There are many interpretations and a variety of teachings on the dialogue between Jesus and Peter in the twenty-first chapter of John. Peter likely had a more intimate relationship with Christ than any of the other disciples. After all, look at what they had been through together. Peter wanted all of Christ. He desired complete intimacy, or as Dane Ortlund calls it, “inner relish.”
Peter desired more! When Christ asked if Peter was ready for agape, Peter responded, “Yes, but You know all things and You know that my utmost is phileo.” When Christ asked him the same question a second time, Peter desperately wanted to respond that he had agape, but both he and Jesus knew that he did not. Peter also knew that agape was something to attain, otherwise Jesus would not have asked the question. Peter expected that somehow Jesus would enable him to respond, “Yes Lord, I agape You.”
However, Jesus changed the question the third time and Peter was disappointed (grieved). Jesus knew that Peter’s best was phileo at this time. He also knew that Peter would experience agape for the first time at the coming of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. We all know what an impact that had on the rest of Peter’s life and ministry.
We are encouraged and motivated by Dane in his book, “A New Inner Relish,” to seek the fullness of God that leads to whole-hearted obedience. It is the filling and inspiration of the Holy Spirit that brings us to that place. Unlike Peter, we don’t have to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit since we have full access to God’s transforming power at the moment we accept Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.
This new “inner relish” to walk in obedience before the immortal and eternal King creates in us a new mindset toward sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are capable of resisting any temptation. As a parallel to Paul’s question about grace and sin in Romans 5:1, we might ask, “Shall we be tempted all the more that obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit might abound?”
John 21 (English Standard Version)
15When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16He said to him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (agape) me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love (phileo) me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love (phileo) me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."
Agape is the main word used for “love” in the New Testament. There are three principal Greek words which can be translated as “love” in English, each with different connotations. The two most common were eros, which refers to sexual love, and phileo, which means friendship or brotherly love (eros does not appear in the New Testament, but phileo does).
16 September 2008
My father-in-law, Don Steele, asked me to post this. Thanks for the evident thoughtfulness, Dad! (I would simply add to your excellent thoughts the clarification that what Edwards and I are calling a "new inner relish" is not the next stage for Christians who are really really really devoted. It is what it means to be a Christian. The biggest difference between people is not between those who obey God and those who don't. It's between those who want to obey God and those who don't.)
Posted by Dane Ortlund at Tuesday, September 16, 2008