KEY THOT: There are three key words in this dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter:
- Love (agape/philia): Jesus uses agapao (divine love: agape) when he asks Peter the first two times if Peter loves him. However, in Peter’s three answers he consistently uses phileo (human love: philia) to reply to Jesus. Finally, on the third time, Jesus uses phileo to ask if Peter loves (phileo) him. Agapao is a word used generally to describe God’s love in the NT and phileo is used more broadly for human friendship. God’s love is unconditionally, moral and spiritual, while human love is conditional and soulish (a mental and emotional relationship). God desires us to love him as He has loved (agapao) us, but Peter could only love (phileo) the Lord with human love. All of us are born with capacity for philia, but if we want to love God with agape we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit: "God's love (agape) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom. 5:5).
- Feed (boske): Each time Peter says “I love you”, Jesus’ two responses is: “Feed my lamb/sheep” (v.15,17). Feeding (boske) can mean literally giving food to animals or people to satisfy their hunger. But here it is used metaphorically to refers to the feeding of God's people with God’s word. In verse 15, it is “feed my lambs”, referring to feeding young converts with God’s word. It is also used of feeding the “sheep”, the older believers (v.17). We show we love (agapao) Jesus when we take on responsibility to feed new believers with God’s word by nurturing them with basic follow-up bible study.
- Tend (poimaino): The other key word used here is “tend”. Here the word means literally “shepherd/rule”. So, not only are we to feed young converts (lambs) with God’s word (v.15), we are also called to shepherd or pastor them (v.16). To shepherd means to coach, mentor and train young believers to walk in God’s way. Teaching is not enough; we must also mentor and coach them so that young converts can excel in loving God through their God-given gifts.
So, do we really love God? If we do, we will become involved in feeding and tending young believers towards spiritual maturity. When we love God's people, we also love Him.
Father, what a joy and privilege it is to rescue lost sheep and then to feed them and shepherd them to maturity. May You give us the grace to look beyond our own needs to the needs of young converts coming into Your fold. Amen.