On the surface this exchange from John 21:15-17 looks fairly obvious. If Peter loved Jesus, He would do something to show it. Specifically, he would care for what is important to Jesus … His sheep (followers).
– Love should be the motivating factor behind a shepherding ministry.
As earlier communicated by Jesus, love is the greatest commandment … first love for God and then love for others (Matt. 22:35-40).
The Greek language uses different words for love:
agapeo – divine love
phileo - friendship type of love
eros – romantic type of love
storge – familial type of love
The word for love used in the Great Commandment which we are to have for both God and man? – agapao … a selfless, sacrificial, giving sort of love
Now look at the original language in John 21 and you will see that Jesus and Peter, also called Simon, were not on the same page.
v. 15 -
Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love [agapao] me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he (Peter) said, “you know that I love [phileo] you.”
v. 16 -
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love [agapao] me?”
He (Peter) answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileo] you.”
v. 17 -
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love [phileo] me?”
He (Peter) said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love [phileo] you.”
Not too long before this encounter, prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter asserted, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Lk. 22:33). That sounds like what AGAPEO would do. When faced with an opportunity to put that love into practice, Peter denied that he ever knew Jesus, not once but three times!
Peter learned some hard lessons. Undoubtedly humbled by his own weakness, Peter couldn’t bring himself to respond to Jesus’ question, ” do you truly love [agapao] me?” with more than “you know that I love [phileo] you.”
Despite receiving a lower level love response, Jesus nonetheless asks Peter to feed His sheep. The third time Jesus even switched to phileo to match Peter’s level.
Lessons for those in shepherding ministry:
1) Agapeo should motivate you to serve. To be most effective in shepherding, you can’t be selfish, protecting yourself.
2) It’s one thing to say you agapao God and others, but another to truly love that way. Guard against pride in this.
3) Jesus will meet you where you are, patiently waiting for you to grow more in love with Him. Be honest with him about where you are.
4) Though you might not feel worthy to shepherd His sheep, do it anyway. If you wait until you fully arrive, you probably won’t do it.