Biblical Greek had five different words for love, each of which refers to something God created. For example, God wants us to have friends, and the Greek word for friendship is phileo. Peter’s exchange with Jesus in John 21:15-17 does not indicate that phileo was wrong, but Jesus was calling Peter to a different kind of love, agapao (unconditional love). Philadelphia (brotherly love) in Greek calls us to care about others as in Hebrews 13:1. The Greek word thelo (to want something physical) is not negative, but the condemnation in Mark 12:38 was about priorities. Finally, Eros (sexual love) is not used in the New Testament but refers to a beautiful creation of God, used to cement marriage.
What Jesus wants from Peter and us in John 21 and throughout the New Testament is agapao. The Greek dictionary defines it as “seeing something infinitely precious in its object.” People quote John 3:16 carelessly without understanding the depth of the kind of love that God has for us. Read 1 John 2 – 4, especially chapter 4:7-11. The word used throughout 1 John is agapao.
We need to be reminded that God doesn’t create any junk. Every human has a spiritual makeup that makes them “infinitely precious.” When you reject that concept, human life becomes cheap–worth no more than a cockroach.
Where would we be today if all world leaders saw human life as “infinitely precious?” Without that concept, you can’t make sense of the Sermon on The Mount and the admonitions of Jesus to love your enemy and do good even to those who abuse you. Racism and sexism exist because we refuse to have unconditional love for those who are different from us.
Peter learned to have agapao. It was a rough journey for Peter, and it isn’t always easy for us, but we need to preach it and do our best to live it. We can grow in unconditional love (agapao) with the help of God’s Spirit.
— John N. Clayton © 2022