John 21:17 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.”
My son’s first word came in the form of a lesson. We had a wood burning stove that he really wanted to touch, presumably because I had warned him not to. In a spectacular display of parenting, I finally allowed him to touch it. His first word, uttered in discomfort, was, Hot! He was not burned, but neither did he ever try to touch it again.
He was a quicker study than I was. It seems that I have had to repeatedly learn some lessons. When I first found addiction, I promised God and family that I would never return to it. I would love to say that 2014 was my only failure in this area, but that was just the last time. I had to burn myself repeatedly to learn that I have a persistent defective flesh that will consume me if I follow it. I daily, relearn that it is my responsibility to pursue God.
Most of us are like this, I think. Though we swear we heard God the first time, it often takes a few failures to truly learn a lesson. Peter found himself in this situation with Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter, Do you love me? Peter insisted that he did. Then came the lesson. Feed my sheep. If you truly love me, you will do my will and love my children. I can hear my voice in Peter’s response. Yeah, yeah, Love your sheep. Got it…
When I first recovered from addiction and turned to God, I had a similar response. Got it God. Thanks for forgiveness. I’ll never do that again. Moving on… I thought I had learned my lesson, but did not actually grasp that I had a persistent problem that required a persistent solution. I changed nothing and nothing changed.
Thankfully, Jesus was not done with Peter or me though. He asked Peter the same question a second and then a third time. We are told Peter was grieved that Christ questioned his love three times. Perhaps Jesus meant to remind him of his three recent failures. They had, in fact, been here before. Just a few days earlier, Peter had sworn that he would follow Christ to death and then denied him three times.
It may have also been that Jesus just needed to drive home his point. I love you and I want you to love me back. Love is not just an impulsive, emotional response. It is a purposeful way of life. Loving me, means that you obey me and love those around you.
This is a lesson I have had to learn repeatedly. In my destruction, I turned to God, basking in his love and forgiveness. I became a consumer of his love. Jesus insists that though He loves me unconditionally, He does expect a response. His love is to change me. I am to love him back. This is not just an emotion. It is a purposeful way of life. I am to love God with all my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor as myself. Love is a behavior, not just an emotion.
If I sing of my love for God on Sunday morning but then live for myself the rest of the week, I am an imposter, consuming but never responding to God’s love. Jesus insisted to Peter as He insists to me, If you truly love me, you will follow me.