I want to introduce you to the first Greek word G25 that was translated as “lovest” in the question directed at Peter. This Greek word represents the highest type of “Agape” divine love. This category of love is the highest form of any type of love listed in the Bible. It is always an underserved, unearned and unconditional love type that is being extended to another person regardless of what occurs or how they act towards the person showing it. I believe this is the most important and highest type of love in the Bible. This is why my blog is called “AgapeGeek”. I simply desire to teach the Bible in a way that displays God’s love to every reader. I hope you understand the basic concepts of the God kind of Agape love. If you don’t please ask any specific question and I will attempt to explain it with the Lord’s help.
Ok, Jesus asked Peter if he loved “Agapao” Him more than these. The answer to this simple question should have been either “yes” or “no”. However, Peter must have ignored the love word because he does not answer the question correctly at all. Of course you won’t see this by just reading the English translation. Only if we dig much deeper into the Greek words can we begin to understand the problem that Jesus was dealing with.
In the English Peter appears to answer correctly by saying “Yes, Lord you know that I love you”. But, Peter changed the Greek word “love” type from the G25 “agapao” category of love to the much lower and less committed G5368 “phileo” human category of love and that was not what Jesus asked, was it? You see the “phileo” category of love is merely a fond type of relationship that we can have with a good human friend. This is a love category on a much subordinate carnal level of conditional feelings. In other words if a friend said or did something wrong or mean to us, this might change our liking of fondness level or feelings for them. However, the “agape” G26 type of love that Jesus was asking about would continue on unmoved despite the friend’s wrong actions or words.
I believe I can begin to feel the Lord Jesus heart drop at hearing Peter’s answered response. I believe there becomes a greater level of sadness upon each of the following question attempts to get Peter to change his answer to raise his love walk with Jesus. You did notice that Jesus asked Peter the same question 3 times, didn’t you? Why is Jesus being so repetitious? As we continue to study this discussion further we should be able to see that Peter becomes a little more sad after each question. I believe the “phileo” love that Peter claimed that he possessed was certainly being tested and I believe that Jesus was teaching Peter to try to come up higher to the “agapao” type of love that He originally asked. Let’s read the second verse question:
Here is another almost identical question and response session as was read in verse 15. However, Jesus asks Peter, do you “agapao” me but drops the “more than these” part of the question. Why did Jesus omit the “more than these”? I believe to show Peter to focus on his “agape” love and not anyone else. And Peter again answers “Lord you know that I “phileo” you. I believe another difference in this Q&A session from the previous one is the tone of Jesus’ and Peter’s voices being adjusted. I believe Jesus asked His question with much greater, love, compassion and even some added sadness and disappointment and I believe that Peter answered with even a greater level of grief and frustration not understanding yet why it was asked again. This is what I believe makes the most sense in the story, but I know this is my personal interpretation and you can believe otherwise if you choose.
I still ask myself and God why the omission of the “more than these” as part of the question. The only answer to that question that I have been able to determine is the fact that Jesus is giving Peter a much greater emphasis to the specific Greek word “agapao” type of love. I even believe that Jesus is making an implied statement that maybe no one “agapao” loved Him yet. But this might be wrong since John was one of the disciples there and he is often referred to as the “love” disciple since he wrote more about the subject than all of the others combined. Now let’s read the last time the question is asked and observe what changes now:
Reading the English translation it appears that almost nothing changed. So God is either wasting a lot of words and Peter’s time asking him the same question or we are just missing the point and I believe it is us missing the point. You see Jesus changed the question dramatically the third time He asks and He used a totally different Greek word this time. Why would Jesus do this and what was the reason for the modification? If we dig deeper into the Greek language again we will learn that in the third question Jesus dramatically lowers the love level asked to Peter to a level of “phileo”, Peter’s previous two responses. I believe that Jesus changes His tone of voice to a much greater sound of sadness and hurt. I believe completely that Jesus was saying this paraphrase “oh Peter, what do you mean that you are only my friend?”
I believe we can begin to see Peter’s change of heart in this attempt of Jesus to get him to love Him on the highest unconditional level. The KJV Bible translates Peter’s feelings as an emotion of “grief”. The Greek word G3076 that is translated as “grieved” literally means that Peter was greatly saddened by Jesus asking Him 3 times. However, I believe this is not completely accurate simply because Jesus did not ask Peter the same question the same way, 3 different times. Either Peter is clueless to what Jesus was attempting to ask him or I am. Please ask yourself this question and see if you can think of a reason why Jesus comes down to a much inferior love type in the final question.
WHY DID JESUS WANT PETER TO AGAPE HIM?
Please allow me to give you a solid foundation for why I believe that Jesus is attempting to teach Peter about his “phileo” love to change it into an “agapeo” love. We will begin this section with a verse spoken by Jesus before His death on the cross and subsequent ressurtion. Let’s turn our Bibles to John chapter 14 and read:
Joh 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
You see Jesus taught this truth to us that if we “agape” (G26) Him, we will keep His commandments and this certainly implies that we will not let them slip away from our hearts and minds. If the words of Jesus are first in our minds this will help us so that can continue to do them even in the tough times of persecution and other life challenges. This is why I believe that Jesus asks Peter what appears to be 3 different times in the English KJV translation what appears to be the same question. I believe Jesus was teaching Peter the difference between just a human friend kind of love that can fail and the God kind of love that will never fail. The God kind of love will obey Him and the friend kind of love may not obey when the going gets too tough and hard. I believe Jesus was teaching us all that the road ahead is going to get very rocky and rough and we will need to raise our “love” level up much higher in order to endure it to keep doing what Jesus wants us to do for Him.
Joh 21:18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
Joh 21:19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
We should be able to understand more clearly what Jesus was trying to emphasize to Peter by reading the rest of the story in verses 18 and 19. Reading these verses we learn quickly that Jesus changes from the right now do you love me to the future tense of years to come. This informs me that the “Agape” love is what is going to be needed to endure the life that Peter was going to experience. If you read early church history you should find that Peter is crucified upside down on a cross. Wow what a horrible death that was. Not to mention the times he spent in jails and chains for preaching the gospel. If Peter had not raised his love walk to the love level of Agape I do not believe Peter would have been able to succeed in following Christ’s example fully.
All we need to do is to read Acts chapter 2 to find out how quickly the “love” level was raised to God’s Agape type of love in Peter’s life. Remember that Peter goes from denying Jesus 3 time only 50 days earlier to now preaching about Him in public to thousands. Can you see how this is a fulfillment of the command of Jesus to “Feed my Sheep”? I can see it very clearly. This act of preaching was a demonstration of Peter’s divine love and it displays such an amazing transformation from his previous “phileo” level of love commitment to Jesus.
I believe that this is a lesson for each Christ follower. We do not fully know what will happen to us tomorrow but we can prepare for even the worst possible events by embracing the God kind of Agape Love. I pray this short Bible lesson was a great blessing to you and an encouraging word from the Lord to raise your love walk with Him. May God bless you always.