A question can be more powerful than a statement.
In John 21:15, Jesus asks Peter a searching question.
He might have said, ‘You know, you really ought to love me’, and Peter would have nodded in agreement.
But when he asked, ‘Do you love me?’
Peter must have felt uncomfortable.
When the question came three times, he was devastated.
We need to understand exactly what Christ meant when he asked, ‘Do you love me more than these?’ Did he mean, ‘Do you love me more than you love these disciples?’ or even ‘Do you love me more than your fishing gear – the boat, the nets etc?’
However in the context, he most likely meant, ‘Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?’
Jesus had predicted that the disciples would forsake him in his hour of suffering, but Peter had boasted that he would not do so (Matthew 26:33). The three-fold question thus corresponded to Peter’s three-fold denial of his Lord.
Some make much of the fact that when Jesus asked three times if Peter loved him, there was a variation of the Greek word used for love. However, Don Carson has shown that John uses the words interchangeably, so I won’t follow that route.
Peter’s denial had been serious. Yes, he had repented, but as he would become a prominent leader in the church, his repentance had to be public. Jesus knew that Peter loved him, but the other disciples needed to hear that declaration from Peter’s own lips.
Do you love the Lord?
It was a searching question – it still is. If Jesus were to ask us today, ‘John, Susan, Roger, do you love me?’ how would we respond? Some can honestly reply, ‘Lord you know that I love you’ – though they often fail, their lives do demonstrate a love for the Lord.
Others might say, ‘Lord you know that I love you’, but if you lived or worked with them for long, you would shake your head, seeing little evidence in their lives of a love for Christ. Still others might say, ‘Lord, you know, and I know, that I don’t love you’.
So I ask again, do you love the Lord? I don’t ask if you go to church, or read the Bible, pray or give to charity. I ask, do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? The Lord knows of course, but do we know?
You might consider it a private matter that no one else needs to know about. But that begs the question. It is important that we know the answer because our salvation and eternal destiny depend upon it. The Christian faith is not first a matter of lifestyle or religious observance, important though those may be. The essence of Christianity is a love relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to know whether we love him.
To help us answer the question, consider three Bible characters who obviously loved the Lord. What were the characteristics of their love?
We meet Mary (the sister of Martha and Lazarus) three times, and on each occasion she is found at the feet of Jesus. In Luke 10:39, Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching – while Martha is bustling around the kitchen and complaining that Mary isn’t pulling her weight.
Some feel that Martha’s complaint was justified but Luke writes, ‘Mary also sat at Jesus’ feet – note the word ‘also’. Perhaps she had already done her chores! In any case, Jesus commended Mary. Of course they needed to eat, but dinner could wait. First things first – and for Mary, hearing Jesus was the first thing.
In John 11:32, Jesus arrives at Bethany after the death of Lazarus – having deliberately delayed his arrival so that he might demonstrate God’s power by raising Lazarus. Mary, like her sister, laments the fact that Jesus could have prevented her brother’s death had he come sooner. She says the same thing as Martha, but her words are uttered at Jesus’ feet.
In John 12:3, Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with an expensive ointment. She was criticised but Jesus defended her devotion.
Being at Jesus’ feet demonstrated humility. Attending to someone’s feet was the task of a servant. It acknowledged the rank of the person being served. We too need to feel our nothingness before the Lord.
J. C. Ryle said, ‘the surest mark of true conversion is humility’. Humility is not trembling for fear of punishment, but amazement at the fact that God has shown mercy to the likes of us. To be humble is to honestly face up to the reality of what we are before God – and be amazed at his grace. If we see those things we shall be content at the feet of Jesus.
Does your love for Christ show you how great he is and how small you are? If we stay at his feet we shall see both these things and love him more.
Jesus had a special relationship with Peter, James and John, who were with him on several occasions apart from the other apostles. But of this ‘inner circle’ John had the closest relationship to the Lord. He refers to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ (e.g. John 21:20).
Of course, Jesus loved all his disciples but there was a special closeness to John. When you love someone you want to spend time with them. I love to spend time with my wife Pamela. We walk the dog together; we work in the garden together; we spend most evenings together; we read the Bible and pray together.
If that is true of human love, how much more should it be true of our Lord? Do we love to spend time with him? Is fellowship with Christ a top priority with you? How much time do you spend in prayer? Do you love to read and meditate upon Scripture?
Special times of devotion are important, but Paul also said ‘Pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That doesn’t mean being on your knees 24 hours a day, but having a prayerful attitude and a readiness to express our concerns to the Lord at any time.
Do you love the Lord? Is that love shown in time spent with him?
In Psalm 116:2, David says, ‘I love the Lord’. His love was a response to God’s grace to him. He had shown him mercy and saved him (v.6). David wanted to show his gratitude for the Lord’s goodness (v.12). He did this with both praise and obedience (v.13). He was determined to fulfill his vows, whatever they were.
Obedience is a crucial test of our love for the Lord. Jesus said, ‘If you love me you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15).
No one can sincerely say they love the Lord if they are willfully disobedient to him. To be sure, we often fail the Lord, but there is true repentance and confession afterwards. The constant attitude of one who loves the Lord is, ‘How can I please him?’
After seeing the outworking of love in these three biblical characters, how do we measure up? Do we love the Lord? Do we show it by humility, by longing to be close to him, and by obedience?
Some reading this may acknowledge that they don’t love the Lord, but think it is no big deal. How important is it to love the Lord? Once Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was.
His answer doubtless shocked some of his hearers, who would have expected him to cite prohibitions against blasphemy or murder or one of the other Ten Commandments. But he replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22:37).
If that is the greatest commandment, then failure to love the Lord is the greatest sin – worse than murder or adultery or stealing. You need to see the greatness of your sin – but also to be assured that if you repent, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and follow him, you will be forgiven. And then you will love the Lord and desire to know more of his love. May God help us all to grow in that love.