“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
After his monumental failure of denying the Lord, Peter is reinstated to his ministry by Jesus in John 21:15-19. While many dismiss the differences in the two Greek words used for “love” in this passage (agape and phileo), I believe the Holy Spirit inspired John to choose precisely the words He wanted. Three times Jesus publicly challenges Peter concerning his love for Him, probably in response to Peter’s public three denials a few days earlier. The first two times, Jesus challenges Peter’s love for Him; he uses the word “agape.” The third time Jesus uses “phileo.” All three times, Peter responds that he loves Jesus by using the word “phileo.”
While we often think of agape as being the highest form of love (unconquerable goodwill independent of merit), it’s also impersonal. We are called to agape people we don’t even like, like our enemies. On the other hand, phileo speaks of an emotional attachment (friendship, fraternal affection, relationship). It is this we are called to develop with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 12:10a). So, while Jesus asks if Peter has goodwill towards Him (He know he does but wants Peter and his fellow disciples to witness his confession), Peter responds that he has much more, a deep-seated affection for his best Friend and Teacher. It is this love we will develop when we share our life (koinonia: sharing, communion) with another.
With this aim, a couples’ ministry began last year at the downtown congregation. To strengthen marriages and promote fellowship among Christian couples, the couples meet every week to contemplate God’s Word. Monthly they share a meal. Quarterly they go on weekend-long retreats together. There are now about 40 couples participating from nearby congregations. One of the downtown church’s elders, Regis, along with his wife Denize, diligently lead in this ministry.
And the Lord has faithfully given increase to this effort. Gilson and Auxiliadora are a married couple who are friends with church members, Fernando and Miriam. Fernando and Miriam invited them to the couples’ ministry activities. Gilson and Auxiliadora got involved, loved it, and have been attending church regularly. After expressing their desire, and further Bible study, they were immersed into a relationship with Christ and His Body.
Another example of the Holy Spirit’s involvement can be seen in the life of Deno, a longtime member. He became involved, along with his wife Daniele, in the couples’ ministry. Daniele started coming to church with him and developing friendships. A few months later she also put Christ on his baptism.
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.” – John 21:17