So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.” 16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.18 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” John 21:15-19 NKJV
After the resurrection Jesus had a conversation with Peter in which He asked him if he loved Him. To understand exactly what Jesus meant and why Peter became upset at the question, you must look back to the words in the original language, Greek. In English, we have one word: love. In Greek there are more words: phileo and agape are two of them and they have different meanings. The Amplified Bible renders it this way: phileo is a deep, instinctive, personal affection for someone, as for a close friend, and agape is a reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father. Phileo is a human love, but agape comes directly from the Father.
Two times Jesus asked Peter if he loved (agape) Him (with reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion, as one loves the Father), but Peter replied with a different word. He told Jesus that he loved (phileo) Him (with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend). Then Jesus changed His question and asked if Peter loved (phileo) Him (with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend) and Peter told Him, “You know I love (phileo) You (with a deep, instinctive, personal affection for Me, as for a close friend).”
Phileo is a friendship type of love based on the characters of the two people involved – the higher the character, the higher the quality of the friendship. This love is dependant on the person being loved. You can have this love for a friend or a family member. Husbands and wives can love each other many different ways, including as friends. Agape is the God-kind of love. The quality of agape is not based on the person being loved, but on the person doing the loving. It is a love that chooses to love in spite of the other person, not because of them. Agape love sees other people as valuable and precious whether they are or not. Jesus loved us – He saw us as so valuable and precious – that He was prepared to sacrifice His life for us even though we were dirty, rotten sinners!
He who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest (displayed) where we are concerned: in that God sent His Son, the only begotten or unique [Son], into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God loved us so [very much], we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:8-11 AMP
The essence of agape love is that God loved us first. We were totally incapable of loving Him appropriately until He first loved us, died for us, resurrected us to new life and placed His love in our hearts. Romans 5:5 AMP says that God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us. We can only love God or anyone else with agape love when we have received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The more of His Spirit we have in our lives, the more love will be poured out in our hearts.
Peter was upset at these three questions that Jesus asked, because he really did not know how to love Jesus with agape love before he was born again and filled with the Spirit, but on the day of Pentecost all that changed! When the Holy Spirit fell on Peter, he was radically changed. Instantly, he stepped into his calling and began his ministry. With the love of God and the boldness of the Holy Spirit in his heart, he went forth to feed Jesus’ sheep and His lambs. God’s love has been shed abroad in our hearts. Let us love Him enough – with a reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion – to love others, as He wants us to, and let us love Him enough to go ahead and fulfill the call of God on our lives!