After the Lord’s resurrection from the dead He appeared to the apostles and other disciples for a period of about forty days before He ascended back into heaven. One of these appearances is recorded in Jn. 21. On that occasion the Lord appeared to Peter, James, John, Thomas, Nathanael, and two other disciples after they had been fishing all night on the Sea of Galilee. They had caught nothing, but the Lord directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, whereupon they caught 153 large fish. When they came to shore they found that the Lord had prepared breakfast for them.
After they had eaten breakfast, the Lord asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” In each case Peter responded that he did love the Lord, and in each case the Lord told Peter to care for His sheep. We often make a point of the different words for love used by the Lord and by Peter. Twice Jesus used a form of the Greek word agape, which is the highest form of love. Peter, on the other hand, used a form of the Greek word phileo, which is typically understood as brotherly love, or friendship.
The more important point, however, is the question itself. Do we truly love Jesus? We are happy to sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” and we sincerely mean it when we do. But do our lives actually reflect the words we so joyfully sing? Many will affirm that they do, but, like Peter, they may mean something other than what the Lord meant when He asked this question. The concept of love has become so diluted in modern culture that it often means little more than a moment of passion. How else can we explain people falling into and out of love so quickly? Obviously our culture has moved far away from the kind of love the Lord expects of us.
The kind of love the Lord calls us to have is an act of the will that is not driven solely by emotion. It is a choice we make to do what is best and right for all people in every circumstance of life. This is how biblical love is demonstrated in our relationships with each other. But how is this kind of love demonstrated toward our Lord?
The answer is surprisingly simple. When the Lord asks if we love Him, He is asking if we are willing to obey Him. In Jn. 14:15 the Lord told the apostles, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” The beloved apostle John made this same point in 1 Jn. 5:2-3. Here he said, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
This should not come as a surprise to us. We express this same sentiment in our relationships with each other. When someone says, “I love you,” but then does things that are hurtful, we know his profession of love is meaningless. There is, perhaps, no greater pain than to be hurt by one who claims to love us. If we feel this way about our human relationships, how much more so do our God and Father, and His Son Jesus Christ?
When we live our lives as though God’s commands are only suggestions, we are telling Him we don’t love Him. When we twist and distort His commands to fit our own desires, we are telling Him we don’t love Him, just as surely as the person who makes no pretense of loving God. When we ignore God’s commands, we hurt Him deeply because in so doing we are treading underfoot the precious sacrifice of His Son to redeem us from sin. If we truly love Jesus, and if we truly love our Father in heaven, we will always do our best to obey all He has commanded us in His word. When we do this, He will know that we do indeed love Him.