What true love is

Sometimes we Christians have a tendency to over-focus on how much we love God and how good we are at living closely to Him. But true love is not about how much we love God. The truth is that we all, constantly, fail in this area. Our love for God, even in our best moments, is far from perfect.

”In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jn. 4:10)

 What is true love really like? The Apostle John equals love with what Jesus did for us at the cross. True love is that God gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our sins, that our sins –because of the finished work of Jesus – once and for all have been put away, and that the world is reconciled to God.

Simon Peter was the most verbal one of the twelve disciples. At one time he told Jesus that he indeed loved Jesus more than all the others. He said that even if all the others would let Jesus down, he surely never would (Mt. 26:33). But after saying that, it only took a few hours until he had denied Jesus three times.

When Jesus, after his death and resurrection, addressed this issue with Peter, in order to restore him, He asked Peter three times whether Peter loved Him (see Jn 21:15-19).

The first time Jesus asked, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love You” (Jn. 21:15). Jesus used the word “agape”, which is the highest form of love, the unconditional love with which God loves us, while Peter answered with a more careful word, “phileo”, which means “brotherly love”. Wise from his recent failure, Peter used a more careful word for love, but he still said “yes” when asked whether he loved Jesus more than the other disciples. He still had not got the point.

Jesus asked a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”. Even this time Jesus used the word “agape” for love. “Yes Lord; You know that I love you”, Peter answered, even now using the more careful word for love, phileo (Jn. 21:16).

The third and last time Jesus asked the same question He came down to Peter’s level. He asked, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me”, using the word phileo instead of agape. Finally, Peter fully got the point. He answered, “Lord, You know all things;…” (Jesus led Peter to a point of understanding that his love for Jesus was not necessarily better than anybody else’s.) “…You know that I love [phileo] You” (Jn. 21:17).

What can we learn from this? Instead of walking around telling the world how much we love God – let us tell the people in the world about how much God loves them, and what Jesus has done for them. Our love for God is limited, while His love for us is unlimited.

True love is not that we have loved God, but that He, through the finished work of Jesus, has loved us.


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