After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. John 21:15-17 (NLT)
Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. Some of that may have been because Peter denied him three times - maybe Jesus was giving him the opportunity to redeem himself. In studying this though it's interesting to note the words Jesus uses for love. The first two times he asked Peter, he used the word agape. Agape means unconditional love. It's the way God loves us and the ideal for how we should love others. When Peter answers Jesus, he uses a different form of the word love, phileo. Phileo means brotherly love, the love you would express toward a friend.
The third time Jesus answered he asks Peter if he loves him using the word phileo. I always found it interesting that Jesus didn't start with phileo and move up to agape. Isn't agape the ideal? Shouldn't we all strive for that unconditional love? Shouldn't Jesus be setting the example of how we strive to love each other?
He was. You see, first Jesus was communicating to Peter that he wanted his love. He was showing Peter not only was he loved but Jesus wanted his love in return. The gospel is not about a one-sided love arrangement. Second, Jesus was telling Peter the kind of love he ultimately wanted from him but when Peter couldn't deliver it, Jesus met him where he was.
You see, Jesus knew exactly where Peter was and he knew he couldn't get to the unconditional love yet. Jesus accepted where Peter was and encouraged him. So often we expect people to 'be' what we think they should be or be where we are. It doesn't work that way. Jesus left us with the ultimate lesson in loving others. He showed us how to meet them where they are and accept them there.