I've been taught that eros, phileo, and agape are Greek words used for “love” and each has a distinctive meaning. However, one of my seminary professors says that the words themselves are not used that way in the Bible and all of them must be defined by their context.
That said, when I read the encounter of Peter with the risen Christ, I’m aware that different words for love have been used. Because of this, the understanding of this passage could be affected. However, just reading it in the context of the events John has subscribed, it is more likely that Jesus repeated His question because Peter had denied Him three times . . .
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)
I feel the pathos in Peter. I’ve also failed to confess Jesus many times, and disobeyed Him more times than I can count. Yet when I bow before Him, if He said to me, “Do you love me?” I would say that I did, and feel the conflict in my words. I know that if I love Him, I should do what He says.
Yet the love of God does not depend on my performance. If He can love me even when I turn my back on Him, how can I not love Him? This is a love of gratitude, not a love that He requires me to prove. As with Peter, He simply asks me to use the gifts He’s given me to minister to others.
Making mistakes and falling on my nose are part of the Christian experience. We are climbing a mountain, growing in our likeness to Christ. It does not happen overnight, nor is our love perfected overnight. Look at the words used here . . .
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:11–13)
He says “increase” and “may establish” – words about an ongoing growth, not an instant one. If it were, then John would not have had to write this . . .
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16–18)
. . . and Jesus would not have had to say this . . .
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)
I’m nearly to the end of this two-month study of idolatry. In this time, God has helped me identify some people and things that I’ve used as substitutes for faithful devotion to Him. I feel lighter and more joyful than I ever imagined. All I can say is what the Bible has been telling me . . . “Love God . . . and keep yourselves from idols.”