Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Much Can We Love God?

This might sound like a strange question, but I think the answer is comforting to us. Let's take the example of Peter as our guide.

Matthew 26:31-35:

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of Me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You.” And all the other disciples said the same.

Can you imagine that conversation? Jesus says, “You’re all going to disown me.” And Peter says, “No, I’m not.” Then Jesus says, “Yes, you will, and you’ll do it more than anyone else. You’ll deny three times.” And Peter says, “No, I won’t.”

Of course, we all know that it’s usually not a good idea to argue with Jesus, right? Because that’s not an argument that we’re going to win. And we know how things turned out with Peter.

Matthew 26:69-74:

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

He denied Jesus. Not only did Peter deny that he was one of Jesus’ followers, a Christian, but he denied that he even knew Him!

In the same way, I wonder if we ever deny Jesus. We might not out and out say, “No, I’m not a Christian,” or “I don’t know Jesus,” like Peter did, but I wonder if sometimes our actions or our silence can be a denial of Jesus.

If I choose to sin, and I do something that I know God doesn’t want me to do, what am I saying there? I’m saying, “In this moment, I am not a follower of Jesus. I’m a follower of myself. I’m a follower of my desire. I’m not a Christian. I’m a Steve-ian. Because I’m denying Christ’s lordship over my life, and I’m doing what I want to do.” I deny Christ by my actions.

Or what if I’m having a conversation with someone who isn’t a Christian, but I can tell that they need to know Jesus? Should I tell them about Jesus, even though I’m nervous to say something – I don’t know how they’ll react – or should I keep quiet, mind my own business, and pretend that I don’t know Jesus either?

I think that when we don’t tell others about Christ, or when we’re embarrassed to talk with others about our beliefs, that’s a denial of Christ. We’re basically saying, “No, I don’t know Him.”

Christians need to be bold and confident. We know what God has done for us. We know what Jesus has done for us. And we know that He can do it for other people as well, that He wants to do it for other people. We have the words of life. We know the way to salvation. We can’t keep that hidden. It is our God-given responsibility to swallow our nervousness and tell people how they can be saved, or at least invite them to church so they can hear how to be saved, because we’re not doing anyone any favors by not telling them.

So, Peter denied Jesus, and I’m sure we remember Jesus and Peter’s next conversation after Jesus rose from the dead.

John 21:15-17:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love Me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Take care of My sheep.” The third time He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

The interesting thing about that conversation is the words that Jesus and Peter are using for “love.” In Greek, which is what they were speaking, there are three words for love. There’s “eros,” which is romantic love. It’s where we get the word “erotic.” There’s “phileo,” which is the kind of love you have for your family or friends, like Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. And there’s “agape,” which is the perfect, unconditional love that God has for humanity.

Here’s how the conversation went, using those words: Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love Me with a godly love more than these?”

Jesus is looking at the rest of the disciples who were there with them, and He’s asking Peter if Peter loves Him more than the rest of the disciples love Him because it was Peter who said he would never betray Jesus, even if everyone else did, as if to say that he loved Jesus and was more committed to Jesus than everyone else. Obviously, that wasn’t true because Peter did deny Jesus, so Jesus is asking, “Peter, do you still think you love Me more than the rest of these guys?”

And listen to what Peter says. “Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love You like a brother.”

Jesus had asked Peter if he loves Him with the perfect love of God, but Peter says that he loves Him like a brother. He’s saying that he knows he didn’t love Jesus perfectly. And Jesus simply answers, “Feed My lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love Me like God love?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You like a good friend.”

This almost sounds like that first part. Jesus is questioning Peter again to let His point sink in. Jesus said, “Take care of My sheep.”

The third time He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love Me like a brother?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

You see, it’s at this point that Peter finally realizes what Jesus is doing. Peter denied Jesus three times and so now, Jesus is giving Peter the chance, three times, to reaffirm his belief in Christ. But He’s also helping Peter to understand that he can’t love Jesus perfectly.

He said, “Lord, You know all things;” Peter is saying, “You know that I’m not perfect. You know that I made a mistake. You know that I denied You.” And finally Peter affirms the third time, “You know that I love You like a brother.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Peter’s come to the realization that he can’t love Jesus perfectly. He can’t love Jesus like God loves us. He can only love Jesus with the human love of a family member or a close friend. And that’s all Jesus is asking for. He never demanded that Peter love Him perfectly because He knew that Peter couldn’t love Him perfectly. But he could love Him as much as he was able with that human kind of love.

It’s the same way with us. We can never love God as much as God loves us. We can’t out-love God, or even match it. All we can do is receive God’s love, thank Him for it, and then do the best we can with what we have.

Our love will not be perfect – we will make mistakes in our love to God – but our love will be genuine and real and human. And that’s all God wants from us. Amen? Amen.

Discussion Questions:
1. Why did Jesus have this conversation with Peter and let Peter know that He knew he had denied Him? Why couldn’t Jesus just have never mentioned Peter’s denial and let it go?

(Jesus was giving Peter the chance to confess and acknowledge his guilt so that he could be forgiven rather than carrying his guilt around with him.)

2. People sometimes say that God can’t use us or bless us if we’re not a mature enough Christian or if we’re not doing everything God wants us to do perfectly. What does Peter and Jesus’ conversation say about that? Did Peter have to be perfect for God to use him or bless him?

(Peter could never be perfect, yet Jesus said “Feed My lambs, take care of My sheep.” Jesus uses imperfect people because the only people there are are imperfect people. If you want God to use you, if you that desire, He will do it. If you are committed to God, He will bless you, even if your commitment to Him isn’t always perfect. Remember, God’s love is perfect even when ours isn’t.)

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Find more surprising answers to interesting questions on my Theology 101 page!

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