It was August of 1973, and I was sitting on the back of my car in the driveway of 637 Atwood Avenue in Rockford, Illinois. Next to me was a young lady that I had been dating for three years. Her dad was putting the barbeque grill away in the backyard after a cook-out. We were talking about a variety of things when out of the clear blue came a question I was definitely unprepared to answer. “John, do you love me?” she asked inquisitively.
While we had been dating for three years, the “love” word had not yet been spoken. Did I love her? I was not sure. I knew I loved football. I was going back to college the next day for the start of two-a-day practices for my senior season. Oh, I loved football alright, but did I love her? I had no idea! After hesitating at the question, which is never a good sign, I gulped and said, “I don’t know.” While that was not the answer she was looking for, at least I was honest.
We often say that we love God. We use the word in our prayers, and we sing songs like “My Jesus I Love Thee” or “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” But what does it mean to love God? The Apostle Peter was very confident that he loved the Lord. In John chapter twenty-one, when asked if he loved Jesus, Peter vehemently stated, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.” Knowing Peter’s heart, the Lord was not satisfied with his routine answer. Apparently there was something missing in the apostle’s love. A careful look at the passage reveals that there are four qualities to the love that God is looking for from us.
A Priority to Our Love
The passage begins in verse fifteen where it says: “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” When we read the Bible we should try to picture the setting of the Scripture in our mind, or we can easily miss the meaning. When Jesus used the word these in verse fifteen, He had to be pointing at something. What do you suppose He was pointing at as He asked this question? The other disciples? The trees? I believe Jesus was pointing to the fish still on the fire or perhaps those flopping in the nets on the nearby boat.
Now Jesus was not trying to figure out if Peter loved Him more than fried fish. Back in verse three of chapter twenty-one, Peter, in a moment of discouragement, said to his fellow disciples, “I go a fishing.” Peter was fed up with following the Lord. Fishing was not just a leisurely pastime for Peter, but rather it was his former occupation. He was discouraged and ready to quit. The Lord knew this when he asked, “Do you love Me more than these?” He was saying, “Peter, do you love Me more than your past life? Do you love Me more than what this world has to offer you?”
Our love for Christ must have the preeminence over all other loves. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” God set that standard back in the Old Testament when He declared, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Often God is prominent in our lives, but He is not preeminent! The “these” in our lives tend to steal our love from Him. God says, “Love Me, and I will take care of the ‘these.’” “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
A Purpose to Our Love
Not only must our love for Christ have priority, it must also have a purpose. Each time Peter said that he loved the Lord, Jesus responded with “Feed my lambs” or “Feed my sheep.” Love is not an abstract thought or idea—it always has a tangible object. The fact that God is love is great, but the fact that He loves me is wonderful! “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
God does not want us simply to say that we have love, but He wants us to demonstrate that love. When Mary Martin was about to walk on stage for the musical “South Pacific,” a note was handed to her that had been written by Oscar Hammerstein, who at the time was on his deathbed. The note read: “Dear Mary, A bell’s not a bell until you ring it. A song’s not a song until you sing it. The love in your heart is not meant there to stay; for love isn’t love until you give it away.”
To what or whom have you directed your love? “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 4:18). We can say that we love souls, but do we ever go out of our way to tell them about Christ? We can say that we love our church, but do we serve in ministries or give in the offerings? We can say that we love our neighbors, but what have we done for them lately? Our love must have a tangible purpose.
A Price Tag to Our Love
Peter had no more than stated that he indeed loved the Lord the third time when the Lord spoke these solemn words: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not” (John 21:18). Jesus is predicting the future for Peter. There was a time (just the day before) when Peter could go and do whatever he wanted, but there was coming a time when, if he truly loved the Lord, he would be taken to a place that no one would choose on his own.
In the next verse Jesus foretells the martyrdom of Peter: “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God” (John 21:19a). Love has a price tag. According to history, Peter was crucified upside down for his stand for Christ. Now God may not require all of His children to die for Him, but He does ask each of us to live for Him. According to Romans 12:1, He wants our lives to be “a living sacrifice.”
And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.—2 Corinthians 5:15
Dying for Christ might be easier than living for Him! We know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. For the child of God, death is a “gain” according to Philippians 1:21, but living for Him every single day of our life is difficult and may cost us friends, fame, family, and fortune. But is it too much for the One who died for us to ask us to live for Him?
A Practicality to Our Love
Peter was sure now that he truly did love the Lord and that he was willing to die for Him. Martyrdom would come in time, but for now there was a practicality to this love that God was looking for: “And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me” (John 21:19b). “You say you love me, Peter! Okay, prove it—follow me!” To say the words is easy, but Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
How are we proving our love today to Jesus Christ? God loves “performance” people. “Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have”(2 Corinthians 8:11).
In December of 1973, I was sitting inside my car with that same young lady I mentioned earlier. It was Christmas break. I was out of school, and she had a few days off from her teaching position. I was driving her back after dinner to her residence when I pulled into a parking lot near the football field where I had spent much of my time. I swallowed hard once again and said, “Diane, will you marry me?” She laughed, which is never a good sign, and said, “When? When we’re eighty-five?” I said, “No, how about this summer?” She gave me that look that said, “Don’t mess with me,” but when I pulled out the diamond ring from my pocket, she said, “Yes!”
How did she know that I truly loved her when four months earlier I had said, “I don’t know?” Well, my football career was over—I had hung up the cleats for the last time—my priority was now her. She had become my purpose for life—I could not think about life without her. There was definitely a price tag! I paid $100 for that diamond ring! (I know you are laughing, but I was working for $1.10 an hour. Give me a break!) And the practicality of that love was that I was willing now to spend the rest of my life with her.
Jesus is asking you, “Do you love me?” Be careful—your answer involves more than words.