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“Lovest thou me?”
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
This is the third, perhaps even the fourth time that the Lord has shown himself to Peter after his resurrection. Until now not a word had passed between them. Peter had not spoken to the Savior; and the Lord Jesus had not spoken directly to Peter. The matter of Peter’s denial of the Lord Jesus has not been mentioned, neither by the Lord Jesus, nor by Peter. How Peter must have longed to speak to his Lord privately, to confess his shame and beg forgiveness; but the Lord Jesus had not allowed it. Now Christ is alone with Peter, at some distance from the other disciples. And it is the Lord Jesus who opens the conversation. What will he say? How will he reprove this fallen one? How will he deal with Peter’s sin?
“Lovest thou me?” — A more important question could not be considered. More than two thousand years have passed since our Lord Jesus first asked Peter this question. But it is just as searching and useful today as it was then. Love is something everyone understands. It is a feeling, an emotion, a passion that God has implanted in the human nature. Everybody loves somebody. No one is incapable of love. May God the Holy Ghost make a place in our hearts for the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of all the love of our hearts. Oh, for grace to love him who loved us and gave himself for us!
This is not a matter of fanaticism, enthusiasm, or emotionalism. It is a subject that deserves the reasonable consideration of everyone who professes faith in Christ and claims to be a Christian. The Son of God asks, “Lovest thou me?” This is a simple fact: All true Christians love Christ (1 John 4:19), and any who do not love Christ are not Christians, are not believers, and are not saved.
First, I want to show you that our Lord’s purpose in squeezing this confession of love from Peter was altogether gracious. The test our Savior put to Peter, by which he would prove his sincerity to him, was love. The Lord Jesus did not ask, “Have you honored me, or obeyed me, or what proofs can you give of performing your duties toward me, or do you live for me? He asked just one thing: “Lovest thou me?”
Many have imagined that our Savior asked Peter this question three times to remind him of the fact that he had denied him three times; but there is no indication that that was the case. In fact, I am confident it was not our Lord’s intention here to aggravate Peter’s sense of guilt and shame, but to prove to his dear disciple his grace toward him and his interest in that grace.
The well-known and long proved love and grace of Christ Jesus to his elect inclines me to think that the Savior asked Peter this question (“Lovest thou me?”) three times that he might give his fallen child the opportunity to openly repeat his own assurance of his love for Christ three times. Having declared, with assurance, “Lord, I truly do love you,” was the Lord’s way of making Peter understand that his threefold denial was no indication of his true character as a child of God. That was not really Peter, but sin dwelling in him (Romans 7:15-20).
Instead of being a display of our Lord’s displeasure, his appearance and conversation with Peter appears to me to have been one of those countless instances we have on record of the tenderness of our dear Savior to his people, by which he repeatedly shows us where sin abounds grace much more abounds! When his chosen display great weakness, he manifests great grace. When we fall, he lifts us up, and in the sweet exercise of his grace to us enables us to show greater love to him. Our Lord’s gracious intention in squeezing this open confession of love from Peter is manifest when we realize that the very thing that terrifies the hypocrite comforts the true believer; and that is our Lord’s omniscience. — “Thou knowest all things!” He knows what I am by nature, what I have done, what he has done for me, what he has made me by his grace, and what I am in him. It is written, “By his knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many!” And here Peter confesses, “Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that i love thee.”
How very gracious our Savior is! He came to Peter in his utter despair, when in a state of great shame, and squeezed from him this firm confession of love for his Savior at a time when no one else could have done so. Not only that, the Lord Jesus further assured Peter that he had committed to him the care of his lambs and his sheep. It is as if the Savior had said, “Yes, Peter, I am fully aware of your great love for me, so much so that I trust to your care the people of my love!”
Second, it is the work of every under shepherd, the work of every Gospel preacher, the work of every pastor to feed the Lord’s sheep. Christ is the great Shepherd of the sheep. He is the great Pastor of his flock. It is Christ himself who feeds his sheep. He is both the life and sustenance of all his fold. He is the Bread of Life and the Water of Life. His flesh is meat indeed; and his blood is drink indeed.
Yet, our dear Savior condescends to give his flock under-shepherds, under-pastors, according to his own heart, to feed his people with knowledge and understanding (1 Peter 5:1-4). The Lord’s faithful under-shepherds feed his lambs, his young ones, gently. These pastors feed the sheep of the fold and lead them. The first and primary qualification of a pastor is love for Christ. — A man’s abilities as a speaker and a leader, even if he possesses the greatest possible knowledge, are nothing without this love of the heart for Christ.
Third, I want you to see that every true believer loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Many are utterly confused about what a Christian is. Many foolishly imagine that anyone raised in a “Christian country,” or in a “Christian home,” or in a country under the influence of Christianity is a Christian. Many think that all who profess faith in Christ, all who have been baptized in the name of Christ, all who attend the worship of Christ are Christians. But it is not so. A Christian is a person who has been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. A Christian is one who has been born again by the Spirit of Christ. A Christian is one who lives by faith in Christ. A Christian is a person who seeks in all things to follow, obey, and honor Christ. But there is more. A Christian is a person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. If a person truly loves Christ, all is well, if not, all is wrong (John 8:42; 1 Corinthians 16:22).
