Do you love Jesus? Of course you do! But do you really? How can you tell?
We love lots of things. I love ice-cream. I love the Ford Mustang. I love the Galaxy S4. So adding Jesus to such a list seems like a no brainer. Of course I love Jesus. But what do I mean? That I like Him? That I enjoy Him?
Love is more than a confession. A man who beats his wife may express words of "love" when the morning comes. But does he really "love" her? Love that can only be stated but not seen isn't real love at all. Love means affection, fondness, and preference (See 1 Corinthians 13 for a full definition). And our choices will reveal what we have affection for, what we are fond of, and what we prefer.
So, do you love Jesus? You can tell by whether you do what he says to do. If his commands guide you. If finding yourself in disobedience grieves you. If His words motivate you to action. Then confessional love becomes visible and tangible.
Jesus teaches Peter exactly this lesson on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias after His resurrection. After a night of fruitless fishing, the disciples find the risen Lord waiting for them on the shore. They catch 153 of fish at Jesus' command. Peter jumps ship as he rushes to see his master.
After enjoying a meal together, Jesus asks Peter a question, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" Peter replies in the affirmative, to which Jesus commands, "Feed My lambs." The formula is repeated no less than three times. Jesus and Peter use variations of the words "love" (agapao, phileo), "feed/tend", and even different "sheep/lambs." No doubt there are some subtle nuances to these words - but step away from the lexicon for a second.
Do you love me? Serve others.
Do you love me? Serve others.
Do you love me? Serve others.
Three times, Jesus drives this home. I am of the opinion, that he is referring to the fish when he asks, "more than these." Peter was at a crossroads. He had been on an amazing spiritual journey. He had witness amazing things. And now, things were about to get real normal, real fast. The Lord would soon ascend. Persecution would become great. And Peter would have to choose a route. He could fish... or he could feed. And his choice would be the revelation of his love toward Jesus.
Simple application. If you love Jesus, it will be visible in your service to others. In fact, we can be a little more concrete. If you love Jesus, it will be evident in your service to his church. "My sheep," right? "My lambs." The old argument of "I love the Lord, but I can't stand His people," is not only wrong thinking, its an out and out lie. If we aren't looking to the needs of His people, then we aren't loving Jesus. Our mouth can say whatever it likes, but our actions betray us.
Jesus asked him three times. It appears that the third question reminded Peter of his previous denial. It hurt. Peter testifies - he's more of a feeder than a fisher - and appeals to the omniscience of Christ. The Lord who knew everything, surely knew the depths of Peter's soul. So Jesus give Peter a personal glimpse into the future. He would grow old, and then he would be killed. Executed, likely by crucifixion, "another will gird" him, and carry him, "where you do not wish." At the possibility of death, Peter had ultimately fled at Jesus' arrest. Now, it is certain. He will die in a horrible fashion. The very Lord that he just testified to "know all things," had told him so.
After assuring him of his death, Jesus says, "Follow me." There is only one reason why Peter would embrace this. He loved the Lord more than he loved his own life. He loved the Lord in spite of anything and everything. And losing all, he would gain everything.
Absolute abandonment to Christ. We don't give a lot of time to subjects like that. Telling people they may have to sacrifice everything may scare them off. Plus, it may ring shallow, as we live in such a time of abundance and comfort, that we are merely tossing around impossible scenarios. But whether we have much or we have little - we must put someone first in our lives. Is it ourselves? Some ideology? Some person or group of people? Or is it Jesus?
Peter's course was not changed by the 153 fish in the net. He was facing pain and hurt. Indeed the Bible teaches that "...all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (2Ti 3:12) One way or another, we all find our way out of this life. We all have our low spots, no doubt some lower than others. Most of us don't foolishly assume that good fortune today, means good fortune forever. Absolute abandonment to Christ means that there "ain't no mountain high enough... ain't no river wide enough" to separate you from Jesus' love.
Peter's final plea - what about this other guy? He's referring to John. Peter had just learned he would die a brutal death, and he began to do what we often do, compare himself to others. What about John? Would he be killed too? Perhaps Peter was simply looking for a little fellowship in his fate. Maybe he was just curious. Whatever it was, it didn't matter. Jesus suggested that even if John lived until the second coming, "what is that to you." And He repeated His previous command, "You follow Me."
The fact that we let other people become a barrier to our service to God is one of the great tragedies in the Lord's churches today. Some people leave church because of a person. Some won't go to church because of the people there. At its essence, the argument is thus: Lord, my distaste for these individuals is greater than my love for You. So much of what goes on among God's people is the result of focusing on the service of others rather than ourselves. So what if the other person doesn't give like they aught to? Are you giving? Then why concern yourself with them? So what if another person seems to have it easy, while you are hurting? Is your hope in the Lord? Then why concern yourself with them?
Peter wasn't wishing John ill. But he was introducing an unnecessary element into his service to Christ. He loved Jesus, so he was to serve in His church. He was to follow Jesus, even though it meant certain death. And no other individual played any factor in what Peter was to do.
This is a valuable lesson. Do you love Jesus? Then serve in His church. Follow Him, no matter what that means, abandoning yourself to Christ. And don't let the situation of individuals get in the way of your service.
Do you love Jesus, then feed and follow.