I am always mildly intrigued when I hear people boasting about how much they love Jesus. Some people go on and on about how much they love Him.
Why am I so intrigued? Two reasons: 1) You can search the whole Bible and you will not find one person who says that he or she loved Jesus, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit. In fact, the only place in scripture that I can see where someone says they loved God, it is viewed negatively. John writes in 1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
“Ah, but what about Peter?” you say. “He told Jesus that he loved him three times!” Well, that is actually the second reason why I am intrigued by people’s boasting of their love for Christ. Upon closer examination, we discover that Peter—boastful, proud, self-confident Peter—could not even say that he loved Jesus. If one studies the Greek of John 21, one would notice there is an interesting interplay that goes on between Peter and Jesus.
After Jesus meets the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, He pursues Peter and asks him the same question two times. He says, “Peter, do you love Me with agape love?” And both times, Peter answers Him, “Yes, Lord, I have affection for You.” Peter does not say that He loves Jesus with agape love. He cannot answer the Lord on His terms. The word that John utilizes for Peter’s answer is philos—a brotherly type affection. Peter knows He has let Jesus down. He knows that when the “chips were on the table” and Jesus needed him most he was not able to keep his promises. So all he can muster up is telling the Lord that he has a strong affection for Him.
Finally, Jesus meets him where he is and says, “All right, Peter. Do you even have affection for Me?” And Peter timidly answers “Yes” again.
What’s the deal with all this? Are we not supposed to say that we love God with agape love? I think the biblical characters and authors were able to come to grips with their own hearts. They realized that claiming to love God was a huge proclamation. And they took note of Peter’s actions and realized that it is better—and safer—to “boast” about God’s love for us rather than vice versa. Our love is far too often a fleeting moment, affected by what kind of hair day we’re having. God’s love for us never changes.
So why not approach God with humility and appreciation for His agape love and rest in that assurance? After all, whether or not we love God will be reflected far more in what we do than what we say. That’s what John was getting at in his first epistle, anyway.