Love for Christ is the inseparable companion of saving faith (1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:6). Love cannot usurp nor take the place of faith. It is not love that unites the soul with Christ, but faith. It is not love that draws the waters of grace from the wells of salvation, but faith. It is not love that brings peace to the conscience, but faith. But wherever faith lives, love lives.
Love is the motive and mainspring of all work for Christ (2 Corinthians 8:7). Very little, if anything, is done for Christ from a sense of duty, or merely from a knowledge of right and wrong. The heart must be interested before the hands will be engaged. Those who have done great things in the name of Christ were not men who merely held to a creed. They were people who loved a Person! Duty tithes. Love gives. Duty goes to church. Love comes to worship. Duty reads the Word. Love seeks to understand it. Duty will do some things for Christ. Loves lives for Christ!
Love for Christ is the common point of unity for all believers. We may have many differences with our brethren in other churches and denominations. But here we are one. All true Christians love Christ. Love for Christ gives us a common meeting point. Love for Christ gives us unity. Love for Christ dissolves cultural, racial, and social differences (Colossians 3:11).
Love for Christ will be the distinguishing mark of all the redeemed in heaven. That multitude which no man can number will be of one mind. Old differences will be forgotten. Old carnal debates will be dropped. In heaven around the Throne of Grace, all will be of one mind and one heart. All will love Christ (Revelation 1:5-6).
Would you know the secret of this love? What is it that causes saved sinners to love the Son of God? Read 1 John 4:19, and learn the secret. — “We love him because he first loved us.” No son or daughter of Adam ever loved Christ by nature. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” But all who are born of God love Christ “because he first loved us.”
His love for us precedes our love for him by eternity (Jeremiah 31:3). His love for us exceeds our love for him by infinity (Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10). And Christ’s love for us is the cause of our love for him. — “We love Him because He first loved us!”
“We love him” because of who he is, and because of what he has done for us. He chose us in everlasting love and redeemed us with his own precious blood, kept us for himself throughout the days of our rebellion and unbelief unto the appointed time of our calling. He called us by omnipotent mercy, effectually creating life and faith in us by his grace. He has forgiven us, justified us, sanctified us, and made us “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light!” And it is our dear Savior who keeps us in the midst of our countless trials, temptations and falls, and will not let us go! Therefore, we love him.
“We love him because” of all he is doing for us in providence, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), all his unfailing intercession on our behalf in Heaven, and because of his daily, all-sufficient grace and unfailing mercies. Should any believer be asked, “Why do you love the Lord?” He has his own “because” to give.
“I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the LORD; O LORD, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The LORD preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, All men are liars. What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.” (Psalms 116:1-13)
Love Can Be Known
Yet, there are some who would have us to believe that this matter of love for Christ is something that cannot be known in this world. So I want you to see in the last place that love for Christ, or the lack of it, is something that can and should be known. Love is not ambiguous. It is not something we have to guess about. And love for Christ is something that a person may and should know.
J. C. Ryle wrote, “How do we know whether we love any person here upon earth? In what manner does love show itself between people in this world? Between husband and wife? Between parent and child? Between brother and sister? Between friend and friend? Let these questions be answered by common sense and observation…and the knot before us is untied.” Then he gave eight simple marks by which love is known. By these eight things, if we will be honest with ourselves, every person reading these lines can answer the Lord’s question — “Lovest thou me?” If I love a person….
1. I like to think about him. He dwells in my heart (Ephesians 3:17).
2. I like to hear about him.
3. I like to read about him.
4. I like to please him.
5. I like his friends.
6. I am jealous to promote and protect his name and honor.
7. I like to talk to him.
8. I like to be with him.
Consider this question seriously. Examine it carefully. And answer it honestly — “Lovest thou me?” “Yea, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” I do not love him as I should. I do not love him as I would. And I do not love him as I hope I soon shall. But I do love him.
“Do not I love Thee, O my Lord?
Behold my heart and see;
And turn each odious idol out
That dares to rival Thee.
Thou knowest I love Thee, dearest Lord;
But, oh, I long to soar
Far from the sphere of mortal joys,
And learn to love Thee more!”
If you do not love Christ, it is because you do not know Christ. Your soul is in great danger! You are lost, a child of wrath, and the wrath of God is upon you. The only remedy for your lack of love is a revelation of Christ in you. Make it your business to attend the ministry of the Word. Hear the Gospel, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Pray for the grace of God the Holy Spirit. Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you love Christ, don’t ever be ashamed for others to see it and know it. Witness for him. Live for him. Work for him. Devote yourself to him (Romans 12:1-2). We cannot love Christ too fully, live for him too thoroughly, confess him too boldly, or devote ourselves to him to heartily. — “To whom much is forgiven, the same loveth much!”