John 21:15-17 ESV
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 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.”
What do the Scriptures teach us about love? What is love? And what do they teach us with regard to how we are to love God – Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit? What should that love look like in reality? How is it to be expressed or acted out in our daily lives?
Well the word in the Greek for love is Agapao (Agape), which means to love, to take pleasure in, to esteem, to long for, and to prefer. And in the Greek interlinear on biblehub.com it describes it in this way: “For the believer, preferring to live through Christ, i.e. embracing God’s will (choosing his choices) and obeying them through his power. Agapao preeminently refers to what God prefers as he is love.. so loving is always defined by God.”
So, if we are loving God, we are preferring him above all others and above all else, and we take pleasure in him and in his will for our lives. We long for him, not just to spend time with him in his word each day, and in prayer, but we long for him in the sense of being in fellowship with him and desiring him above all else and embracing him and choosing to do his will and then in obeying him. For the Scriptures teach that to love God is to obey him.
And if we are preferring what he prefers, then that also means that we are walking in holiness and in righteousness, and that we are no longer walking in sin. It doesn’t mean we never sin, but that sin is no longer our practice. We do not choose to engage in sexual immorality, adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, slandering, hating, and abusing and misusing other humans. But we choose to treat others with kindness, compassion, and agape love.
So, if we love the Lord Jesus, we are going to do what he says we ought to do. We are going to embrace his will for our lives, and we are going to follow him in obedience, regardless of how difficult the tasks may be at times, for he will always provide all that we need to do his will. Where he calls he will also equip. So he is never going to ask us to do what is impossible. Now in the flesh it may be impossible, but not with God, in his strength and wisdom.
More Than These
Now, it doesn’t exactly spell out for us in this passage of Scripture what “these” are, but I suspect from the context here that it is all inclusive of everything and everyone in this life but God. Do we love Jesus more than we love our family and friends and co-workers and fellow Christians, and our pastors? Do we love him (prefer him over) all our activities, free time, things we watch, and the things we listen to? And do we prefer him over sin?
And again, to love him is to prefer him, to esteem him, to long for him, and to take pleasure in him. Do we, in reality, prefer, esteem, long for, and take pleasure in God/Jesus Christ more than we do all else and everyone else? Where do our passions and loyalties truly lie? Who gets top billing in our lives? In our conversations with others, who or what do we talk about the most? Who or what do we get most excited about?
Feed My Sheep
Now, first of all we need to be in relationship with our Lord Jesus, doing his will, and forsaking our sins before we can ever help other Christians to follow in his footsteps to love him above all else and to embrace and to do his will. So, first of all we need to make sure what is described above describes us, i.e. the parts which align with God’s will for our lives and with loving Jesus “more than these.” And then we can help others to do likewise.
But the problem here is that we have many shepherds, at least here in America, who may think they are feeding Jesus’ sheep (or not) but they are not because they are not one of Jesus’ true sheep. And so they can’t lead others to be his sheep because they are not one themselves. And so many of them are leading the sheep, but they are not leading them in the ways of God and of righteousness and holiness, but in the ways of the flesh.
They are not calling the sheep to forsake their sinful practices (to repent of sin) and to walk in obedience to the Lord because they themselves have not forsaken their sinful practices to walk in obedience to the Lord Jesus. So they leave the sheep floundering without a shepherd to lead them in the ways of God and in the ways of righteousness. And so the lives of these shepherds are still a mess, and their lives are still filled with the filth of this world.
But it isn’t God’s fault! It isn’t as though God has failed to tell them the truth. He speaks his truth loudly (or softly) and clearly all the time, and now on the internet where people all over the world can hear his messages. And that is taking place through the Scriptures posted online, and through blog posts and sermons and social media posts and devotions written by his servants who are walking in obedience to his commands in holy living.
And the Lord is speaking to the shepherd’s of the sheep, and he is telling them what they need to do to love him and to do his will, first of all, and then he is instructing them in how they are to feed his sheep. But many are not listening to the Lord, but they are choosing to listen to the voices of other humans, instead, and to follow marketing books on how to “grow their churches,” rather than following what the Scriptures teach.
But, before they can teach what is the right way to live, they have to correct what is wrong with the way they have been living and conducting “church” and what they have been teaching with regard to the gospel of our salvation. For many people are teaching a cheapened form of the true gospel but which is a lie, for the truth has been altered to make the gospel more acceptable and palatable to the people of the world and to human flesh.
And so all that filth needs to be cleaned out of their lives and out of the gospel presentation and out of God’s church before they can move forward in doing the will of God. They need to confess that what they have been teaching is not the true gospel, and that it is a lie, and that it is not true that we can believe in Jesus and have our sins forgiven and be on our way to heaven but that we don’t have to repent of our sins or obey the Lord.
And then they need to teach repentance and obedience to the Lord as requirements of believing faith in Jesus Christ, for that is what the Scriptures teach. In fact, they teach that if we do not forsake our sinful practices, and if we do not walk in holiness and in righteousness in obedience to our Lord, in practice, but we continue in deliberate and habitual sin that we do not know God, we are not in fellowship with Jesus Christ, and we do not have the hope of eternal life with God but a fearful expectation of hell as our destiny.
So, God is calling all people, but in particular all people who profess his name, and all who are trying to lead others to salvation from sin to making sure that they are loving Jesus Christ as the Scriptures teach and that they are following him in obedience to his commands (New Covenant) and that they are no longer walking in sin. And then he is calling them to feed his sheep with the truth of the gospel and not with the lies.
[Matt 7:21-23; Lu 9:23-26; Jn 14:23-24; Jn 15:1-11; Rom 1:18-32; Rom 2:6-8; Rom 6:1-23; Rom 8:1-14; Rom 12:1-2; 1 Co 6:9-10,19-20; 2 Co 5:10,15,21; Gal 5:16-21; Gal 6:7-8; Eph 2:8-10; Eph 4:17-32; Eph 5:3-6; Col 1:21-23; Col 3:5-17; 1 Pet 2:24; Tit 2:11-14; 1 Jn 1:5-9; 1 Jn 2:3-6,24-25; 1 Jn 3:4-10; Heb 10:26-31; Rev 21:8,27; Rev 22:14-15]
Oh, to Be Like Thee, Blessed Redeemer
Lyrics by Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897
Music by W. J. Kirkpatrick, 1897
Oh, to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
O to be like Thee! while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love;
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.
Oh, to be like Thee! Oh, to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.
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