Friends

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter.

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapao) Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (phileo) You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He 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 all things; You know that I love (phileo) You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21:15-17 (NIV)

Much has been written about this passage of scripture. Many have thought that it was Jesus’ way of reinstating Peter after his three denials on the night Jesus was arrested – the three declarations of love wiping out the three denials – and I believe that was part of it. And many have pointed out the two forms of the word “love” used in these verses and wondered about the possible meaning. Jesus uses the word agapao in his first two questions, but phileo in his last question to Peter. Peter replies, “yes,” but uses phileo in all three of his answers.

Agapao simply means to love in a social or moral sense. E. Stauffer[i] writes that agapao, or love, of God means total commitment and total trust. So, when Jesus asks Peter, “do you agapao me?” He may have been asking also, “are you totally committed now, do you trust me?”

Peter replies, “yes,” but then goes on, not answering with agapao, but with the Greek word phileo. Phileo means to be a friend to, to be fond of an individual or an object, to have affection for, to kiss, to love. It would appear at first glance that this is a lesser form of love. And some have thought that Jesus was prodding Peter to the higher form of love, but Peter, after his devasting failure in the denial episode, could only promise the lesser form of love – to be a friend. They have concluded, “that Jesus finally concedes defeat and accepts only the lower form of love which is all that Peter is capable of offering.”[ii] But, when I looked further into the meaning of this word, phileo, I was amazed.

Phileo is the verb form of the noun philos, which means friend, dear friend, associate, neighbor. But, it also means this: “one of the bridegroom’s friends who on his behalf asked the hand of the bride and rendered him various services in closing the marriage and celebrating the nuptials.” This friend is acting as the best man. This friend carries a huge trust and responsibility. He asks for the hand of the Bride on behalf of the Bridegroom! This is the word for friend that John the Baptist used in this verse.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29 (NIV)

Jesus said, “You are my friends (philos) if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends (philos), for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:14-15 NIV). This sounds like a greater call, a greater trust, a greater service to our Lord than to be a mere servant who is not privy to what his master is about. He’s calling us to be the friend, the best man, of the Bridegroom! To go out and ask for the hand of the Bride on His behalf. Isn’t that what evangelism is all about? What a precious thing this Bride! What an amazing responsibility and calling is given to us!

This completely turned upside down my thinking about John 21. I don’t think Jesus is settling for a lesser form of love from Peter. I don’t think this is another failure for Peter. I think Peter is saying, “Yes Lord, I love (agapao) you! I fully trust and am committed to you. But even more, I accept the calling and responsibility to go out and bring back to you your Bride.” That’s why Jesus can ask, in a way, the third time, Are you prepared to be my Best Man? Go find and take care my Bride.

Am I prepared? Are you? Can we say, Yes Lord, you know I phileo you!

The people I love (phileo, I am a friend to), I call to account–prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best. Up on your feet, then! About face! Run after God! Revelation 3:19 (MSG) 

 

[i] E. Stauffer in Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[ii] NetBible.org. Translator’s Notes.

Photograph of the bride with the best man and groomsmen by Caitlyn Brouwer. All rights reserved by Jessica Bair.

Missing Him

So much of life is waiting, looking forward, to the thing that we hope will finally satisfy. Finally fill the emptiness.

When I awake, I will be fully satisfied, for I will see you face to face. Psalm 17:15b (NLT)

To see him face to face! To look into his eyes of pure love, like unending pools of liquid gold. Purer than anything here on earth. How I long for that. The Hebrew word translated satisfied in the above verse is saba or sabea. It means to be satisfied, sated, fulfilled, surfeited. When I awake, open my eyes and look into his, I will be satisfied, sated, fulfilled, surfeited. David wrote:

For He satisfies (saba) the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. Psalms 107:9 (NKJV)

We all have longing souls, whether we know it consciously or not. We long to see him face to face. C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[i] Frederick Buechner also wrote about this longing for, or missing, God.

“Each of us … carries around inside himself, I believe, a certain emptiness—a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, the deep feeling that somehow all is not right inside his skin.  Psychologists sometimes call it anxiety, theologians sometimes call it estrangement, but whatever you call it, I doubt that there are many who do not recognize the experience itself, especially no one of our age … Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away.  In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.” [ii]

Missing him. Yes, we are all missing him. So much of life is waiting, looking forward, to the thing that we hope will finally satisfy. Finally fill the emptiness. The Christian knows we are waiting for, looking forward to, his return. Missing him. Like the bride we are supposed to be getting ready, preparing for that day. In traditional Jewish wedding customs, the couple was betrothed for one year.[iii] The groom would go back to his home to prepare a place for his bride (John 14:2-3). And they would be apart and missing each other. But he would leave a gift as a pledge of his love (John 14:16, 27). The bride would use the time to prepare for the wedding day, to prepare herself and her wedding garments (Revelation 19:7).

But they missed each other. They were longing for the wedding day when they would see each other again face to face. And so are we longing for his return. And nothing else can fully satisfy. And do you know that the passionate heart of the Bridegroom is missing and longing for you too?

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (see the Face of God)? Psalm 42:1-2 (NIV)

There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. — Oswald Chambers, The Discipline Of Disillusionment

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. Revelation 22:17 (NIV)

[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

[ii] Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

[iii] Read more about Jewish wedding customs here http://www.messianicfellowship.50webs.com/wedding.html

Image, picture of my daughter in her wedding dress, by Nathan Dillon 2019. All rights reserved.